Thursday, February 22, 2007


The Day's Progress - Thursday Edition

A decent day. I'm within striking distance of finishing "Jubilee", and will probably be able to wrap it up by sometime early next week. Then I'll spend a few days shifting gears and running errands, and plow on ahead into "Millennium," the third and last act.

Today's writing, a bit more than 5K, covered a lot of ground. A description of Victoria's Jubilee Procession, cribbed shamelessly from Morris's Pax Britannica, a discussion of recent novels of the day, a train journey to Taunton, a visit to the Somerset Archaelogical and Natural History Society, a couple of meals, and a discussion of Welsh mythology and British folklore. Sheesh.

A long sample today, since I couldn't find a good breaking point. Blank and Miss Bonaventure get on a train and read books. Non! Stop! Excitement!!
The trains and stations were congested, with travelers returning home from coming to the city to see the Jubilee Procession, and so it was later that week before Blank and Miss Bonaventure were able to book passage on the Great Western Railway. The journey from London to Taunton was scheduled to take a little under four hours, barring mishap, and so along with their overnight bags the pair brought along novels they’d purchased at a bookstall in the station, to keep themselves entertained en route.

Miss Bonaventure had purchased a recent edition of Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte, published the previous year by Chatto & Windus of Piccadilly. Mark Twain was credited as “editor,” but it was apparent that de Conte was himself a fiction, as likely was the Jean Francois Allen who was credited with translating the work from the original French. Blank remembered what Michel had told him about Joan, years before, and on seeing the image of the young girl embossed on the cover, a sword in her hand and a halo round her head, he could not help feeling sorry for the poor thing. It must have been a terrible thing, to have been plagued for so long by voices meant for another’s ear.

For his part, Blank had selected a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published only the month before. From the character’s physical description and mannerisms, it seemed apparent that the author had based his Count upon the thespian Henry Irving, who so often trod the boards at Stoker’s Lyceum. Less apparent, though clearly evident on further reading, was the fact that the author seemed to have been inspired, at least in part, by the real life events of the Torso Killings of the previous decade. When he reached this unsettling conclusion, Blank found his taste for the fiction altogether lost, seeing too easily the skeleton of fact beneath the skin, and so closed the book with an expression of distaste. He remembered the events of those days too well to need reminding of them.

Miss Bonaventure saw him set the book aside, and closed her own book on her finger. “Not Stoker’s best, I take it?” she asked, knowingly.

Blank recovered himself and shook his head. “No, it’s not that. Not to my personal tastes, perhaps, but for a reading public that hungrily devours the exploits of Varney and Sweeney Todd, I’m sure it will be quite appetizing. But I’m afraid that I find myself longing for the more dulcet arabasques of his earlier work. Did you ever read ‘The Crystal Cup’?”

Miss Bonaventure shook her head.

“Published in pamphlet form by the London Society, some years ago. A charming little dream fantasy, though, as Oscar later observed, it could have used quite a bit more fantasy and a touch less dream.”

Miss Bonaventure raised her eyebrow, and Blank realized that he’d said more than he intended.

“Wilde, do you mean?” she asked. “Oh, yes, he and Stoker were both betrothed to the same woman, weren’t they? At different times, of course.”

Blank nodded. “And she’s married to Stoker still, as I understand it.”

“Hmm.” Miss Bonaventure mused. “You know, I’ve always wondered something, and never thought to ask. I know that you’ve served as inspiration for fiction a time or two, with bowdlerized versions of your exploits finding their way into the work of Conan Doyle and Hal Meredith, but it’s always seemed to me that there was a little something of you in Wilde’s Dorian Gray.”

Blank stiffened, almost imperceptibly, but managed to keep his expression neutral, only pursing his lips thoughtfully. “Really?”

“Well, there’s his surname, which is certain suggestive of your habitual shade.” She indicated his suit coat, vest, trousers, and hat, all of a uniform gray. “And the description of Gray’s rooms is certainly reminiscent of your own in York Place. Come to think of it, you’ve both got locked rooms in your upper floors which you refuse to allow anyone to see.” She grinned. “Admit it, Blank. Do you have a portrait secreted away up there, which makes plain all the sins your smooth features conceal?”

Blank knew she was only joking, but he couldn’t help shifting uncomfortably on his seat. “My dear, I’m sure any portrait of me would be perfectly hideous in any event, without the addition of the marks of sin.”

She playfully swatted his knee with her closed book. “There’s a little too much of the dandy in your character for you to wear modesty easily, I’m afraid. But joking aside, you mention Wilde by his Christian name. Were you acquainted?”

Blank’s gaze slid to the corners of their compartment, and found something of interest in the countryside streaming past their window. “We knew each other,” he said at length. “Distantly. For a time.”

Miss Bonaventure took him at his word. With a shrug, she returned to her book, reading about the little girl who heard voices, that drove her to do great things. Blank leaned his head against the cool glass of the window, and closed his eyes, trying to forget that any such voices had ever existed.

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