The Trail Of The Serpent by Mary Elizabeth Braddon - lyzard tutoring SqueakyChu

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The Trail Of The Serpent by Mary Elizabeth Braddon - lyzard tutoring SqueakyChu

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Editat: des. 31, 2012, 8:41pm

Hello, all! Welcome to the 2013 tutored reads!

To begin the year, I will be tutoring Madeline (SqueakyChu) through Mary Elizabeth Braddon's breakthrough novel, The Trail Of The Serpent, from 1860.


Mary Elizabeth Braddon's parents separated when she was quite young, and although for some years her father continued to support his family, his finances were always strained, and finally the money dried up. To help her mother, the seventeen-year-old Mary went on the stage under an assumed name (being an actress was still quite a socially unacceptable thing). She also began writing short stories, poetry and plays.

The success of her first novel, The Octoroon, which was serialised in 1859, encouraged Braddon to give up acting and concentrate on her writing. Her next novel, first published as Three Times Dead; or, The Secret Of The Heath, was not a success, but the publisher John Maxwell, who had already printed several of her short stories in his magazines, saw potential in its outline and invited Braddon to work with him on revising the text. The novel was republished as The Trail Of The Serpent, and in its new form was a best-seller. Then, in 1862, Braddon published what is still her most famous and popular novel, Lady Audley's Secret, which scandalised Victorian society and made its author a household name.

Meanwhile, Braddon and John Maxwell had fallen in love. Maxwell was already married, but separated from his wife, who had suffered a breakdown and spent some time institutionalised. After her release, she returned to her parents' home in Dublin where she lived for the rest of her life. There was no possibility of divorce, and in 1861 Mary Elizabeth Braddon and John Maxwell began living together. Maxwell had custody of his six children, and Braddon immediately took over their care, as well as the running of his household. Over the years that followed, she bore Maxwell six more children, of which five survived. In 1874, the first Mrs Maxwell died, and Braddon and John Maxwell were finally married.

Braddon was a prolific author who eventually produced more than eighty novels. In fact, the exact total is uncertain, because in spite of her high-profile success, she continued writing anonymously or pseudonymously for magazines targeted at the increasingly literate working-classes. She also founded and edited a magazine of her own, the Belgravia Magazine, which offered serialised novels, poems, travel narratives, biographies, and essays on fashion, history and science at an affordable price.

Sensation fiction and The Trail Of The Serpent

Mary Elizabeth Braddon's forte was the so-called "sensation fiction", a form of story-telling that had evolved out of the Gothic novels popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and which would in turn give rise to the mystery and detective fiction with which we are familiar today.

Sensation fiction featured plots full of shocking events and outrageous coincidences, with stories built around such devices as murder, suicide, false identities, bigamy, forged wills and madness. The two most famous and successful exponents of this form of writing were Braddon herself, and Wilkie Collins. Many Victorian commentators were appalled by what they viewed as the immorality of sensation fiction, and its pandering to low instincts - and as a woman, Braddon came in for some particularly harsh criticism. However, the popularity of this form of writing suggests that many Victorian readers were turning to these novels for entertainment and vicarious thrills.

I don't want to say too much about the story of The Trail Of The Serpent, since it is a novel of many surprises that are best discovered by the individual reader. However, I do want to speak briefly about its historical importance.

Recently, there has been much discussion about the roots of detective fiction, and what novel might deserve the title of "the first" detective novel. There is no simple answer to this, as the genre slowly assumed its now-familiar form after an evolution of some thirty years. However, my own reading suggests that The Trail Of The Serpent is a likely candidate. It is *not* a mystery, inasmuch as we know the identity of the villain right from the beginning; but it *is* a detective story, since its hero is actually a professional detective, whose pursuit of the villain comprises much of the narrative.

Furthermore, the hero is one of the most remarkable characters in all Victorian literature - but we'll talk about why that is when we meet him.

Editat: gen. 30, 2013, 10:49pm

The characters of The Trail Of The Serpent:

Jabez North - an orphan, a charity case from the workhouse, a schoolteacher...and some other things

Dr Tappenden - the head of the school at which Jabez North is an usher
Miss Jane Tappenden - his daughter

Richard Marwood - a dissipated young man who has returned home repentant after wasting his fortune
Mrs Marwood - Richard's still-loving mother
Montague Harding - Richard's uncle, who has made a fortune in India

Joseph Peters - a policeman, dumb but not deaf
Sloshy - a "fondling", pulled from the river, and raised by Joe Peters
Kuppins - Sloshy's nursemaid

Jim Lomax - a poor man in ill-health
Lively Betty - his grandmother, a woman with a secret
Sillikens - a factory-girl in love with Jim

The Marquis de Cevennes - a French nobleman, guardian to his niece
Valerie de Cevennes - his half-Spanish niece, fabulously rich and beautiful
Gaston de Lancy - a young opera-singer recently risen to fame

des. 31, 2012, 8:40pm

Hurray! We're off to a running start...

Wow, Braddon was quite an accomplished person!

Someday...might I graduate to a tutored read of a work by Wilkie Collins? ;)

by what they viewed as the immortality of sensation fiction

Did you mean to say "immorality"?

May I start reading and posting now?

des. 31, 2012, 8:41pm

Did you mean to say "immorality"?

Oops! Good start! :)


Yes, please do!

des. 31, 2012, 8:44pm

Madeline, Wilkie Collins is a far more typical Victorian writer, if I can put it like that - his prose is much denser and more involved. He's also a bit like Charles Dickens, in that his better novels tend to be his longer ones - and his best ones are VERY long.

Braddon is a more "colloquial" writer. I thought she might be a better place for you to start. If you enjoy The Trail Of The Serpent, we can certainly try something by Collins, though.

Editat: gen. 2, 2013, 8:32pm

Book the First - Chapter 1:
... in which we are introduced to Mr. Jabez North

1. Is there really a place called Slopperton-on the Sloshy? Is this supposed to be taking pace in England? What year would this be (approximately)?
2. Is a "chilblain" like a chill?
3. What is a beadle?
4. What is a work house?
5. Is a "Humane Society" like a social service agency? Here in contemporary American society a "humane society" is an organization having to do with animal welfare! :)
6. What are these: scrub, pet toady, fourth form, factotum?
7. Does "cognomen" mean surname?
8. What are these: Banbury cakes, pigs' trotters (maybe pigs' feet?), periwinkles (maybe mollusks?)?
9. "subdued fire, which might blaze out some day into a deadly flame..."
Is this foreshadowing of something to come later in the book?

Oooh! I like the author's style of writing. The foggy, creepy beginning is fun, too. In addition, the very short chapters are just perfect for me.

des. 31, 2012, 10:04pm

Oooh, consider me an Official Lurker on this thread. I've been really and truly meaning to read Lady Audley's Secret for the last 2 years, especially since I don't really know anything about Ms. Braddon or the book itself, it just seemed to call to me from the bookstore shelf. Thanks to you, lyzard, I do now! I'll try and find a copy of this book and see if I can follow along a bit, but no promises. :)

Editat: gen. 1, 2013, 5:41pm

And we are DEFINITELY under way! :)

Chapter 1

1. No, it's not a real place, although there were certainly places rather like it. This is a contemporary novel, which covers some eight or nine years in its story, so this is probably about 1850. We're in England, although I'm not sure if Braddon ever suggests which part; I'll keep an eye out for clues on the way through. Given the things that happen in Slopperton, she probably didn't want to be too specific!

2. No, a chilblain is like frostbite - sores that develop on the fingers, toes and nose, most commonly, due to exposure to the cold, which damages the capillaries. They were (are) a common affliction of poor people, who couldn't afford proper clothing, housing or heating.

3. Originally a beadle was a public official attached to the church, who could also have certain civic duties. In England, the beadle was like a local police constable, particularly in small towns that didn't have an actual police presence. Thanks to Charles Dickens and Oliver Twist, in English literature beadles are most commonly associated with orphanages, which were often operated by local churches.

(I've a bit more to say about Braddon and Dickens, but I'll come back to that.)

4. The workhouse is one of the great terrors of Victorian literature - as it was of Victorian life. You will find ominous references to it in many 19th century English novels.

The workhouse was technically a refuge for the poor who had no other means of assistance, where they were given work in exchange for their keep. However, conditions in the workhouse were often extremely harsh, to discourage people from taking this option rather than trying to find work. Over time workhouses became increasingly the resort of the elderly and disabled who weren't able to labour for their keep, which caused a lot of administrative difficulties. Eventually they evolved into hospitals and the first aged-care facilities.

However, in mid-Victorian times the workhouse was regarded by many people as the ultimate shame, and many poor people literally died in the streets rather than suffer the humiliation of resorting to this option.

5. Yes. During the tutored reads of The Warden and Barchester Towers last year we did briefly discuss the development of social services and charity, as we now understand them, during the 19th century. They were a consequence of the industrial revolution and a shift to a manufacturing economy, which brought about a huge population migration to the cities where there were no support services such as operated (via the large landowners) in the country areas.

And yes again, the Humane Society was originally about being humane to people. :)


Scrub: a charity case who did chores at a school in return for lessons.

Pet toady: teacher's pet; a suck-up.

Fourth form: English schools (and until recently, Australian ones) broke their classes up by age and ability into "forms" - it's the same as saying "grade" or "year". Boys went to school earlier back then so I may be a little out with this one, but I think at this time fourth-formers would have been about fifteen.

Factotum: the word usually abbreviated as "fag". In the English school system, young boys acted as servants for the older ones. (The other meaning came later...possibly as a consequence of what the older boys got the younger boys to do for them...)

7. Yes, the surname or family name. Braddon humorously uses the rarer, more formal term to suggest the pomposity of the petty officials who named Jabez North.


Banbury cake: a pastry with a filling made of currants and spices.

Pigs' trotters': yes, pickled pigs' feet.

Periwinkles: yes, small, aquatic, snail-like molluscs that could be cooked and eaten.

9. Absolutely. :)

This first description of the meek and self-effacing Jabez is full of ironic suggestions that he is anything other than what he appears to be.

des. 31, 2012, 10:07pm


Hi, Laura - delighted to have you here! You can find copies of The Trail Of The serpent very inexpensively online (hint, hint); if buying it, you should get the 2003 Modern Library edition.

Editat: gen. 1, 2013, 5:56pm

I'm glad you're enjoying Braddon's "voice", Madeline - I find her very unique in that respect. She maintains a tone of irony that never becomes heavy-handed.

A few comments, even at this early stage.

When I first read The Trail Of The Serpent, it struck me as Braddon's commentary on Charles Dickens. We know that Braddon was a great novel-reader, and that she grew up reading Dickens' novels. Clearly, she was a fan - but as a writer she didn't always agree with his methods. In some respect this is almost an anti-Dickens novel, with Jabez North like Oliver Twist's evil twin: their childhoods are almost identical, but whereas the saintly Oliver emerges unscathed from his experiences, Jabez...does not.

Braddon is just as horrified as Dickens about the conditions in which the poor lived and suffered, and just as scathing about the attitude of "nice people" towards the poor; but rather than getting emotional, or sentimentalising, she adopts an offhand, "Oh, well, that's just how things are" tone that I think is very effective - sometimes chilling, as with her matter-of-fact description of the damage done by the Sloshy.

The tone of the novel's opening, with its terse descriptions of a brutal November day, puts me in mind of the famous opening of Bleak House.

Conversely, I'm interested by how many points of similarity there are between The Trail Of The Serpent and Our Mutual Friend - which came later. Not their plots, but their general construction: the prominance of the river and the mud, the water imagery, the hidden identies, and even the types of characters.

A favourite quote, on "nice" people:

Virtuous people no doubt are virtuous always; and by no chance, or change, or trial, or temptation, can they ever become other than virtuous. Therefore why should a wet day or a dark day depress them? No, they look out of the windows at houseless men and women and fatherless and motherless children wet through to the skin, and thank Heaven that they are not as other men: like good Christians, punctual rate-payers, and unflinching church-goers as they are.

Editat: des. 31, 2012, 11:46pm

I never read Bleak House nor Our Mutual Friend, and I can't even begin to count back how many years ago I read Oliver Twist. By all means, please comment on the similarities and differences between Braddon's book and those of Dickens. Those will be great comments for lurkers on this thread.

By the way, any lurkers can speak up at any time. All I request is that you do not comment on anything ahead of where I am currently reading nor give away any spoilers. Even small spoilers can totally ruin a book for me.

I found that same quote disturbing. Perhaps that's because I see some of that same mentality in our contemporary world, and it bothers me very much. I don't see how human beings can, at times, feel such a disconnect between themselves and others. It's two ways of looking at things, I guess, but my view is..."there, but for the grace of G-d, go I". I'm thankful for what I have and am willing to share what I have within my means.

des. 31, 2012, 11:47pm

> 7

Hi Laura...and welcome!

gen. 1, 2013, 12:30am


That quote is a good example of what I mean about Braddon's voice. She uses such a casual tone that sometimes at first you miss how stinging her comments are.

In her early years, Braddon certainly knew what it was to be poor - if not in a living-on-the-streets way, then in a struggling-to-pay-the-bills way.

It was a common stance during Victorian times that the suffering of the poor was God's will and therefore to relieve suffering was to act contrary to God's will. And there were also those who insisted that the only reason the poor were poor was because they were too lazy to work. Sound familiar? - and particularly the fact that that remark tended to emanate from people who lived comfortably on inherited money and never had to work.

Editat: gen. 1, 2013, 1:07am

> 13

That quote is a good example of what I mean about Braddon's voice. She uses such a casual tone that sometimes at first you miss how stinging her comments are.

I didn't miss that quote. It really bothered me.

In her early years, Braddon certainly knew what it was to be poor - if not in a living-on-the-streets way, then in a struggling-to-pay-the-bills way.

Did you ever read Frank McCourt's book, Angela's Ashes? It was a memoir of his poverty-stricken days growing up in Ireland. Later he came to the U.S. where he joined the army and, afterward, he became a schoolteacher in the New York City public school system. He wrote a book about his life. I believe he did it when he was in his sixties. Overnight he is a Pulitzer prize winner. Poor people are people, too. I cheered for frank McCourt although I know that many readers didn't want to read his book because "it was too depressing". Hey! That's life. At least, he was able to achieve personal success in his lifetime.

> 14

It was a common stance during Victorian times that the suffering of the poor was God's will

Then, I guess if someone moved in or out of poverty during his or her lifetime, all of that was believed to have been G-d's will as well. An individual had no influence on his or her own life. All was predestined. Bah! Humbug!!

And there were also those who insisted that the only reason the poor were poor was because they were too lazy to work.

Yikes! This sounds to close to the contemporary American political scene.

*sighs in relief that Obama is still the American president*

and particularly the fact that that remark tended to emanate from people who lived comfortably on inherited money and never had to work.

That happens, I believe, because some individuals who never have to work for what they own/have can't appreciate what others do achieve through their own efforts and work. Nothing makes me happier than to see someone with a background of poverty be rewarded by upward mobility. It's just that I don't want these individuals to forget from where they came.

Editat: gen. 1, 2013, 1:06am

One of the really interesting things about this novel is that it barely deals with "ladies" and "gentlemen" (although we do get a significant diversion amongst the Parisian nobility), which was unusual for the time. Most of our characters - including the really important ones - occupy a spectrum from the bare fringes of gentility down into the depths of poverty.

Editat: gen. 1, 2013, 1:10am

Hey, I'd rather read about the poverty-stricken than the gentility. I think they are more "in touch" with real life. They don't have to be pretentious. They're too busy trying to work to feed, shelter, and clothe themselves and their families.

I really did like Oliver Twist back when I read it - maybe that was about 50 years ago! No kidding. I think I read it when I was in high school. I'm now 65. :)

gen. 1, 2013, 1:23am

Well, I think you've come to the right novel.

Also, if you did feel like re-visiting Oliver Twist... Just sayin'. :)

gen. 1, 2013, 1:29am

Well, I think you've come to the right novel.


Also, if you did feel like re-visiting Oliver Twist

Anything's possible.

Sometimes I start reading a book and find it too confusing or too deep or too "something", but always in a way that I don't want to struggle through such a work. I'm not talking about books that are downright boring or poorly written. Anyway, such books would be fine with someone to guide me through them. Without that additional help, I end up casting them aside unfinished. Sometimes they're really worthwhile reads. However, without assistance, they're too much "work" for me to read. That's what makes a "tutored read" work well for me. That's also what makes it fun.

Editat: gen. 2, 2013, 8:32pm

Book the First - Chapter 2: which Richard's uncle presents a plan

1. Did servants usually stay with their master or mistress even with a change in their employer's fortune? Supposed there was not enough money to pay the servant?
2. Could you help me with these vocabulary words?
...a. "...the arrival of the wealthy nabob..."
...b. ..thought of getting up a deputation..." Is that like a petition?
...c. "...great congress of Westminster..." Is that the British Parliament?
...d. "...he was very dissipated..."
...e. "He was a reprobate and gambler." (p.12)
...f. "...and you made no remonstrance..."
3. Why is Richard carrying a stick in his pocket?
4. What is a "prodigal son"? I've often heard this expression, but don't know what is means. Is it a wayward son?
5. Don't you think it rather presumptuous of Mr. Harding to think that suddenly Richard will change his ways? Come on! After *seven* years of his irresponsible ways?
6. Why is Mr. Harding taking over his nephew's future without consulting with his sister? Is it because a female's thoughts were without value even though, in this case, the female was the mother?

1. I love how this chapter ends...
"The wind this night seems to howl with peculiar significance, but nobody has the key to its strange language; and if, in every shrill dissonant shriek, it tries to tell a ghastly secret or to give a timely warning, it tries in vain, for no one heeds or understands."
2. This book edition has very nice footnotes which I reference all the time. They're like a second lyzard! :)

gen. 1, 2013, 2:20pm

Just popping in to say I'm lurking too! I really hope you enjoy this book Madeline :-)

gen. 1, 2013, 2:57pm

Hi Heather,

So glad you're here to follow along!

I must say that I'm already enjoying this book most of all the books I've done with Liz so far. It just seems easier to read and understand, for some reason. Maybe it's the language...or maybe the dismal weather in the book. Who knows! :)

gen. 1, 2013, 3:30pm


I'm glad!


Hi, Heather - very pleased to see you here! Feel free to add your own remarks at any point.


I thought you would. At least, I hoped you would!

gen. 1, 2013, 4:07pm

Chapter 2

1. It was not uncommon for a servant to live their whole life in one employment. There was often a strong bond (as we're seeing in this case) between the mistress of the house and a particular female servant, who might well have been together since they were both girls. For instance, the servant may have started as a nursery maid, then become the nurse, then the personal maid, then the housekeeper. In those circumstances the two women would regard each other as family, and it would not be unusual for the two of them to stick together even in bad times, rather than the servant looking for a better-paid job.


Nabob: someone who made his fortune in India (India was under British rule of one form or another from the 18th century until 1947).

Deputation / congress of Westminster: a small number of people representing a larger number with a shared concern - in this case, the leading citizens of Slopperton (if we can imagine Slopperton having leading citizens) were going to ask Mr Harding to stand as their candidate for Parliament. The Houses of Parliament are situated within Westminster Palace in London, and the British system of government is known as "the Westminster system".

Dissipated: he has lived a life devoted to drinking, gambling, womanising and other bad (and expensive) behaviour.

Reprobate: someone who behaves in a wicked or unprincipled way.

Remonstrance: criticism or objection, particularly in the sense of trying to talk someone out of doing something wrong or harmful.

3. Not in his pocket - he has a strong branch in his hand and is using it as a walking-stick. He's been travelling on foot across some rough, wet country and is using it for assistance.

4. The story of the Prodigal Son is one of the parables of Jesus. Basically it's about a young man in Richard's situation - he has wasted his fortune ("prodigal" means "extravagant" or "wasteful") and has to return home because he is starving. His father welcomes him home instead of shunning him, and the young man repents. This is also the story that gives rise to the expression, "to kill the fatted calf" - the young man's father holds a celebratory feast.

5. Well, he's hoping he will, for his sister's sake, and he's prepared to give him a chance to do so; he can afford to take the risk. Hence the reference to the Prodigal Son - Richard gets the opportunity of a fresh start instead of a cold shoulder. What he does with that chance remains to be seen.

6. Not that, but rather he's afraid that if his sister knows about it, she won't let Richard go, and he will end up falling back into all his old, bad habits. Mr Harding wants Richard to cut all of his old ties straight away.

Braddon doesn't dwell upon it, but this is one of the contradictions of 19th century life: it was more gentlemanly not to work, but then very often young men had nothing much to do and fell into bad company as much out of boredom as anything else. Richard has been "idle" - without employment - which is why Mr Harding thinks the best thing is to find him a profession, both to occupy his time and give him a sense of purpose.

gen. 1, 2013, 4:22pm

> 5

5. Actually, I'm playing the devil's advocate here. I don't believe, in this story, that Richard will improve. Otherwise, what kind of entertaining story will this be?! Is my cynicism showing here? ;) However, in real life, I do like to see people being given a chance to mend their ways.

6. Why wouldn't the mother let Richard go? Wouldn't she see this as an opportunity to med his ways?

it was more gentlemanly not to work,

Really? Why? Was the idea just to inherit a fortune, then just lie back and gloat?

I agree with Mr. Harding. So far, I like all of the characters! :)

gen. 1, 2013, 4:41pm

I shall be following too. I have a copy on my kindle. I'm still on holiday from school so I've got time to catch up!

Editat: gen. 1, 2013, 5:03pm


Hi, Kerry - welcome!


Yes, but Richard's an only child and she's been without him for seven years, thinking for some of that time that he might be dead. Having gotten him back quite unexpectedly, the impulse would certainly be to cling to him. Also, Mr Harding wants to strike while the iron is hot and while Richard is at his most repentant. He knows Richard's weak, and might back-slide if given the chance.

Basically, yes. :)

Think of it in terms of today's trust-fund kids. Now, some of them are going to choose to work anyway, but some are just going to have a good time, because they can.

A lot of social upheaval occurred during the mid-19th century. Previously England operated on an agricultural-based economy with the land owned by the aristocracy and gentry. There was also a system of primogeniture, wherein the eldest son inherited almost everything, and any younger sons had to shift for themselves. The problem was, there were very few socially acceptable professions - you could only be a soldier, a clergyman or a lawyer - or you could try your luck in "the colonies", which is what Mr Harding did. He went to India. That was still "trade" and looked down upon, but if you came back to England with a fortune, everything was forgiven.

(Think back to Emma: Mr Knightley owns Donwell Abbey, a country estate, and we see him overseeing the management of his farms and orchards. Meanwhile, his younger brother is a lawyer and lives and works in London.)

But as mentioned, during the 19th century there was a shift to a manufacturing / industrial economy which brought a lot of social change, including a change in the attitude to work. More professions opened up, like engineering or industrial design; medicine lost its social stigma; and while it still wasn't acceptable for a young man to work behind a counter in a shop, he could go into a bank, or an import / export business, or some other trading operation, and still be considered "a gentleman". This may sound silly, but if you crossed the social line you got ostracised. There were significant consequences to stepping out of your sphere.

So perversely, you could live a completely wasteful life like Richard, and still be a gentleman and socially acceptable, but of you got an honest job you'd be excluded. :)

(As a general comment, a lot of "sensation fiction" turns on someone socially prominent having a secret that would ruin their reputation and social standing if it was revealed, and going to desperate lengths to cover it up. Much of the "shock-horror" reaction to these novels was a response to their suggestion that nice, well-bred people could and would do terrible and dishonourable things if pushed.)

gen. 1, 2013, 5:45pm

FYI, Madeline - I have begun a character list up in msg #2...just in case. :)

gen. 1, 2013, 6:21pm

> 25

Hi Kerry! Good to have you here with us.

At the slow pace that I read, you should have no problem catching up! :)

Note to lurkers: My plan is to read a chapter a day unless time doesn't allow, but I'll let you know if, for some reason, I cannot keep to that schedule. For now, it's full sail ahead!

These chapters are very short, but I feel I can digest these books much better the more slowly I read them. That was suggested to me by someone (was it Donna? ) at the outset of my tutored reads and has proven to be great advice.

gen. 1, 2013, 6:26pm

> 26

I think it's interesting, that as white collar jobs fill up, there is more of a push in contemporary United States to do blue collar work (more labor intensive work). Because of that, people in such professions as plumbing, electricians, nursing (which used to be a service profession, but has now become a more respected profession), etc. can command much higher per hour wages.

gen. 1, 2013, 6:27pm

> 27

Thanks...about the character list! that will be a useful reference. If things get too tangles, I'll go back to drawing a diagram on an 8x11 sheet of white paper! :)

Editat: gen. 2, 2013, 8:40pm

Book the First - Chapter 3 which Jabez North uses a rope to go out and come in a window

1. Help me with this word:
"...his tongue, busy with half suppresses but terrible imprecations." (p. 21)
2. I have no idea what's going on. Why does Jabez North uses a rope to go out and then in the window? Is it because he doesn't want anyone to see him leaving the building?
3. Why was Allecompain Minor left in his care? Was it because this is a resident school, and a sick child is left in the care of a teacher?
4. What was the spot on North's hand? Will we learn what it was later?
5. Is Jabez North not human?
6. Did Jabez North intend to poison Allecompain Minor, or did he just want to sedate him?
7. What kind of a name is Allecompain?

My mood: confused

Editat: gen. 2, 2013, 9:01pm

My mood: confused

Now, THAT'S more like it! The first two chapters were far too easy on you! :)

Chapter 3

1. Curses, or swear-words.

2. Ha-HA!! My first of this book - WAIT AND SEE!!

In fact, my answer to most of this is wait and see: what exactly Jabez has been doing, and why, will be made clear shortly. (It might be worth your re-reading this chaper, after you've read the next.)

3. Because this is a second-rate school that saves money by not having a nurse on staff; a bigger, better class of school would have. Instead the care of sick children (presumably not considered sick enough to warrant the care of a doctor, which would cost money) is made yet another of the many duties of the saintly Jabez.

4. See #2.

5. He is VERY human. :(

6. We can assume he meant to do it. "At any rate, he will tell no tales," says Jabez, while the boy is still alive...

7. I think the name is an obscure joke on Braddon's part, possibly in reference to the poor child's fate: the plant elecampane was used in various medicines and tonics at the time - perhaps including the medicine the boy was supposed to take - and was also used in making absinthe.

gen. 2, 2013, 9:13pm

The first two chapters were far too easy on you

...and I was just settling in to easily understand everything!

gen. 2, 2013, 9:16pm

Ah, but my dear...then you wouldn't need me! And I for one wouldn't like that! :)

Editat: gen. 2, 2013, 9:21pm


Some people are just meant to teach, I guess! :D

gen. 3, 2013, 3:52pm

Here I am; couldn't resist the siren call of this particular book/tutor/tutee. I found that after all, I had to buy an e-copy of the Modern Library ed., as the free one was, quite literally, unreadable.

I loved the opening chapter, and found the writing evocative without being over-the-top. I'm also enjoying Braddon's particular voice, which is informed and off-hand, almost sardonic in making her points.
Liz, I see a distinct resemblance to/comparison with Oliver Twist, but also see quite a bit of the atmosphere of Bleak House, both in the oppressive weather/ambience, and in the idea of secrets kept...but for how long?
I'm really, really enjoying this book. Like you, Madeline, I find it easier to read than I thought it would be. In fact, now I can't wait to read Lady Audley's Secret!
I've finished Book 1, and decided to pull up for awhile. One thing I might mention about reading this kind of book in general is that it often pays to go back and re-read parts, whether in light of future developments, or just to get more of a sense of what's going on.Many, many, many times I've done that.

Editat: gen. 3, 2013, 7:58pm

Hi Gail,

Glad to have you here with us! I'm finding this book fun. Hope I don't slow you down too much. :)

I always have at least two other books going on while I also do my tutored read as I like to take my tutored read very slowly and deeply.

Editat: gen. 3, 2013, 8:33pm

Hi, Gail - welcome! Very glad to have you here, and even gladder to hear that you are enjoying The Trail Of The Serpent so far.

Sensation novels generally do repay concentration and re-reading, as they rely upon scattered clues and hints for their effects.

I'm very certain the Dickens allusions were intentional...though I also suspect that the line I quoted above, Virtuous people are no doubt virtuous always..., may be a bit of a dig at him. :)

gen. 3, 2013, 9:41pm

Book the First - Chapter 4 which Daredevil Dick is apprehended for murder

1. Why is the word alarm spelled "alarum"? I saw this previously but didn't mention it.

2. Why would it necessarily be quieter to leave a house via a window than through a door? I would think the window exit would be much noisier. :)

3. Is there a reason that Richard Marwood is called Daredevil Dick in this chapter? At first, I thought we were being introduced to a new character!

4. "Call me Jinks..."

I like that name!

5. "'s those cursed Jews"

Liz, you already knew I'd comment on that line. So Jews were moneylenders, I know, but what brought on the urge to call them "cursed"?

6. Who or what did Richard really think Jinks and his companion were at first? Moneylenders would not accost an individual!

7. Why would Richard volunteer the fact to strangers that he has lots of money on him?

8. "...seem to be afflicted with rather an overlarge allowance of the organ of adhesiveness."


9. "He was neither rather very tall nor very short nor very thin, neither dark nor fair, neither ugly nor handsome, but just such a medium between the two extremities of each as to be utterly commonplace and unnoticeable."

Now, that's funny! It's hard to picture just such an individual.

10. "I am not an electric telegraph."


11. I assume that the second policeman was talking sign language. Was there even such a thing at the time?

12. Why was it a "dirty" alphabet that was signed? Was it because that policeman who couldn't talk had such dirty fingers? Yuk!

13. How did blood stains get on Richard's sleeve?

14. I guess we're supposed to suspect Jabez North of the murder at this time as we don't know many more characters who sneaked out into the night!

I love the humor in this chapter.

Editat: gen. 3, 2013, 10:14pm

Chapter 4

1. "Alarum" is the original spelling; "alarm" is a fairly recent variant.

2. At this time it was customary for a house to be completely locked up at night. Sometimes people would have their own keys, but where there was no perceived need for that, one person would keep them. So, if you wanted to go out after hours - for whatever reason - you either had to ask for the key, and draw attention to the fact, or leave (and return) by a window.

3. It was mentioned earlier that that was his nickname - rather ironically then, as there was certainly nothing of the daredevil about him while he was slinking back to his mother's home. It's probably used here to emphasise his bad local reputation, which inclines people to think he might be guilty.

5. I wouldn't take this one personally: Richard is unfairly blaming the moneylenders for his own inability to stay out of debt. He thinks he's being arrested because he hasn't paid back a loan.

6. See #5. During the first half of the 19th century, and earlier, you could be arrested and imprisoned for debt - there was a whole system of bailiffs and jails just for that. You never had a trial - they just locked you up until the debt was paid somehow. Some people spent years and years locked up because they simply couldn't pay (and of course, being imprisoned they had no way of earning money so they could pay; it was insanely counterintuitive). This system was phased out during the second half of the century, but we gather that Richard has had more than one brush in the past with this particular form of arrest.

7. See #5 and #6. He's telling them that this time he can pay, and so they don't have to arrest him. Bailiffs were authorised to accept payment and clear the debt under which the warrant had been issued.

11. He's using the original form of English (i.e. developed in England) sign language, which as is made clear is effectively a way of spelling out the alphabet. It was eventually replaced with the more efficient system that uses whole words and phrases rather than letters.

12. "Grimy" is the word used. He's a working man; habitual cleanliness was for the upper classes. (Particularly at a time when very few people had working plumbing or running water; think back to how Jabez North has to wash his hands.) It's actually unusual to have the reader's attention drawn to a detail like like - Victorian novels tend to ignore everyday unpleasantnesses like dirty hands.

13. Good question!

14. Well, unless there was an epidemic of window-exiting that night... :)

gen. 3, 2013, 10:15pm

By the way - we've just met the novel's hero...

gen. 3, 2013, 10:24pm

2. you either had to ask for the key, and draw attention to the fact, or leave (and return) by a window

Tee hee! That reminds me of my nursing school dorm. We students would think up all kinds of ways to sneak each other into our dorm after hours since we all had a midnight curfew. We're talking about 1965 through 1968 here! We never used a window, though. There was a great back door which could be opened from the inside (without an alarm) and which we found exceedingly useful!

3. "Daredevil" gives me the impression of someone who is not afraid of anything. So far Richard's personality doesn't come across to me as the daredevil type. I guess I'll decide for sure later.

5. I take these all personally and will comment on any "Jew" line I see. So beware! ;)

6. being imprisoned they had no way of earning money so they could pay

That's like the penalties on the income taxes here in the U.S. The higher penalty you have to spend for not paying on time, the less you can afford to pay, and the longer it takes to get out of tax debt.

13. Good question!


14. unless there was an epidemic of window-exiting that night

Well, there could have been! :D

gen. 3, 2013, 10:25pm

By the way - we've just met the novel's hero...

who is...?

gen. 3, 2013, 10:37pm


2. Madeline, I am shocked - SHOCKED!!

3. It's measure of the distance between the reckless, unthinking young man who drank and gambled and wasted his fortune, and the broken-down, destitute individual who finally had to creep home to his mother.

5. And fair enough! All I'm saying here is that this is just Richard being silly and petulant; the novel itself isn't saying anything negative.

6. Yes, that sounds like descendant of the same system.

14. Well, we know it was a terrible night in the area - The November night is darkest, foggiest, wettest, and windiest out on the open road that leads to Slopperton - so unless someone had a particularly urgent reason to be outside, unlikely, I think.


He was neither rather very tall nor very short nor very thin, neither dark nor fair, neither ugly nor handsome, but just such a medium between the two extremities of each as to be utterly commonplace and unnoticeable...

Also, he has dirty hands. :)

Editat: gen. 3, 2013, 10:40pm

> 2


gen. 3, 2013, 10:46pm

>43 SqueakyChu:: Now there's a may be a while before we're sure about that.

Actually I find this book really, really funny, and much easier to read than some more highly-regarded works of the period. What I've been struck by, in the past two or three years, is how well the female authors of the nineteenth century wrote. (That's awkward, but you know what I mean.) Mrs. Gaskell was always presented as a complete lightweight next to the big 3 (Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray), Braddon was completely beneath the radar; the only women writers of note were the Brontes, always classed as "Romantic" in that looking-down-one's-nose sort of way; and Elliot, who somehow was treated as not quite nice. It's only in this late stage of life that I'm coming to know and love these ladies. My daughter is/was more familiar with them, but still not as much as she should be, and she graduated B.A. English 1989, long, long after my degree.

Be that as it may, of course you're not slowing me down Madeline; I just do a bit of a sprint and then rest and re-think. And re: the "Jew" remark: I know many money-lenders were Jews, but so were many Scots and no doubt other ethnicities. I did see how it referenced the money-lending trade itself, but I was offended as well. I just find that jarring, no matter how much I realize that it was typical of the times.

Liz, is it possible that the window referred to was what we would call a French door? I know that in Golden Age Mysteries people often came in and left by the window, in the middle of the day, on a casual visit. It really confused me as a child, until some kind person explained.

Editat: gen. 3, 2013, 10:59pm

> 46

I was offended as well

Gail, I wasn't really offended, and Liz knows that. I like to tease her because then she has to defend the negativity. I like to see what she comes up with each time! :)

The poke at the Jew seems to come with the literature of that time. I am very carefully following how the "Jew" is presented in the books through which Liz is tutoring me. The Jew never seems to be presented in any positive fashion. I also wonder how these novels always seem to always insert just one negative reference to Jews when such books are usually about nothing related to Judaism or Jews at all.

I know that in Golden Age Mysteries people often came in and left by the window

It's more fun to sneak out of a window that it is a door, anyway! :D

Maybe French doors were called windows because they are composed of all glass panes (much like the window wall here in my house)?

Editat: gen. 3, 2013, 11:05pm


What I've been struck by, in the past two or three years, is how well the female authors of the nineteenth century wrote.

Yes---and how little respect they get. Always that note of contempt or dismissal - it's just women's writing, it's just women's fiction, they're just romances - automatically second-class.

Yeah, because Elizabeth Gaskell describing a violent strike in a manufacturing town and reflecting upon the necessary relationship between labour and management is "lightweight".

It makes me so MAD!!!!

So does the tokenism of so many university lit courses, where they think if they say something nice about Jane Austen, they can ignore all those other silly females.


(I could lecture on this subject for hours, but I'll restrain myself...)

In venturing into 18th and 19th century literature, Madeline has been confronted by the unhappy reality of casual anti-Semitic slurs. It is jarring, but a commonplace at this time that you have to deal with.

Weirdly, it was often less a case of "He's Jewish, therefore a moneylender" than "He's a moneylender, therefore Jewish" - when as you point out, Gail, there were plenty of other ethnicities in that line lof work, and pawnbroking.

is it possible that the window referred to was what we would call a French door?

The one that Richard leaves by is; yes, that's correct. Also, he enters by it - that's how he falls fainting, exhausted, into the room when his uncle opens the window.

Editat: gen. 3, 2013, 11:08pm


Ah, now, I don't defend it - I just explain it. :)

As I keep saying, George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is the great pro-Jewish Victorian novel... (*hint, hint*)

gen. 3, 2013, 11:38pm

Okay - if I can be serious for a moment, there are a few remarks I need to make at this point.

I doubt anyone spots it at first glance, but this novel's hero really is Joe Peters, currently of the police. That is a daring artistic choice by Braddon, and unless you're very familiar with Victorian literature you may not grasp just how daring.

In the first place, Joe is working-class. No question about that, and (not really a spoiler!) no last-minute revelation that Joe is the long-lost son of a gentleman or anything like that. I think this was a first. There are novels from this time dealing with the working-classes and with individuals who are who are working-class, but almost invariably the reader's identification figure is from the middle- or upper-classes. The working-classes tend to be treated as "the other" (NB: Elizabeth Gaskell excepted again). The Trail Of The Serpent is notable not just for putting a working-class man front and centre, but for having him turn out to be the hero.

And - Joe has a disability. Now, there are people with disabilities all over Victorian literature, but nearly always the reader is supposed to feel sorry for them - they're usually figures of pity, to be cried over. Instead of that, Braddon gives a wonderfully modern portrait of someone who isn't about to let his disability stop him doing what he wants.

Either one of these things would make Joe remarkable, but put them together and give us a hero who is working-class and has a disability, and I think we can safely call Joe unique. This makes The Trail Of The Serpent an historically important work, in my opinion, even though it is "just" a sensation novel.

(And in a chapter or two, Joe will do something to make himself even MORE remarkable!)

Braddon's introduction of Joe via a description of how completely nondescript and unremarkable and forgettable he is, is a lovely in-joke.

Editat: gen. 4, 2013, 12:46am

It's funny, Liz, that I should already have been attracted to that character. Of course, I hadn't yet learned that his name was Joe Peters...a kind of nondescript name, don't you think? I was already picking up on the fact that he was using sign language, and I, having a hearing disability, always marvel at characters in novels who work through their disabilities to later emerge as wonderfully strong characters.

One contemporary literary character that immediately comes to mind is the "detective" Lionel Essrog in Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn. He suffered from Tourette's Syndrome. Now it is more politically correct to portray individuals with disabilities as being "challenged" in certain areas and show how they can otherwise function effectively.

People always kid me as I lose more and more of my hearing, saying that I should learn sign language. That, however, would not work for me, as I live in a "hearing culture", not in a "deaf culture". I'll now be very pleased to follow our hero, Joe Peters, in this novel.

gen. 4, 2013, 12:23am

> 49

I took a peek at some of the chapters of Daniel Deronda, and, although the idea of a pro-Jewish novel sounds great, the prose doesn't suit my fancy. Have you any more ideas? If so, let me know as we proceed.

Editat: gen. 4, 2013, 12:40am


Mr Jinks uttered the whole of this speech with the most intense sarcasm; for Mr Jinks was a distinguished detective, and prided himself on his acumen; and was therefore very indignant that his sub and scrub should dare to express an opinion...

Uh-huh? :)

The other point about Joe is that he learns how to sometimes turn his disability into an advantage.


Not really; not on that subject; that's the point. :(

(Poor George...really she writes beautifully, but in a very Victorian way!)

The other other vague possibility is Benjamin Disraeli's Coningsby, which is the novel he used to work out his feelings about his Jewish heritage, but I'm not sure it's really the kind of thing we're looking for.

Editat: gen. 4, 2013, 12:45am

> 52

Never fear. Something will strike our fancy along the way. It always does.

gen. 4, 2013, 11:50am

Excellent points, Liz, both about the class and the disability of Joe Peters. Now why isn't this book used in at least some lit. classes as a very early, perhaps the first, example of a hero with these characteristics? I did a quick mental scan and could come up with no others who didn't turn out to be "aristocrats" in the end.

*off my soapbox, at least for now*

gen. 4, 2013, 12:13pm

...and I'm so happy to be rid of the aristocrats!

gen. 4, 2013, 4:09pm

You'll meet some aristocrats before the book is over. Just a warning. :)

gen. 4, 2013, 4:35pm


gen. 4, 2013, 4:37pm

Oh, don't worry - they'll live down to your expectations.

gen. 4, 2013, 4:42pm

S'ha suprimit aquest usuari en ser considerat brossa.

gen. 4, 2013, 4:46pm

Not that I don't have a passing interest in the Seahawks and Redskins...

gen. 4, 2013, 11:56pm

Book the First - Chapter Five which Jabez North meets a woman and baby in a pub

1. "...the colliers whose barges are moored in the neighborhood."

What are colliers?

2. Do we know if this woman had been married to Jabez North at one time or not?

3. Did the woman throw herself and the baby into the water at the end of this chapter. It's not clear.

gen. 5, 2013, 12:00am

Chapter 5

1. Coal-miners, or at least men involved in the production and transportation of coal, presumably in this case by barges on the river.

2. Seduced under promises of marriage, but certainly not married.

3. Wait and see...

gen. 5, 2013, 12:24am

Will do.

gen. 6, 2013, 12:38am

Just got in from the movies. Will need to read my chapter tomorrow.

gen. 6, 2013, 12:44am

That's okay, then. I was about to accuse you of neglecting your reading for {*shudder*} exercise...

gen. 6, 2013, 9:36am

Confession: I did a three minute dance to Gangnam Style! Then I was out the door. :)

gen. 6, 2013, 3:59pm

Three minutes? Permissable. About my limit, too. :)

gen. 6, 2013, 11:00pm

Book the First - Chapter Six which two dead bodies are examined

1. I was rather amused by the lines that told about newspapers which print wrong facts in their papers. I've always thought that modern newspapers try to gets facts correct before printing them, but I am getting very frustrated by online and TV news media that now report "facts" as soon as they get them just to scoop other media, but the facts are all different in each place. So nothing much has changed in 150 years! :(

2. Even the gossip about the murders resulted in stories that were completely devoid of the facts. That reminds me of the old game of "Telephone"? Do you know that kids' game, Liz?

3. Help, please with vocabulary:
a. "The Lascar has been taken to the hospital..."
b. "...there to lie till the assizes..."

4. Why is Jabez North so interested in those two unrelated deaths?

gen. 6, 2013, 11:26pm

Chapter 6

1. The internet has changed everything: now it's all about being the first, even if you subsequently have to retract everything you say, and no-one seems to care much about that any more.

But as you point out, maybe after all nothing's changed: the scenes of "cut-and-paste" journalism have a rather familiar ring to them! :)

2. Passing a story along in whispers and seeing how it changes? "Purple Monkey Dishwasher", as they say on The Simpsons.


A Lascar was an Indian (that is, from India) who had served as a soldier or a sailor. Presumably this man had some such experience before becoming Mr Harding's personal servant, and accompanying him from India to England.

Assizes are legal trials held on a special basis, or at periodic intervals. At this time in the country areas, everywhere but the biggest cities, there were no permanent courts: the assizes were held every three months (I think), with the judges and all the related officials moving from area to area and taking care of all the pending trials one after the other in a bunch. This meant that if you were arrested and charged you were jailed for however long it was until the next assizes came around. You might spend the full three months in jail and then end up released, or you might face a capital charge and find yourself in court with only days to prepare, according to the timing.

4. Are they completely unrelated?

Editat: gen. 6, 2013, 11:46pm

4. I don't know. :(

I guess I'll find out...?

gen. 6, 2013, 11:54pm

Well, think about the circumstances under which these two poor people died...?

Editat: gen. 6, 2013, 11:59pm

One man was murdered in bed, and one woman drowned in the sea. Was the woman pushed into the sea?

Jabez was our running around with his rope at night, doing who knows what. Murdering a man, maybe? I don't know for sure.

Jabez spurned his former lady love, maybe causing her to drown herself.

Is that a link?

Editat: gen. 6, 2013, 11:58pm

She's the woman you asked me about in Q3 for Chapter 5.

Editat: gen. 6, 2013, 11:58pm

I know that, but I'm still not seeing a definite link between the deaths.

gen. 6, 2013, 11:59pm

Oops, sorry - cross-posted, I think!

That's enough of a link for now. :)

gen. 7, 2013, 12:00am

How did Jabez North even know that the woman who was found drowned was his former lady love? Had she been identified in the papers?

Editat: gen. 7, 2013, 12:01am

Ooooooooooooooooh! So there really IS a link!!

P.S. Thanks for that hint. :)

Editat: gen. 7, 2013, 12:05am

There would have been a description of the dead woman in the report of the inquest, in hopes of identifying her; enough for someone who knew her, and perhaps suspected that she was headed for the river, to be sure it was her. (Particularly considering the auburn hair.)

ETA: The next chapter is one of my favourites... :)

gen. 7, 2013, 12:07am

I'll be sure to get to it tomorrow.

gen. 7, 2013, 12:07am

Speaking of auburn hair, did women dye their hair back then?

Editat: gen. 7, 2013, 12:26am

Only bad women. It was like wearing make-up - tsk! :)

ETA: It was acceptable for people to touch up their greying hair as they got older, but a complete change of colour (in the way that we'd do it today) was usually associated with a disguise or a disreputable profession and was therefore suspect, particularly in women.

gen. 7, 2013, 4:17pm

Ugh! I finally *got* why there were two related deaths, Liz. I wasn't even thinking of Allecompain Junior's death. I was just thinking of the auburn-haired woman and Mr. Montague Harding. Actually, there might be four possible deaths so far (if the baby had been drowned as well) in our story.

gen. 7, 2013, 4:43pm

Book the First - Chapter 7
... in which Mister Peters finds a room to rent in Slopperton

1. Please help me with the bolded words and expressions:
a. "...goes home in a new suit of mourning and who makes it sticky about the cuffs and white at the elbows."
b. "...planting his honest gingham in a corner of the room."
c. "hobnailed soles..."
d. "three cornered slits"
e. "...offered a Hobson's choice to its inhabitants"

2. What is a sofa-bedstead? Like a sofa bed?

3. I'm sure the baby is Mr. Jabez North's son.

Editat: gen. 7, 2013, 4:58pm


Three deaths - four potential deaths, as you say - one murder, one suicide, and one murder passed off as natural causes.

It's not a character list this book needs, it's a casualty list.

So it was only the "public deaths" that received inquests, which were reported in the papers for Jabez to read. What he would have read, of course, was a description of the woman by which he would have recognised his former mistress, and the news that Richard Marwood had been committed to stand trial for his uncle's murder.

All very interesting to Jabez.

Editat: gen. 7, 2013, 5:29pm

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Joseph Peters:

(i) working-class
(ii) disabled
(iii) single father.

I can't get over this book...

Chapter 7


Suit of mourning: black clothes worn after a relative's death. The Victorians took mourning very seriously and had strict rules about wearing black and how long you had to wear it according to your relationship with the deceased. However in this case the mourner, Allecompain Major, is just a kid after all, and he treats his mourning clothes like any others, and messes them up as he has his Christmas holidays fun and treats and plays games in them.

Honest gingham: gingham is a checked cloth, however in this context it's a slang terms for one of Joe's very few wordly goods that won't fit in his pocket or his hat - his umbrella.

Hobnailed soles: hobnails are short flat nails hammered into the bottoms of work boots to make the soles last longer. They were associated with the working-classes who were likely to be on their feet for their work and couldn't afford to replace their shoes too often.

Three-cornered slits: as with her hobnailed shoes, Kuppins can't afford to get a new dress too often. This one has numerous tears in it, to go along with the grease-spots.

Hobson's choice: an expression meaning having two equally undesirable things to choose between. In this case, you can be cold, or you can light a fire that smokes horribly. Joe chooses the smoke.

2. Yes, more or less. It was a way for landlords to rip off their tenants, offering them a single piece of furniture instead of two separate ones (a bed and a sofa).

3. I'm very sure you're right.

Presumably Joe didn't get to the river in time to save the woman, but managed to fish out the baby: "I'm afeard he'll never grow up a tee-totaller. He's had a little too much of the water already."

gen. 7, 2013, 5:24pm

Who so fit? or who so unfit? Which shall we say? If in the wonderful course of events, this little child shall ever have a part in dragging a murderer to a murderer's doom, shall it be called a monstrous and terrible outrage of nature, or a just and fitting retribution?

"The wonderful course of events" is a pretty good way of describing the plot of any given sensation novel. You can get away with anything, if you insist that "Providence" is doing it. :)

gen. 7, 2013, 5:26pm

By the way, we shouldn't overlook the fact that unrepentent tomboys like Kuppins are not exactly common in Victorian literature, either.

gen. 7, 2013, 11:14pm

> 85

It's not a character list this book needs, it's a casualty list.


gen. 7, 2013, 11:15pm

> 85

It's not a character list this book needs, it's a casualty list.


Why would the news about Richard Marwood be of so much interest to Jabez North?

gen. 7, 2013, 11:17pm

> 86

"I'm afeard he'll never grow up a tee-totaller. He's had a little too much of the water already."

I did catch that line.

gen. 7, 2013, 11:37pm


Oh, well, you know... :)

gen. 7, 2013, 11:43pm

So he *is* the murderer?

gen. 8, 2013, 12:52am

Wait and see...

gen. 8, 2013, 9:57pm

Book the First - Chapter 8 which Richard Marwood pleased "Not Guilty"

1. Did people really bet on the outcomes of trials at that time? That's perverse.

2. How were the guilty prisoners executed? Was it by hanging?

3. Were men with hearing problems actually allowed to be judges, or was this supposed to be funny? I guess it could be funny if I myself were not hard of hearing.

What I'm Looking Forward To..."

I want to find out what those two words were.

Editat: gen. 8, 2013, 10:32pm

Chapter 8

1. I wouldn't be surprised - gambling on just about anything was a popular pasttime. But i think it's mostly meant to show the attitude of Slopperton and exactly how far the odds (literally) are stacked against Richard.

2. Yes. Publicly, until 1868.

3. Yes, I wondered how you'd react to that. :)

Again, it's illustrating just how hopeless Richard's situation is - but there's a serious point beyond that: judgeships were for life, with no set retirement age. It was supposed to make them secure and therefore unable to be swayed or corrupted by outside influences, but what it actually meant is that there were people sitting in judgement who weren't fit for the job. In this case, Richard has a judge who can't hear the evidence properly but since he refuses to admit it no-one can stop him going on with it.

I want to find out what those two words were.

All shall be revealed...

...which is another way of saying wait and see. :)

gen. 8, 2013, 10:31pm


gen. 9, 2013, 9:11pm

Book the First - Chapter 9 which the jury comes to a verdict

1. What does "betting on the events of the turf" mean?

2. What does "he applauded with the heels of his boots" mean?

3. Why were trousers called unmentionables?

4. In the expression "ornamented with death's heads", what are those "death heads"? Skulls, maybe?

5. Why was depression referred to as "blue devils"?

6. "The witness thinks the learned gentleman had better buy a dictionary before he again assists in a criminal prosecution."


7. Re: turtle soup

My husband grew up in El Salvador where, he tells me, sopa de tortuga (turtle soup) was used as a cure for asthma.

8. Re: Not guilt on the ground of insanity

This defense has always made me beserk. I think it would be more accurate to deem someone "guilty with the mitigating circumstance of insanity".

Mood: Light

This book is fun!

Editat: gen. 18, 2013, 6:04am

Chapter 9

1. Betting on horse-racing.

2. Instead of clapping (which everyone would have known was him) he signified his approval of the judge's efforts to hurry things up by stamping his feet.

3. Because items of clothing worn in that general area of the body were never supposed to be mentioned in polite conversation...a rule of etiquette that led to the adoption of the term "unmentionables". (It was sometimes also used for underwear.)

4. Yes.

5. There was a long very long history of associating colours with moods, and blue had been associated with depression or (heh!) melacholy since at least the 14th century. "Blue devils", however, was slang not just for depression, but for delerium tremens, which term the witness goes on to use correctly.

7. Turtle soup was an expensive luxury at this time and often served at special dinners.

8. It's the correct legal terminology, though: if you are insane you are not responsible for your actions, and if you are not responsible for your actions, legally you cannot be guilty, therefore "not guilty by reason of insanity".

Mood: Relieved

Not much fun for Richard so far! :)

Editat: gen. 9, 2013, 10:17pm

It's the correct legal terminology

I realize that, but it makes me no less nuts! :)

I am of the opinion that no one is either 100% "crazy" or 100% "sane". We are all on a continuum. :D

Am I crazy or what?!

gen. 9, 2013, 10:18pm

Lady, you're NUTS!! :)

Editat: gen. 9, 2013, 10:28pm


Well, it's Daredevil Dick and me then...!

gen. 9, 2013, 10:35pm

Only if you can follow Joe's orders as well as he did...

Editat: gen. 11, 2013, 9:05am

Book the Second - Chapter 1 which Jabez North ends up in Blind Peter

1. Please help me with vocabulary again:
a. "...his private stock of caloric"
b. " the holes of the quartern loaf" (corrected typo)
c. "...with peaked roofs...and a gaunt gump" (corrected typo)
4. "Where did you get your fine toggery?"

2. At the end of this chapter, was Jabez North seeing himself in the old lady's mirror, but in the clothes of a laborer? (correction typo...a third time!)

Unrelated to this book news:
My daughter-in-law and younger son found out that the baby they're having in June will be a boy! :D

Editat: gen. 11, 2013, 2:14am

Book 2 Chapter 1


Caloric: relating to heat, or the burning of energy. In context, either the baker is naturally a rather over-heated individual (perhaps because of his weight) or he has a hot temper.

Quartern loaf (not quarter): a standard loaf. There were strict laws about the weight and content of commercial bread. A quartern loaf had to be made with one-quarter of a stone's worth of flour, that is, three-and-a-half pounds.

?????? - it actually says "gaunt gump"! - and I think it's a typo - though it was present in the early editions of the novel (I checked!). My best guess, seeing that it is in a description of "an old-fashioned square", that it should say "pump". Before improvements in plumbing and running water, there were communal pumps for household water.

Either that or it's a very ephemeral piece of Victorian slang. :)

Toggery: clothing - "togs".

2. No. :)

Unrelated reaction

Whoo! Congratulations!! :)

gen. 11, 2013, 9:06am

2. ???????????

I'll wait and see what the last line of that chapter meant, then. Maybe it was a man (Jim, perhaps?) who looked like Jabez North.

Mood: confused

gen. 11, 2013, 10:26am

Yay! for the grandson on the way, Madeline.

I'm liking this book quite a lot, but seeing some...oh...things I'm not crazy about here in part 2. (Not wanting to give anything away at all.) I'm one or two chapters ahead of Madeline, as I stopped to read Lolita for a group read. Now if you're looking for an esoteric, deeply puzzling book, there's one for you, and I'm not referring to the plot, either.

One thing I've noticed is how very easy it is to read this book compared with some others of the same general time-frame. I know part of that is because I'm pretty familiar with Vic. Lit., but even so, this isn't a slog by any means. Some of the books of the times are just, good grief, very hard to get through, even if enjoyable. I noticed the same thing with Cranford, and must check more of Mrs. G.'s work to see if that holds up.

gen. 11, 2013, 10:48am

> 107

Re: grandson

Re: this book:
I also agree with you about how easy reading this is compared to all of the other books that I've worked through so far with Liz. The vocabulary is easier. So far, the author is not trying to make the characters confusing. In addition, the humor is in-your-face, rather than just gentle pokes. I can't help but like books which make me laugh out loud - even horror books!

I'm liking this book quite a lot, but seeing some...oh...things I'm not crazy about here in part 2.

Since I don't know what these are, it might be fun to see if my reactions will turn out to be the same as yours, Gail.

Re: Lolita
I did want to read Lolita, but I can never manage a group read because I *never* want to read what others read at the same time. That's the reason for the TIOLI challenges with the option to opt out of reading anything at any time.

gen. 11, 2013, 11:49am

Book the Second - Chapter 2 which Jim Lomax contracts rheumatic fever

1. This family seems very poor. How is it that they can afford to call a doctor?

2. I take it, then, that Jabez North is the brother (perhaps even a twin brother) of Jim Lomax, based on the facts that (1) Jabez North came "out of the Sloshy" and (2) Jim's grandmother says in disbelief that she "saw it done".

3. What does this mean?
" some danger of becoming a fop?

4. In this situation, is Jabez North going after money (I'm not certain from where, though), love (from Sillikens), or family?

5. Are we to assume that Jim Lomax and Sillikens are married?

Editat: gen. 11, 2013, 3:39pm

Book 2 Chapter 2

1. Sillikens works when she can; we gather that the three of them are living off her earnings. A doctor who was willing to visit in an area like Blind Peter would keep his fees realistic, if he even charged at all. He might view it as a charity case. Medicine was very often not a profitable profession at the time, particularly not in a place like Slopperton. We note that this doctor is doing his own dispensing (which is often where the profits were), since Sillikens picks up something from his surgery. Probably in this case he'd charge a nominal fee for whatever he gave her and not charge for the visit.

2. That seems like a reasonable interpretation...

3. A fop was a man who paid too much attention to his clothes, accessories and general appearance.

4. Certainly not love or family.

5. No, not necessarily. Nor is there necessarily anything more between them than we see. Knowing how bad his health is, it is unlikely that Jim would have (as he sees it) made himself more of a burden to Sillikens than he already is by marrying her.

Editat: gen. 11, 2013, 3:47pm for the general direction, obviously I know where this is going, so I won't comment. But after we get through the next stretch, Gail, do feel free to make your comments / criticisms.

I'm not much good at group reads either; I can't do the pace-your-reading thing and always end up dashing ahead.

gen. 12, 2013, 11:13pm

Book the Second - Chapter 3 which Jabez North learns that Lively Betty has a secret

1. Ha! Jabez North is Jim Lomax's twin brother!!

2. Explain...
"The old harridan looked at him..."

3. To whom does this refer?
"...not...pleasing to any marquis, or to any noble or potentate whatever, except one, and him, by the laws of polite conversation, I am not to mention."

4. Explain..
"The old woman apostrophized his receding figure."

gen. 12, 2013, 11:49pm

Book 2 Chapter 3

1. Correct! :)

2. A bad-tempered old woman, particularly one with a nasty or malicious tongue.

3. The devil, who was never supposed to be referred to directly; he is a "potentate" in that he rules in hell.

4. Direct a speech or an exclamation at (rather than to) someone.

gen. 12, 2013, 11:54pm

So now I'll stick around to learn the story of Jabez North and Jim Lomax's father! :)

gen. 12, 2013, 11:55pm

Eventually... :)

gen. 13, 2013, 7:08pm

Book the Second which Jabez North is left alone with his brother

1. Who are "Ruskin" and "Turner", both of whom are referred to in the second paragraph?

2. I see now that Jim Lomax was not married.

3. "...I'll rise out of my grave and haunt you."

I'll be looking forward to this! :D

4. Who is Bill Withers?

5. Are we to understand that Jabez North has now contributed to the death of his brother by neglecting to give him the medicine that was by the bedside?

gen. 13, 2013, 7:24pm

Book 2 Chapter 4

1. John Ruskin and J. M. W. Turner were both mid-Victorian artists; although Ruskin is probably better known these days as an art critic (and for his peculiar marriage; but that's another story). Both, briefly, favoured landscapes and other natural scenes in their paintings, often with vivid light effects. Both specialised in watercolours.

As an example, here's a Turner:

2. No - planned to but died first. Not an uncommon event at the time, although not usually under these particular circumstances.

3. :)

4. A local man, who presumably owns a cart of some kind, and who isn't too particular about what work he does, as long as he gets paid for it.

5. I think we are to understand that, at the very least, he neglected to give Jim his medicine. Perhaps nothing more was necessary...

gen. 13, 2013, 7:38pm

1. Wow! That's a striking painting. I can see how the sky as described in this story was reminiscent of the colors in such a painting.

5. Well, at the end, of this chapter Jim is not yet dead (I don't think).

Editat: gen. 13, 2013, 7:44pm

Yes, I picked one with a "red sky" effect because that was suitable to the novel.

Jim isn't quite dead, true, but we have seen that, for reasons of his own, Jabez needs him to die (at least, he gets worked up every time someone suggests that he might not), and we've also seen that Jabez doesn't respond well when anyone interferes with his plans...

gen. 13, 2013, 7:46pm

at least, he gets worked up every time someone suggests that he might not

Yeah. That's pretty amusing.

gen. 14, 2013, 7:33pm

Book the Second - Chapter 5 which Sillikens returns home from the surgery

1. "...brought in on a shutter"

Does this mean carrying a dead person on a window shutter?

2. ..the young woman who looked after the gentleman's wardrobes

So did one woman only care for her master's clothes, while another did the "housework"?

3. What were the "several applications" of the word "low"?

4. Rasselas

Have you read this Samuel Johnson novel?

5. Why a "Dutch" clock?

6. "...struck eighteen to the dozen"

What does that mean?

7. "...something in his voice"

Oh, no! Jabez North has already taken Jim Lomax's place!

8. Is there a significance to the broken teacup?

9. Obviously, the grandmother is in on the deceit of the substitution of Jabez North for Jim Lomax.

10. Who was the man seen "hurrying away"?

I imagine that it was Jabez North as I'm supposed to assume that Jim Lomax is dead. I never assume anything in these novels any more, Liz.

11. What happened to the (supposedly) dead Jim Lomax?

12. Why did Sillikens do nothing else about the missing "Jim Lomax"?

Editat: gen. 14, 2013, 8:25pm

Book 2 Chapter 5

1. Yes, flat wooden objects such as shutters or doors were often used as makeshift stretchers.

2. Gentlemen's wardrobes - this is a seamstress whose main duty is looking after the clothing of the students at the school. So yes, there would be female servants with different duties. The seamstress "outranks" the maid, which is why she is addressed as "Miss Smithers".

3. It could mean someone was known for doing disreputable things or being with disreputable people - "keeping low company"; or using bad language, or behaving in an ungentlemantly manner - "low conduct"; or it could mean ill - "feeling low"; or it could mean depressed - "low spirits" - which is what the servant seems to mean in this case.

4. I have, but not for many years. It's an allegory about the pursuit of happiness, but also deals with issues such as imperialism and slavery.

5. Because it was Dutch. :)

This was (is) a particular kind of clock which could be mounted on a wall, and had small pedulums that were controlled by weights. The origin of the word "Dutch" in this context is a bit uncertain: the clocks seem to have been produced first in Holland, but later they were usually of German manufacture (Dutch / Deutsche).

6. "Talking eighteen to the dozen" was a slang expression for someone who talked too much or too fast (eighteen words to everyone else's twelve). Apparently this particular clock has been bought for its elaborate design rather than its functionality, and chimes more often than it should - at midnight, literally "eighteen to the dozen".

7. Poor Jim...

8. A signifier of the family's poverty, as they cannot even afford a new teacup.

9. Probably in exchange for a tidy sum of money (see #8).

10. I never assume anything in these novels any more, Liz.

A very wise precaution!

11. Wait and see...

12. There isn't anything she can do. Jim's abductors have taken care that they aren't seen (helped by the storm), and the police would have no interest in a man missing from Blind Peter. Probably she looked for him herself, but...

Editat: gen. 14, 2013, 11:13pm

4. I have, but not for many years.

I should have known! :)

5. I was curious about that because I'd known that the German were known for clocks, but had not heard of the Dutch being known for clocks.

11. Wait and see...

You see?! :D

gen. 14, 2013, 11:17pm

Rasselas was a very important book, and a book that is mentioned in many other books (most famously in Jane Eyre); so no, it's not too surprising. :)

gen. 15, 2013, 9:16pm

I just got my copy of Trail in the mail today, so I'll be playing catch-up with you guys over the next few days. You're just about at Book 3, right?

gen. 15, 2013, 9:18pm

Welcome, Laura!

Yes, we're towards the end of Book 2. Please feel free to ask questions or make comments on anything up to that point.

gen. 15, 2013, 10:15pm

> 125

Hi Laura...and welcome!

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 9:45pm

Book the Second - Chapter 6 which Mr. Peters, Kuppins, and the "fondling" go for a ride

1. "...Mr. Vorkin's trap"

What do I need to know about a "trap" other than it was a carriage?

2. "...perfect artillery of jeux de mots"

What does that phrase mean?

3. "...pap and farinaceous food"

What is pap?

4. "...keeping up a captious croak"

What kind of croak was that?

5. The body found and thought to be Jabez North was most likely that of Jim Lomax.

Editat: gen. 15, 2013, 11:09pm

Book 2 Chapter 6

1. Nothing, really - perhaps that it was a light-bodied vehicle usually meant for two and drawn by a single horse, and a common form of transportation in country areas.

2. "Plays on words", or puns - the local children are sending Kuppins on her way with a barrage of smart-mouth remarks. As usual, Braddon's language gets more polite and refined as the action gets less polite and refined. :)

3. A semi-solid food made of cereal and milk, for starting babies on solids.

4. Cranky, or given to finding fault or complaining. The frog's croak sounds like someone grumbling.

5. Most likely... :)

gen. 15, 2013, 10:53pm

3. That sounds much like what I know as Pablum.

gen. 15, 2013, 11:10pm

Yes, that sounds right.

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 10:20pm

Book the Second - Chapter 7 which Dr. Tappenden discovers that Jabez North is missing

1. ...alighted from the fly which brought them."

Surely they didn't arrive on the wings of a giant insect! ;)

2. "...five lumps of sugar"

Like our present-day sugar cubes?

3. "...dark green morocco

A kind of wood, perhaps?

4. "...brass handles and Bramah locks"

What are they?

5. "Lady Clarinda, or the Heartbreaks of Belgravia"

Was there such a book?

6. Why, in the end, did Dr. Tappenden not believe that Jabez North broke into his desk and stole his cheques? Or was he in disbelief because he was so astonished?

7. Wasn't Dr. Tappenden suspicious of the fact that Jabez North bought hair dye?

...which brings us to the end of Book the Second!

gen. 16, 2013, 10:37pm

Book 2 Chapter 7

1. Heh! Another kind of light carriage, this one with a hood and capable of carrying luggage on the back. This form of carriage was often used as a kind of taxi service in the country.

2. Yes.

3. "Morocco" is a kind of leather made from goat's skin; Dr Tappenden's desk has leather trim. Morocco leather was often used for book-binding.

4. An early security lock designed by a man called Joseph Bramah. It was supposed to be more resistant to lockpicking than earlier designs but here we see it wasn't foolproof. :)

5. Alas, no! And yes, I did look it up.

6. He's a pompous man with a great sense of his own importance and he just can't believe that he has misjudged anyone this badly. Then of course he finds out that Jabez North was already dead at the time the forged checks were being cashed, and so it couldn't have been Jabez who robbed him, and so he didn't misjudge him so badly after all. Right??

7. It's an odd detail, but it doesn't convey anything to the investigators or to Dr Tappenden. Why would it?

You must be careful not to confuse what we know with what the characters know. :)

gen. 16, 2013, 10:38pm


Well done!!

By the way, I have updated the character list - and I think I should warn you that we are entering upon a phase of the novel where you're probably going to need it. :)

gen. 16, 2013, 10:41pm

Gail, if you're out there---

I know that you've finished by now, but perhaps you could share with us your concerns over this section of the novel? (Or not, if you think it might lead to spoilers.)

In fact, if we have any other lurkers out there - Laura? Kerry? - please speak up! :)

gen. 16, 2013, 10:45pm

5. "Lady Clarinda, or the Heartbreaks of Belgravia"

Alas, no!

Too bad! We could have read it together! ;)

7. It's an odd detail, but it doesn't convey anything to the investigators or to Dr Tappenden. Why would it?

...because why would a man buy hair dye if not for a woman? He had no woman at that time. *I* would have suspected that Jabez North had disguised himself.

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 10:48pm

I think I should warn you that we are entering upon a phase of the novel where you're probably going to need it.

I took a peek into the next chapter...


Am I going to have to do one of those diagrams like I did with our last novel?

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 10:50pm


*I* would have suspected that Jabez North had disguised himself.

...and then killed himself?

These people have no earthly reason to suspect the truth. Under the circumstances the purchase of the hair dye would likely be dismissed as an aberration brought on by "being of unsound mind". (Men do and did dye their hair!)


No, but there are lots of new characters including people with titles, so it's as well to be prepared.

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 11:09pm

While we're pausing here I'll just point out a detail in the next chapter: Braddon here reveals that the year is 1842, much earlier than the date at which her novel was written. This is probably to accommodate the next sequence in the story.

To put it very briefly (and with apologies to historians, and the French. And French historians), the French spent most of the 19th century having wars and revolutions and uprisings and changes of government.

What Braddon needed was a time when it was relatively peaceful and the aristocracy were back in place. She also needed to tie the back-story of one character to less peaceful times some decades back. In effect, the date was chosen for her.

gen. 16, 2013, 11:04pm

...and then killed himself?


Maybe he chose the wrong hair color and embarrassed himself to death?! ;)

*steels self to meet a myriad of new characters*

gen. 16, 2013, 11:05pm

> 139

You'll have to fill me in on the French history. I've never really liked history, particularly French history. I'll be good, though. I'll sit back and a good tutee. :)

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 11:12pm


I've had dye-jobs like that... {*blush*}


You don't need to know huge chunks of it, just bits and pieces as it effects the characters (and some of that doesn't come up until much later in the novel). There's a flurry of references in this opening section which I'll explain if you like (if I can!), but either way, don't let them put you off; she's just creating atmosphere, not saying things you need to remember.

ETA: HA!! There's a reference to Horace Walpole here - you know who he was! :)

gen. 16, 2013, 11:08pm

I'll say this now in the hopes of remembering when the time comes:

There's a marvellous in-joke in Book 2 Chapter 6, although like a lot of Braddon's jokes it isn't apparent that it is a joke until after the event. We should come back to that at the end of the read.

gen. 16, 2013, 11:11pm

> 143

Okay. Remind me. :D

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 11:14pm

What's the reference to Horace Walpole?

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 11:20pm

Photo of Horace Walpole
by Rosalba Carriera, Wikimedia Commons

Remembering Horace Walpole ...with much affection for his novel, The Castle of Otranto.

gen. 16, 2013, 11:21pm

There is a passing reference to him, and his famous correspondence with a prominent Parisian lady, in the first paragraph of the next chapter.

Editat: gen. 16, 2013, 11:25pm

I'll look for it...tomorrow. :)

(...or maybe now)

gen. 17, 2013, 6:55am

I'm loving this. I've read Lady Audley's Secret and Aurora Floyd, some time ago, and from what I remember they were quite serious in style. I like the dry humour of this. The plot is not working out how I expected either: the resumé that I read implied (to me) that the first murder and Richard Marwood's trial was the extent of the story but there's obviously a lot more to it than that.

I'm finding that following someone else's tutored read is a very good way for me to read this type of book. It keeps me to a sensible pace and enables me to absorb more than I would from reading on my own. I'm British and have (I like to think) a fairly good grasp of the history and literature of this period and it's really interesting to see what someone from a different culture and background picks up from it. For instance, I know what Morocco is but I didn't know that the lock was named after its inventor or its particular features but I would have left it as 'it's a lock' and not worried about the details. I have enough information but this fills things out a bit and it makes me think about things that I take for granted. As I'm reading I come across a point and think "I bet Madeline asks about that!". Of course I'm not always right (if ever).

gen. 17, 2013, 8:37am

Hi Kerry...and welcome!

I'll ask about just anything that doesn't have a footnote in my book. My copy of this book has tons of footnotes (lucky for Liz!), though.

I'm glad you're enjoying the story. I think it's been great fun so far.

Editat: gen. 18, 2013, 6:11am

Hi, Kerry!

I'm glad everyone's reacting so well - I always get nervous when people read on my recommendation. :)

I have an idea that Braddon "got away" with this writing style early in her career because people didn't know she was a woman: she initially published as "M. E. Braddon" and may have been the first female author to habitually use her initials instead of her name when writing in what was considered a male preserve. The storm broke after Lady Audley's Secret, and perhaps she felt she had to rein herself in, in view of the harsh criticisms she received.

I adore Aurora Floyd, by the way, and I think it's better than Lady Audley's Secret, which has always struck me as a bit compromised.

Editat: gen. 18, 2013, 7:53am

Book the Third - Chapter 1 which we somehow get to Paris!

This chapter makes no sense to me at all. Tell me what important facts I'm missing...

There is a stranger in the crowd at the opera who watches the rich orphan Valerie throw a bouquet to the actor in the role of Elwin Elvino. After the play, the stranger follows that Elwin Elvino character to the home of Valerie where a maid allows the Elwin Elvino character to enter.

1. Is this a separate story or does it somehow tie into Book the First and Book the Second?

2. Do I need to know anything else at this point other than the fact that the marquis de Cevennes (Valerie's uncle) is her guardian?

3. "... a feat of legerdemain"

What kind of feat is that?

4. "...opens the door of a well appointed little brougham"

What's that?

5. Who is Faree? The groom? What is a groom? Someone in charge of the horse?

I did note that the king mentioned was Louis Phillippe, and I'm guessing from what you said earlier, Liz, that France was then in a time of quiet under his rule.

Editat: gen. 18, 2013, 6:13am

Sorry I'm so late - it's been a hell of a day. Almost literally, in fact: Sydney recorded its hottest day EVER - 45.8 C = 114.44 F.

Book 3 Chapter 1

I'm sure that Braddon did mean to startle the reader with the abrupt switch from Slopperton to Paris, so don't worry if you're feeling a bit bewildered.

Also, don't worry too much about absorbing the content of these opening paragraphs, which are effectively one hundred and fifty years of history in the space of a page and a bit. It's Braddon playing games rather than anything you particularly need to worry about. (Contemporary readers would have recognised the various allusions, but they're mostly not important to the story proper.)

The detail of Louis Philippe was probably the only really relevant one: he was France's last king, called "King Of The French" rather than "King Of France" to signify that he sat on the throne by the permission of the people and could be removed by them if they chose. He was a good, conscientious man who probably would have achieved a lot in life if he hadn't had the misfortune of being royal. As it was, he was popular for a time, but in the mid-century France lurched from economic crisis to economic crisis and there was a lot of civil unrest. In 1848, a public gathering ended in tragedy: the soldiers were trying to disperse a crowd without violence, but one man fired his gun - quite possibly accidentally - and that made all the others fire by reflex, and the whole thing turned into a massacre and a riot. In the wake of this Louis Philippe abdicated and fled France for England and lived the rest of his life in exile. And that was the end of monarchy in France.

As I mentioned, we are currently in 1842, so that's all in the future. But in 1842, there was a king, and there was an aristocracy bent on enjoying itself and ignoring the plight of the poor.

And to answer your overriding question---yes, this is connected to the first part of the novel, and over the next couple of chapters you'll probably figure out how.

The one thing you do need to understand is the significance of the scene at the opera: Valerie de Cevennes has a secret, and the person following her has figured out what it is.


Legerdemain: a magic trick, particularly one performed by sleight-of-hand ("the quickness of the hand deceives the eye...")

Brougham: yet another kind of carriage - a one-horse, four-wheeled carriage with a small box-like body. It was better protection against the weather than the carriages we've mentioned so far.

Faree is the opera-singer's groom, which means he looks after his horses and drives his carriage.

By the way, Elvino (not Elwin) is not the man's name: that's the name of the character he's playing in the opera La Sonnambula. (From this we know he's a tenor.) His real name, as we shall learn shortly, is Gaston de Lancy.

I have updated the character list. :)

Editat: gen. 18, 2013, 7:57am

I went to bed early as yesterday had been a work day for me. It was 114 degrees?! What did you do in that kind of temperature?! The hottest atmospheric temperature I've ever experienced was 110 degrees in the desert of Needles, California, USA

Thanks for the summary, Liz! It appears that I've understood everything in the first chapter the way I was supposed to. Ever onward...

ETA: I like how you have the character list grouped above. It's very helpful.

Editat: gen. 18, 2013, 3:27pm

I was very lucky: I was indoors in air-conditioning for most of it. I had a meeting in the city and by the time I had to go outside afterwards a thunderstorm had broken and the rain had cooled things down a bit. A bit. It was a long, slow, hot journey home, though. The temperatures had buckled and melted components of the train system and things were fairly chaotic on that front.

Bad day all around. Bushfires, and people collapsing, and breakdowns and accidents of all sorts.

It's much cooler today, thankfully - in fact, I'd say we're looking at a 25 C difference in temperature!

gen. 18, 2013, 3:35pm

Anyway - with something like normality now resumed - we can proceed whenever you're ready. :)

gen. 18, 2013, 11:21pm

Sounds as if you had a trying day! Glad it's cooler now.

gen. 18, 2013, 11:25pm

Book the Third - Chapter 2 which a stranger makes a deal with Mademoiselle Finette

1. Am I supposed to know who this stranger is?

2. Why would Valerie want to keep her marriage a secret?

3. How can Mademoiselle promise to let a complete stranger onto the grounds of the estate? I guess money talks!

4. Although I don't care for cigars, I enjoyed the humorous description of the stranger's smoking one.

5. Women can sometimes force themselves to cry so easily! :)

gen. 18, 2013, 11:42pm

Book 3 Chapter 2

1. Well, I think you might have met him before. His attitude and methods aren't familiar?

2. Because by the standards of her time it's a disgraceful marriage, and one that she would never have been permitted to make openly because of the social and financial gap between herself and her husband.

As society was arranged at the time, a woman took her husband's rank and gave up her own, so in the eyes of the world Valerie has taken a huge step down in marrying Gaston. She's obviously been won over in the first place by the fact that he is a great artist (and the artistic world was one place where people without birth or fortune could achieve standing), and she is very much in love with him. At the same time, a part of her does believe that she has made a great personal sacrifice in marrying him...

3. Money, and the fact that she believes that the stranger knows more than he actually does. (Bribing the personal maid was a fairly standard tactic in many situations involving the pursuit of a woman.)

5. To be fair, women who didn't cry easily were considered cold and "unwomanly", so you can't really win.

gen. 18, 2013, 11:46pm

1. Well, if it's Jabez North, what's he doing in Paris?

3. Why would a man go after a woman he knows is already married?

gen. 18, 2013, 11:49pm

1. Well, where *do* you go after you've faked your own death?? :)

As for "What's he doing in Paris?" and "Why would a man go after a woman he knows is already married?", WAIT AND SEE!!!!

gen. 18, 2013, 11:53pm

*sits here patiently waiting to see*

gen. 18, 2013, 11:58pm could always read a bit more...

gen. 19, 2013, 8:07pm

Book the Third - Chapter 3 which the stranger visits Valerie de Cevennes

1. I have no idea what the opening paragraph was about... other than a clock. What do I have to get out of that paragraph?

2. "She might be talking to her modiste..."

What is that?

3. I don't believe the story told by the stranger, skeptic that I've become.

4. Why did Valerie allow an uninvited man to stay in her house?

5. Noted: Valerie did not faint. She merely fell on the rug clasping her hand to her heart to show her emotions.

6. Why does Valerie immediately believe the stranger?

Editat: gen. 19, 2013, 8:23pm

Book 3 Chapter 3

1. It ties back to the paragraph about the Slopperton clocks, when Jabez hasn't returned to the school - a way of reassuring readers with the same concerns as you that, yes, these two sections are connected - but it's also an example of the kind of philosophical rumination that tends to pop up in novels like this, about people's powerlessness in the face of time and fate.

2. Her dress-maker.

3. I think you're safe in not believing anything he says: he's saying whatever seems to him most likely to cause Valerie pain and humiliation.

4. Because doing anything about getting him kicked out would betray her secret.

5. She does faint just once, later on - and the point is made that is a measure of the extremity of her emotional anguish, because she is not a fainter.

6. Partly because as far as she knows, the secret has been scrupulously kept, and no-one could have discovered it by accident - so someone must have deliberately betrayed it. (Think back to the stranger's scornful reflections on her being inexperienced enough to trust her maid.)

But mostly it's because he's hitting her on all her sorest points. This comes back to what we were saying about the nature of the marriage and how shameful it would be in the eyes of society. Valerie has made what she can't help considering a major personal sacrifice in marrying Gaston, but she's okay with that as long as she believes that her husband loves her as much as she loves him. At the same time she is secretly terrified that she might have been fooled, that he might have married her for her money, that she might discover he's just using her. Every word the stranger says feeds into her worst fears (largely irrational fears, but then, fear isn't rational) and breeds doubt in her mind.

gen. 19, 2013, 9:03pm

3. :)

5. How in the world did Valerie think that she could keep this secret for the rest of her life though?!

gen. 19, 2013, 10:22pm

We're talking about two young people in love - I doubt they thought it through that carefully. :)

Probably they're hoping (and not without some basis) that Gaston's professional success would be of a magnitude that would make the marriage seem less scandalous.

gen. 20, 2013, 11:45pm

Book the Third - Chapter 4
... in which Raymond Marolles hires a mimic

1. "somewhat snuffy for a bachelor..."

Meaning what?

2. "...he has never sacrificed his liberty at the shrine of Hymen."

I don't understand that phrase.

gen. 21, 2013, 12:06am

Book 3 Chapter 4

1. & 2. Drunk...implying that only married men drink, as he then goes on to assure us that he has never sacrificed his liberty at the shrine of Hymen...meaning that he's never been married. :)

Hymen was the Greek god of wedding ceremonies. He was supposed to attend every wedding, and if he didn't show up, it was bad luck. It is common in 19th century writing to find a wedding referred to as "the rites of Hymen" and other variations on that theme.

(The word has other connotations, of course...)

gen. 21, 2013, 12:11am

I got the other connotation, but wasn't sure exactly what that phrase meant. Now I know. Thanks!

gen. 21, 2013, 12:15am

Yes, it's one of the little awkwardnesses brought about in older novels by shifts in usage - like those innumerable 18th and 19th century scenes of "a lady at her toilet".

I saw someone around LT having issues with the word "ejaculated" the other day, too. :)

Editat: gen. 21, 2013, 12:31am

Didn't I see the word "ejaculated" used earlier in this novel? I think I did.

gen. 21, 2013, 12:35am

Oh, very probably! It was a commonly used word well into the 20th century, actually.

Editat: gen. 21, 2013, 9:39pm

Book the Third - Chapter 5 which Valerie de Cevennes is taken to a fortune teller

1. Please explain these to me:

a. "...had I been born in the purple"

As royalty, perhaps?

b. "...with the pasteboard or the crucible"

I know that these have something to do with fortune-telling, but I don't know what they are.

c. "...baize-covered table"

Was that a green cloth used by fortune-tellers?

d."...the revelation of the Bois de Boulogne"

2. Who are these?
a. John Bull
b. Nemesis

3. Clearly, the fortune-teller had been previously set up as to what to tell Valerie de Cevennes.

4. What are...
a. écarte
b. piquet

I'm guessing these are games that the fortune teller may have been thought to have played with the devil (referring to a sulphorous odor that was mentioned).

5. So basically, Raymond Marolles is having Valerie de Cevennes herself poison his competition?

Editat: gen. 22, 2013, 3:08pm

Book 3 Chapter 5

1a. Yes, originally it meant to be born royal, although later the expression broadened to mean born of the aristocracy or even just wealthy (as money began to take over from birth).

1b. That means he is both a fortune-teller and a chemist. "Pasteboard" was another term for cards, which Blussoret uses to tell Valerie's fortune (or at least the fortune he's been paid and coached to tell); the crucible refers to the fact that he is an experimental chemist who concocts his own drugs and potions. A crucible is like a mortar-and-pestle, and was used for mixing ingredients or chemicals together.

1c. Baize was a cotten material that was often used as a tablecloth in situations where things were moved or dropped on the table-top, to deaden the noise - such as in casinos. It was also what was used to cover billiard tables.

1d. The Bois de Boulogne is a Parisian park - the park where Valerie saw (or thinks she saw) Gaston cheating on her. The "revelation" is what she learned there.

2a. John Bull is the legendary embodiment of England - the way that Uncle Sam is of America.

Raymond Marolles appears to be French, but apparently the fortune-teller suspects he is actually English.

2b. Nemesis is the Greek spirit of retribution, or fate - particularly in the sense of someone being unable to escape fate, or having their past deeds catch up with them.

Sensation novels always like to excuse their extravagant plots in terms of "fate" or "providence". :)

3. Oh, yes...except that sometimes what the cards are really saying starts to escape him: "But stay---the traitor, the real traitor is here; this fair man---the knave of diamonds---"

4a. & 4b. Those are both trick-taking card games, which involve calculating the strength of your hand and bluffing your opponent; they act here as a metaphor for what Marolles is doing to Valerie.

referring to a sulphorous odor that was mentioned

Which was also in The Monk! :)

Fortune-tellers were traditionally believed to be in league with the devil, although in the second half of the 19th century there was an explosion of general interest in spiritualism and seances, and ghost-hunting, and related matters like mesmerism and "past lives".

5. Basically, yes.

We can sum up the situation as follows:

(i) Raymond Marolles wants a large fortune in a hurry...
(ii)...but the only way he can get one is by marrying a rich woman...
(iii)...but no rich woman would marry him...
(iv)...unless she had a secret he can use as a weapon...
(v)...and he finds such a woman in Valerie de Cevennes...
(vi)...but unfortunately her secret is that she already has a husband...
(vii) he has to do something about that...
(viii)...or better yet, manipulate her into doing something about it herself.


Editat: gen. 21, 2013, 10:20pm

I love your summary, Liz! It's concise and to the point. :)

gen. 22, 2013, 3:09pm

I'm glad you found it useful!

gen. 22, 2013, 11:12pm

Book the Third - Chapter 6
... in which Gaston de Lancy visits Valerie de Cevennes

So what happened here? Did Valerie poison Gaston, and did she herself take a sedative?

Editat: gen. 22, 2013, 11:18pm

Book 3 Chapter 6

"What happened?" Well, that's a nice, all-encompassing question! :D

She gave Gaston wine containing the substance given to her by the fortune-teller. She has not taken anything herself, but is in a state of emotional shock because of the strain.

gen. 22, 2013, 11:30pm

I was wondering what happened to her! From Valerie's behavior, I thought at first that she had accidentally poisoned herself. That would have been quite a shock for Raymond Marolles!

I wonder how long it will take for this poison to work on poor Gaston de Lancy...


Editat: gen. 24, 2013, 12:09am

Book the Third - Chapter 6 Chapter 7
... in which Valerie attends the play with her uncle

1. Do we know for certain that de Lancey is dead?

If there's one thing I've learned from these reads, Liz, it's that one should never believe what is overheard. Perhaps it was Raymond Marolles whispering that Gaston de Lancey was dead (in his hopes that the latter really was dead).

2. If Valerie was so angry with Gaston, why did she contract brain fever at his "supposed" death?

I suppose it was because she then had a "love-hate" relationship with him, and her love caused her stress, thereby causing her also to become ill.

3. I know that Monsieur Rinval was a young officer who appeared in the box. Is there anything else I need to know about him at this time?


I love how you can remember all the details of the books you read, Liz. That certainly helps me a lot. Do you often reread books, or are you more likely to pick up books you've never read before?

I'm thinking that, the more you read books such as those we've been reading together, the more easily you begin to see patterns as to how they are plotted. I'm guessing that also helps in following the story lines of such books.

gen. 24, 2013, 12:00am

Book 3 Chapter 6

1. Well, I'm not going to answer THAT, am I?? :D

2. She does love him, very much; what she thinks she knows has her consumed by a mixture of hatred and humiliation; and she is also just coming to terms with both the enormity of what she has done. That's a pretty potent emotional cocktail.

I know that your copy has notes on "brain-fever"; personally I think it's just a convenient, all-embracing term for any kind of collapse - physical, emotional or psychological - that might bring with it symptoms like delerium, rather than a specific disease.

3. No.


I do have the kind of tenaciously trivial memory that hangs onto details well, and as you say I've read lots of these sorts of books. :)

But I am a re-reader, too. Sometimes I flick back and re-read sections as I go, to check if I'm remembering things properly. And then I go over the chapters before you post on them, to refresh my memory. So altogether, what I read tends to stick in my mind.

gen. 24, 2013, 12:08am

1. LOL!!

2. Yeah. My book said "brain fever" might have been a form of meningitis or encephalitis. I highly doubt that. I think of it more or less as an anxiety attack.

So altogether, what I read tends to stick in my mind.

I sure am glad you have a "sticky" mind, Liz. My mind is kind of like a sieve...

Editat: gen. 24, 2013, 12:21am

As I've said before, my reading memory is balanced by a real-life memory almost staggering in its unhelpfulness.

I guess the issue with "brain fever" is that in some novels people do just die of it, as from a disease - perhaps meningitis or encephalitis, as suggested. In other places, like here, it's a form of response to some overwhelming personal crisis. As readers we can only take these individual instances as the author seems to intend them. This, obviously, is a Category B. :)

Remember, too, that Richard's brain fever was the basis for his insanity defence.

gen. 24, 2013, 12:23am

Well, then I guess that "brain fever" can be defined as illness of unknown etiology! :)

Editat: gen. 25, 2013, 10:41pm

Book the Third - Chapter 8 which Raymond Marolles reappears

1. They buried Gaston de Lancey so I guess he must be quite dead!

...which reminds me of that quote from The Wizard of Oz:

"As Coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her, and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead."


2. What is a Buonapartist?

3. Counting melancholies:

"..with a melancholy look"

Oops! Wrong book!! :D

4. "Surely he would cast her from him with contumely and horror."

What is contumely?

5. I can't imagine a marriage in which a wife has been pressured to marry her husband because he persuaded her to kill the only man she really loved. That doesn't sound like the basis for a long-lasting and loving relationship.

6. Since Valerie and Gaston were married, wouldn't this fact have come out at the time of the funeral? Weren't such records kept by the government or civil authorities? Wouldn't they look for the next of kin to inherit any of Gaston's leftover property?

gen. 25, 2013, 12:03am

Book 3 Chapter 8

1. I used to come out with that line at the MOST inappropriate times!

2. Someone who served under Napoleon - the original spelling of Bonaparte was "Buonaparte"; the family was from Corsica, which was an Italian territory until 1768, the year before Napoleon was born (making him technically French).

3. Behave! :)

4. Contempt, often in the sense of showing it by deliberately insulting someone.

5. Oh, you think Raymond Marolles is looking for a long-lasting and loving relationship, then?? :D

6. Not necessarily. Record-keeping as we now understand it varied wildly from place to place, and even from time to time; the same regulations and legal obligations didn't exist. And even when records were properly kept they were often destroyed during wars or uprisings or even just in fires.

Here, clearly, Valerie does not want any record of her first marriage, but there are numerous novels from this time (and earlier and later) that turn on the reverse situation: a woman being unable to prove that she was married. That happened in Clermont, remember, to Clermont's mother; the Marquis decided to repudiate her, and since the papers had been lost she couldn't prove otherwise.

It's mentioned that Gaston had no family or property, just what he earned with his voice; which is why the marriage was so outrageous. Presumably Gaston's mother collected his effects from the opera-house and from the rooms he kept separate from Valerie's as a cover.

(Technically Gaston "owns" Valerie's fortune, but hey...)

Editat: gen. 25, 2013, 10:42pm

Book the Third - Chapter 9 which Valerie de Cevennes becomes the bride of Raymond Marolles

1. "...if you think there is a lacquey or a groom..."

What is a lacqey?

2. I don't understand what the last paragraph is trying to say. :(

Editat: gen. 26, 2013, 12:05am

Book 3 Chapter 9

1. An alternative spelling for lackey - a manservant.

2. Braddon is suggesting that in reality, most marriages in "high life" (and not just in France) are just as bad as that between Raymond Marolles and Valerie - just as mercenery and self-interested, based wholly on titles and fortunes - and that this attitude towards marriage is turning a "sacrament" into a "farce".

gen. 26, 2013, 12:10am

I'm also curious as to why Valerie de Cevennes hinted to her uncle that something terrible was the cause of the forced union between the new bride and groom. Did Valerie want her uncle to find out the truth for whatever bizarre reason?

Editat: gen. 26, 2013, 5:56pm

No, the reverse: she wanted him not to interfere or delay the marriage in any way.

This marriage was, although not as shocking as that between Valerie and Gaston, highly questionable and would under normal circumstances provoke questions and inquiries from the bride's guardian (and possibly a flat refusal of consent).

gen. 26, 2013, 11:54am

Basically then, I now understand that she wanted her uncle's quick and firm consent so she could keep her secret well hidden.

gen. 27, 2013, 12:31am

I'm skipping my reading for tonight. I got back too late from the movies. I'll pick up again tomorrow.

Editat: gen. 27, 2013, 4:41am

That's okay - I was at my sister's for a party anyway. :)

gen. 27, 2013, 11:07am

Book the Third - Chapter 10 which Valerie de Cervennes visits Monsieur Blurosset

1. "Money is of little use to me except in the necessary expenses of chemicals I use."

I like Monsieur Blurosset's philosophy about money.

2. Why does Valerie de Cervennes even hint that she is considering suicide (or is she really thinking of poisoning Raymond Marolles)?

I think she's revealing to much to Monsieur Blurosset.

3. "...something seems to root me to this spot"

Has Gaston de Lancey risen from the dead and is being brought back to health in Monsieur Blurosset's bedchamber? :)


This bring us to the end of Book the Third!

gen. 27, 2013, 2:56pm

Book 3 Chapter 10

2. He has been effectively introduced to her as a purveyor of dangerous drugs; in that capacity, he would be at quite as much legal risk as his customers, so she probably feels there's no particular risk in being frank. However, from his refusal we see that she has only been shown one aspect of him and his business. It is likely that although he referred to Raymond as "my pupil", Raymond in fact had some hold over Blurosset to force him to cooperate in the original set-up of Valerie. As we know, Raymond is good at that sort of thing.

3. :)

the end of Book the Third

Congratulations!! :)

Shall we put out a general call for LURKERS before moving on? Who's out there?

Editat: gen. 27, 2013, 3:01pm

> 196

Shall we put out a general call for LURKERS before moving on?

Absolutely. Check in now, you lurkers! :)

Liz, let me know when intermission ends. I'll work on my taxes in the meantime. :)

gen. 27, 2013, 3:02pm

Uh, I think it ends any time you feel like you need a break! :)

Editat: gen. 27, 2013, 3:09pm

Then...immediately!! I *hate* working on business taxes. ;)

*pays federal unemployment tax* :(

gen. 27, 2013, 4:16pm

I'm here, lurking away.

Most interested in the "brain fever" discussion. Very often in books of this era (and earlier) "brain fever" is mentioned. I could be mistaken (what a wonder!), but I think one of the characters in Little Men or perhaps Jo's Boys had one; mother assured me it was "just a nervous breakdown". But as you said, once in a while characters die from them. As occasionally they die from disappointed love. Hmmm...

gen. 27, 2013, 4:48pm

Though I do think "brain fever" is a convenient catch-all, we also need to keep in mind that at this time, and indeed well into the 20th century, many illnesses we might consider relatively trivial today were associated with a high mortality rate. It can be imagined that someone might suffer an emotional collapse, and be more vulnerable to disease as a consequence. We are all more likely to catch a cold or the flu if we are run down or stressed, for example.

gen. 27, 2013, 4:50pm

Gail, while you are here, was there anything that you wanted to say about Book Two, or were the reservations you expressed resolved in the working out of the plot?

(If we can have this conversation spoiler-free!)

gen. 27, 2013, 5:06pm


We can proceed as soon as you like, Madeline, but since we have this convenient break at the 200 post point, I think I'll start a new thread before we do.

Meanwhile, please feel free to speak up either here or there, lurkers!

març 12, 2015, 9:28am

Reading this for Victorian Gothic month in the Horror Group. Will get started next week. Marking a spot here.

Yes I am stalking you ladies. ;-)

març 12, 2015, 10:16am

>204 luvamystery65: Hooray! I'm glad you'll have a chance to use our tutored thread.