“Melodramatic piece of literary garbage.” Those are the words that some would use to describe Edward Frederick Benson’s ‘The Rubicon’. Unfortunately I am one of those people.
It’s not like it wasn’t well written, it just sounded insincere and overtheatrical in my mind. Surely real people don’t do things like this, I found myself thinking. Maybe it’s just the upper class. Do they even talk that way? Who are these people?
I found myself narrating passages in my mind, almost automatically passing judgement on these people. But more of that later (in bold below).
The most important thing to know is that this book is so unknown that I couldn’t find a single review of it online ahead of reading it. I double dare, and would actually quite welcome, a review other than my own.
Anyway, the book starts talking about the Grampound Arms, and the Grampound Inn, and the Grampound House – snore!– and finally proceeds to introduce us to some real people. Who aren’t more interesting than the Grampound landscape unfortunately.
Mrs Grampound (how did we guess the name!) talks about her daughter Eva, who leads a much more interesting life away from all places called Grampound. Unfortunately, she is back, and has had an altercation with a kitten. “The brute scratched me,” she repeated as she neared him “its claws want cutting” – someone stop her from talking about that cat for two whole pages! *disclaimer, no one did. Bearing in mind we were in chapter 1 at the time, my reading experience was not going well.
Anyway fast-forward through some rather run-of-the-mill ‘who is she going to marry, will she marry the right guy or the rich wrong guy’, with some rather hilarious advice from Mrs Grampound including how to avoid the “silly sentimentality which schoolgirls feel for tenor singers, and a silky moustache, and slim, weak-eyed young men”. How did she know!
Just such a man stops by coincidentally on purpose, a distant friend of a friend called Reggie who supposedly “falls in love every fortnight”. What luck!
Anyway she was proposed to by Mr Hayes, who is well off and seems a rather nice bloke. This is how she eventually responds: “I will be your wife”, she said, without smiling, but letting her hands drop down by her side. It’s how every guy pictures it!
As soon as the ring is on you know that death is circling poor Mr Hayes faster than a scalded dog runs. Or something equally fast.
Sure enough, the tale ends– “After she went to Haye’s grave and threw herself down on the fresh-turned earth” – rather unneccesary really but whatever – she gasps:
“One scene more of this weary farce,” she said half aloud. “Ah Reggie, Reggie, may you never know!”
Possibly the most entertaining part of this whole novel was when it became intolerable, I read it out loud to my unsuspecting mother in what I hoped to be an accurate imitation of Lord Flashheart from Blackadder. (see below for non-Blackadder fans). She refused to speak to me for two days after that experience. Be ye warned.
Creative commons image courtesy of Cliff