Saturday, September 07, 2013

Rookwood (1834)

Rookwood. William Harrison Ainsworth. 1834. 464 pages. [Source: Bought]

Rookwood is a mess of a novel. But sometimes it is easy to love a mess, to love a book despite its flaws. If Rookwood is a mess, it is because it is a blending of genres and story lines.

There is the incredibly creepy, ever-mysterious Rookwood family. The mystery involving lies, secret marriages, hidden wills, and a LOT of murder. The heart of this plot is focused on inheritance. Who is the rightful heir of the Rookwood estate? Is it Luke Bradley the supposed "illegitimate" son of Sir Piers Rookwood and Susan Bradley? There seems to be proof the two were married and he is in fact legitimate after all. Is it Eleanor Mowbray? There seems to be a hint in that direction. Is it Ranulph Rookwood? He's certainly confident that he's the rightful claimant. And he's ready to defend it against contrary claims. The plot is creepy and bizarre because the family history is so strange and blood-filled. The book also lacks a clear HERO.

When it is creepy, it is incredibly creepy. The chapters that focus on the underground wedding are so very weird and creepy. Before Luke found out the truth about his past, about who he is, he was in love with a gypsy girl, Sybil Lovel. And Sybil's mother, Barbara, is truly something. As soon as Luke does find out the truth, he becomes fascinated with the idea of marrying his cousin Eleanor Mowbray and 'stealing' her away from his half-brother, Ranulph. (Eleanor and Ranulph were in love already.) The "romance" of this one is truly creepy and a bit bloody.

Balancing out the gothic romance, readers meet Dick Turpin, famous highwayman. Over half the novel stars Turpin. Readers see him eating, drinking, joking, singing, laughing, fighting, riding, holding up coaches, etc. Readers see him among friends and enemies. Turpin knows Luke Bradley. He knows of the messy inheritance. He has in his possession the marriage certificate. He wants Bradley to be triumphant perhaps, but he'll bargain with either side. He and Bradley work together at times, and against each other at times. Bradley isn't above playing legitimate hero and rescuing the damsel in distress if he feels like it. Turpin overlooks the frustrations Bradley sends his way. These sections of the novel are incredibly light. All action. All adventure. A lot of drinking and singing and general merry-making. And an incredible amount of boasting!

"Thoughts should not always find utterance, else we might often endanger our own safety, and that of others."
It is as necessary for a man to be a gentleman before he can turn highwayman, as it is for a doctor to have his diploma, or an attorney his certificate. 
You may both of you be gratified, gentlemen," said Palmer. "Talking of Dick Turpin, they say, is like speaking of the devil, he's at your elbow ere the word's well out of your mouth. He may be within hearing at this moment, for anything we know to the contrary."
By-the-by," added he, surveying Jack more narrowly, "it occurs to me that Turpin must be rather like you, Mr. Palmer?"
"Like me," said Jack, regarding Coates askance; "like me—how am I to understand you, sir, eh?" "No offence; none whatever, sir. Ah! stay, you won't object to my comparing the description. That can do no harm. Nobody would take you for a highwayman—nobody whatever—ha! ha! Singular resemblance—he—he. These things do happen sometimes: not very often, though. But here is Turpin's description in the Gazette, June 28th, A.D. 1737:—'It having been represented to the King that Richard Turpin did, on Wednesday, the 4th of May last, rob on his Majesty's highway Vavasour Mowbray, Esq., Major of the 2d troop of Horse Grenadiers'—that Major Mowbray, by-the-by, is a nephew of the late Sir Piers, and cousin of the present baronet—'and commit other notorious felonies and robberies near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of two hundred pounds to any person or persons who shall discover him, so as he may be apprehended and convicted.'" "Odsbodikins!" exclaimed Titus, "a noble reward! I should like to lay hands upon Turpin," added he, slapping Palmer's shoulder: "I wish he were in your place at this moment, Jack." "Thank you!" replied Palmer, shifting his chair. "'Turpin,'" continued Coates, "'was born at Thacksted, in Essex; is about thirty'—you, sir, I believe, are about thirty?" added he, addressing Palmer. "Thereabouts," said Jack, bluffly. "But what has my age to do with that of Turpin?" "Nothing—nothing at all," answered Coates; "suffer me, however, to proceed:—'Is by trade a butcher,'—you, sir, I believe, never had any dealings in that line?" "I have some notion how to dispose of a troublesome calf," returned Jack. "But Turpin, though described as a butcher, is, I understand, a lineal descendant of a great French archbishop of the same name." "Who wrote the chronicles of that royal robber Charlemagne; I know him," replied Coates—"a terrible liar!—The modern Turpin 'is about five feet nine inches high'—exactly your height, sir—exactly!" "I am five feet ten," answered Jack, standing bolt upright. "You have an inch, then, in your favor," returned the unperturbed attorney, deliberately proceeding with his examination—"'he has a brown complexion, marked with the smallpox.'" "My complexion is florid—my face without a seam," quoth Jack. "Those whiskers would conceal anything," replied Coates, with a grin. "Nobody wears whiskers nowadays, except a highwayman." "Sir!" said Jack, sternly. "You are personal." "I don't mean to be so," replied Coates; "but you must allow the description tallies with your own in a remarkable manner. Hear me out, however—'his cheek bones are broad—his face is thinner towards the bottom—his visage short—pretty upright—and broad about the shoulders.' Now I appeal to Mr. Tyrconnel if all this does not sound like a portrait of yourself." "Don't appeal to me," said Titus, hastily, "upon such a delicate point. I can't say that I approve of a gentleman being likened to a highwayman. But if ever there was a highwayman I'd wish to resemble, it's either Redmond O'Hanlon or Richard Turpin; and may the devil burn me if I know which of the two is the greater rascal!" "Well, Mr. Palmer," said Coates, "I repeat, I mean no offence. Likenesses are unaccountable. I am said to be like my Lord North; whether I am or not, the Lord knows. But if ever I meet with Turpin I shall bear you in mind—he—he! Ah! if ever I should have the good luck to stumble upon him, I've a plan for his capture which couldn't fail. Only let me get a glimpse of him, that's all. You shall see how I'll dispose of him." "Well, sir, we shall see," observed Palmer. "And for your own sake, I wish you may never be nearer to him than you are at this moment. With his friends, they say Dick Turpin can be as gentle as a lamb; with his foes, especially with a limb of the law like yourself, he's been found but an ugly customer.
Tell me, girl, in what way? Speak, that I may avenge you, if your wrong requires revenge. Are you blood of mine, and think I will not do this for you, girl? None of the blood of Barbara Lovel were ever unrevenged. When Richard Cooper stabbed my first-born, Francis, he fled to Flanders to escape my wrath. But he did not escape it. I pursued him thither. I hunted him out; drove him back to his own country, and brought him to the gallows. It took a power of gold. What matter? Revenge is dearer than gold. And as it was with Richard Cooper, so it shall be with Luke Bradley. I will catch him, though he run. I will trip him, though he leap. I will reach him, though he flee afar. I will drag him hither by the hair of his head," added she, with a livid smile, and clutching at the air with her hands, as if in the act of pulling some one towards her. "He shall wed you within the hour, if you will have it, or if your honor need that it should be so. My power is not departed from me. My people are yet at my command. I am still their queen, and woe to him that offendeth me!" "Mother! mother!" cried Sybil, affrighted at the storm she had unwittingly aroused, "he has not injured me. 'Tis I alone who am to blame, not Luke." "You speak in mysteries," said Barbara. "Sir Piers Rookwood is dead." "Dead!" echoed Barbara, letting fall her hazel rod. "Sir Piers dead!" "And Luke Bradley——" "Ha!" "Is his successor." "Who told you that?" asked Barbara, with increased astonishment.
Dick saw the effect that he produced. He was at home in a moment. Your true highwayman has ever a passion for effect. This does not desert him at the gallows; it rises superior to death itself, and has been known to influence the manner of his dangling from the gibbet!
"Proceed now with the ceremony," continued Barbara. "By darkness, or by light, the match shall be completed." The ring was then placed upon the finger of the bride; and as Luke touched it, he shuddered. It was cold as that of the corpse which he had clasped but now. The prayer was said, the blessing given, the marriage was complete. Suddenly there issued from the darkness deep dirge-like tones, and a voice solemnly chanted a strain, which all knew to be the death-song of their race, hymned by wailing women over an expiring sister. The music seemed to float in the air. THE SOUL-BELL Fast the sand of life is falling, Fast her latest sigh exhaling, Fast, fast, is she dying. With death's chills her limbs are shivering, With death's gasp the lips are quivering, Fast her soul away is flying. O'er the mountain-top it fleeteth, And the skyey wonders greeteth, Singing loud as stars it meeteth On its way. Hark! the sullen Soul-bell tolling, Hollowly in echoes rolling, Seems to say— "She will ope her eyes—oh, never! Quenched their dark light—gone for ever! She is dead."
The next time you wed, Sir Luke, let me advise you not to choose a wife in the dark. A man should have all his senses about him on these occasions. Make love when the liquor's in; marry when it's out, and, above all, with your eyes open. This beats cock-fighting—ha, ha, ha!—you must excuse me; but, upon my soul, I can't help it."
"Every man to his taste," returned Turpin; "I love to confront danger. Run away! pshaw! always meet your foe."
A man should always die game. We none of us know how soon our turn may come; but come when it will, I shall never flinch from it. As the highwayman's life is the fullest of zest, So the highwayman's death is the briefest and best; He dies not as other men die, by degrees, But at once! without flinching—and quite at his ease! 

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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