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The Coquette’s Victim

March 7, 2007

A few days ago, I read a couple of truly terrible novellas by Charlotte M. Braeme, a writer of love stories for the English lower classes in the mid to late 19th century.

The first was called The Coquette’s Victim, and it starts with an aristocratic-looking young man being brought before a judge and charged with attempting to steal a watch. The judge is surprised, because it is well known in this kind of fiction that people with aristocratic faces never commit crimes. The guy also gives his name as John Smith. Why do these people bother? Can’t they come up with anything less obviously false?

Anyway, he’s confessed, so he’s sent to jail for six months, but someone who recognizes him is at the sentencing and calls the boy’s lawyer. It turns out his name is Basil Carruthers and he’s the scion of one of the most wealthy and aristocratic families in England. Somehow the lawyer manages to convince everyone that Basil has gone abroad for six months, and then we flash back to the story of how he got into this mess.

Apparently Basil is pretty much perfect in every way except that he’s a little too idealistic and longs for the days of King Arthur, when he could have gone around doing really stupid things for beautiful women. Hey, Basil, it turns out you can do really stupid things in your own time, too. Surprise!

Basil’s uncle thinks the boy is too unworldly, which is pretty fair, I guess, so he introduces him to Lady Amelie Lisle, the most notorious coquette in society. Somehow, the fact that books like this allow me to use phrases like “the most notorious coquette in society” makes me like them better. Anyway, Lady Amelie is married, but she caters to Basil’s ideas of chivalry and bygone glory until he develops some kind of pure and worshipful devotion towards her. That’s when Sinister French Guy shows up.

SFG had an affair with Lady Amelie a few years back, and he’s been blackmailing her with her letters ever since. Now she hasn’t got any more money to give him, so she goes to Basil and tells him a heavily edited version of the story — she was young and innocent, she said things she didn’t mean, etc. I sort of believe her, if only because the Lady Amelie of the story’s present is much too smart to write incriminating letters.

Basil goes to SFG’s house, burns the letters without reading them, and is caught just as he’s replacing the watch that was in the box with the letters. And so he goes to jail, where he is quite happy to spend six months proving his devotion to Lady Amelie. Flash forward six months: Basil realizes he’s an idiot — and honestly, I wish Braeme had gone into more detail about his idiocy, but from here on things go really fast. Basil goes to Rome to see Lady Amelie and tell her what he thinks of her. He goes home and becomes an MP. He develops a reputation as a great orator. He falls in love with his mother’s ward and marries her. He tells her about his youthful foolishness and she forgives him. The end. I got the sense that Braeme got bored and wanted to finish things quickly.

I was going to do both of these books in one post, but this got kind of long, so I’ll do the other one later. I’ve decided that I’m only going to give partial summaries of the decent books, because I don’t want to give away the (admittedly obvious) endings, but the really bad books have nothing going for them but the plots, so I’m synopsizing them in full.

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2 comments

  1. I was very interested to read your comments on my Great- great -great Aunt, Charlotte M Brame. Charlotte sold many thousands of books of which many are still republished today, over one hundred years later. Charlotte was under extreme pressure to write many books and reach deadlines, her books were shamefully pirated by American publishers allegedly. Having just read Dora Thorne ( which incidently was made into a film starring Tyrone Power ) I have to disagree with your views on Charlotte’s work – I entered a world of true escapism, beautifully written, very poetic.


  2. I certainly didn’t mean to denigrate your great-great-great aunt. I understand that authors like Braeme were writing to support themselves and were pressured by publishers to write more, and, as you’ll see if you look around on this site, I actually find cheap popular fiction of past eras more fun and interesting than just about anything else. I enjoyed enormously the two Braeme books I read. That said, I don’t think anyone considers them to have much literary merit. Escapist, yes; well-written, not so much.



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