The Scoundrel

For my next Google Book, I thought back to when I read Miss Watts. Did Ernest Oldmeadow write anything else? Sure enough, I found a few, though The Scoundrel and Virginie turned out to be the same book. On the heels of Rogues and Company, I guess this makes me quite adept at choosing books with dastardly titles.

Lionel Barrison is a quiet young Englishman living a secluded life in the countryside. One day a foreigner named Canuto approaches him, and asks the favor of allowing him to pawn a piece of artwork overnight. It is a wax model, preserved in ice for safekeeping. Barrison tentatively agrees. When Canuto’s servant delivers the work, it turns out to be a real young woman, in a drugged sleep, draped in fabric and holding a silver horn.

The girl wakes up with no knowledge of who or where she is, but is beautiful and kind. Barrison takes a liking to her immediately, and feels very protective. She is French, but fortunately he knows the language. Then he begins getting strange notes from Canuto, saying that the girl’s name is Lethe (the Greek spirit of forgetfulness) and telling stories about her. Barrison and Lethe are sort of falling in love, and then things start to get interesting as they head to France to try to figure things out, and are kidnapped by Canuto.

Despite being written in the early 1900s, The Scoundrel is very medieval in feel, like The Castle of Otranto but without the supernatural (except for the girl frozen in ice). It’s divided into four sections (Ice, Wheat, Fire, and Mist), and has some symbolism in each of these. The action for the most part is very secluded, other than a delightful scene where Barrison buys a whole wardrobe for Lethe at the department store. Even the attitudes and mores of the characters seem to be of a previous age.

In many ways it is similar to Miss Watts, with a sweet romance and a girl who doesn’t really know her past. Here, too, Lethe is devoutly Catholic, one of the few things she remembers from her previous life in France, and through her simple but deep faith Barrison comes to believe as well. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s more of the “saintly virgin” than the “preachy” variety.

And then there’s the surprising conclusion, really the whole final section. I waver between thinking it’s ridiculously romantic and a load of hooey. I like to think it’s the former; if you can get into the mindset of the book, it does kind of make sense, but it wouldn’t fly today. Overall, I really enjoyed it, over-the-top but fun all the same. My only complaint is Lethe herself. The book is told from Barrison’s viewpoint and she comes across and good and beautiful and tender…and very one-dimensional. Having lost her memory doesn’t help.

“I tell you, Virginie belongs to love. Not to attachments. Not to chumships. Not to infatuation or to sentimentality or to desire. She belongs to love–to the love which makes the seas flow and the sun rise and the mountains stand fast. Would you have had me introduce you in a drawing-room, over cups of tea? Lionel Barrison, I chose to fling you together so as to wake up every atom of manhood and romance and chivalry in your nature.”

Final thoughts? I really really liked it for what it was, and would look for more by this author. It’s a book that makes a lot more sense after the ending.

Published in: on January 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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