Note: For Part One of Bosh! see here.
In his personal copy of Great Porter Square: A Mystery (1885), Benjamin Farjeon's first sensation novel, Coote Synge-Hutchinson writes words in the margins of sixty-nine out of 372 pages, nearly a fifth of them. Additionally, there are copious lines, question marks and squiggles. If the marks are included, scarcely a page is left unscathed.
|Coote Synge-Hutchinson found this novel|
something less than sensational
Coote Synge-Hutchinson (let's call him CSH from here on out), though a Victorian himself, in this respect appears to belong in the company of the scoffing moderns.
CSH initially contented himself with making question marks challenging the author on a number of points concerning simple logic or matters of politics.
In regard to the latter, CSH questioned, for example, aspersions cast by the author on the police. When Farjeon writes that
It is a peculiarity of policemen in private clothes that they are always ready to suspect, and that in their eyes every poor-looking person with whose face they are not familiar is a disreputable character.
This earns a ? from CSH in the margin of page 35.
It is not until page fifty, however, that CSH apparently felt compelled to put words to paper to protest the course of the events in the tale.
Cowlrick attempts to evade the mob outside the court and is pursued by it, its bloodlust having been stirred. After the chase has gone on a bit, Cowlrick's attorney, Mr. Goldberry, and the novel's heroic reporter character (called our Reporter) step up and defuse the situation. "How," demands CSH
did Mr. Goldberry and the Reporter manage to be here considering that AC has been represented as running though several streets?
Once he started in this vein, CSH evidently found it hard to stop. When Farjeon tells of a lady who "was young, and an orphan" and "whose relatives were far away in the country" so that "she was alone in London," CSH responds:
a curious position for a young lady to be in?
Much of Farjeon's novel is told in the form of ostensible newsppaer accounts from our Reporter. Often CSH doubted the plausibility of these accounts, such as this one:
Amused, and, as he declared to her, charmed out of himself, our Reporter said, somewhat jocosely:
"Why, what would you have done if you had been born a man instead of a woman?"
"I am afraid," she said, in a half-whisper, and with her finger on her lips, as though enjoining him not to betray her, "I am afraid I should have been a dreadful rake."
To this CSH dryly declared:
curious conversation to put into a newspaper
Sometimes CSH's protests involve not logical points but philosophical or political ones. When Cowlrick tells Mr. Goldberry that he is not grateful to him for his legal service, because God would not have allowed an innocent man like himself to be convicted of the murder and God does not need the assistance of lawyers, CSH points outs, in a challenge to this piece of high-flown oratory:
Yet he [God] has ordered us to use human means.
What utter rot: I suppose the author goes in for manhood suffrage!
When a character approvingly refers to the United States as "the wonderful country which one day is to rule the world," CSH patriotically is having none of that, vehemently scribbling:
Bah! Stuff! Nonsense!
Unlike Farjeon, CSH seems to hold the press in contempt. When our Reporter assures Cowlrick that the press will keep covering his story, because newspaper readers are eager for details about anyone "connected with an atrocious crime," CSH disapprovingly queries:
Is not that pandering to a morbid sentiment?
When Farjeon writes "Such is the power of the newspaper. To convey to remote distances, into village and city, to the firesides of the poor and rich, the records of ennobling deeds," CSH again is having none of it:
Papers, I should say, have been a far greater curse than a blessing.
|Farjeon gives us Fanny, the plucky little match girl,|
though Coote Synge-Hutchinson disputes
the contention that more happiness
is to be found among the poor than the rich
After the first 100 pages, CSH was no longer able to restrain himself at what he saw as the novel's illogic and sentimentalism and began openly denouncing various characters as asolute idiots, often adding his seemingly favorite exclamations, "Bosh!" "Rot!" and "Stuff!"
When CSH finds that the young orphan lady's bonds, her sole source of income, are forgeries and that her prospective banker, Mr. Holdfast, generously declares he will cover her loss, CSH is thunderstruck:
What an idiot he must have been!
When the young lady lightly confesses to Mr. Holdfast that the purse of money he gave her was snatched from her in the streets of London and that she spent her absolutely last coins buying cakes for two poor children, Mr. Holdfast is "almost overcome with delight...at her childish innocence, simplicity, and kindness." Not CSH, who sneers:
Oh crikey, what an idiot.
When one character reflects that a young man's fondness for a young woman is nothing to worry about, because "He is but a boy," CSH counters:
What an idiot!
CSH frequently was unmoved and unpersuaded by the author's depiction of events. When the little match-girl Fanny and her protector Becky happen in the streets of London to stumble into each other after some time has passed, CSH is not touched but disgusted:
How is it all these convenient things happen in novels?
|In the early 20th century Carolyn Wells|
declared that gravity clues were overdone
Coote Synge-Hutchinson would have agreed!
Bosh. Why should she not find them. All these things so conveniently happen in novels.
It is the ingenuous character of Frederick Holdfast (son of Mr. Holdfast) who most gets CSH's goat, however.
Frederick Holdfast informs us that a male character set up a female character, a lady thrown on hard times, in a house in the suburbs, but that the relationship was completely platonic:
"[T]he intimacy between the two was perfectly innocent...Sydney treated and regarded Grace with such love and respect as he would have bestowed upon a beloved sister. It was not as a sister he loved her, but there was no guilt in their association."
"To believe this of most men would have been difficult," concedes Frederick Holdfast, to which CSH responds knowingly:
I should say so, indeed.
When Frederick explains that Sydney was able to cajole London society into treating Grace respectfully, CSH demurs:
Utter bosh. London society, however bad it may be, cannot be cajoled.
When Frederick finds the woman his father loves is a ruthless schemer, he holds his tongue, provoking CSH to comment:
What utter stuff. He must have been a queer son never to have said anything to his father.
When Fredrick like an absolute ninny continues to allow himself to be bamboozled by this adventuress, on account of her womanly pleading, CSH writes disgustedly:
The author appears to have collected about the greatest lot of idiots I ever came across.
A few pages later he simply writes Bah!
When Frederick gets a condemnatory letter ostensibly from his father, CSH sensibly asks:
Was it in his father's handwriting?
Sure enough, it wasn't, but Frederick, like all the nice people in Farjeon's novel, naively steps into the bad people's snare.
"Oh indeed," reiterates a triumphant CSH, "does he not know, as a son, his father's handwriting?"
As perhaps is clear by now, I enjoyed the marginalia of Coote Synge-Hutchinson more than the novel itself. For me his acerbic commentary made an excessively sentimental tale much more bearable. But about these matters perhaps I am as cynical as the Lieutenant-General appears to have been.