March 8, 2007

I’ve spent too long reading poetry, and now I’m taking a break to talk about bad prose. I mean, I like Tennyson, but In Memoriam is kind of long. And Coralie, by Charlotte M. Braeme, is neither long nor complex.

Coralie is narrated by Edgar Trevelyan, a poor young man of good family who works as a clerk to support himself and his invalid sister Clare. They’re barely making ends meet, and Clare has one of those mysterious fictional illnesses: a spinal ailment that can only be cured by expensive food and freedom from worry.

Then one day he gets a letter from a lawyer saying that his cousin Sir Barnard Trevelyan and Sir Barnard’s son Miles have suddenly died abroad, and as Edgar is their next of kin, he inherits both the title and their estate, Crown Anstey. And lots and lots of money, too. The lawyer does not tell him that he’s also inherited a permanent house-guest by the name of Coralie. She’s the French, breathtakingly beautiful orphan daughter of a cousin of Sir Barnard’s, and although Edgar is okay with her, none of the women she’s acquainted with seem to like her very much.

Edgar soon meets and falls in love with Agatha Thesiger, the daughter of a baronet who lives nearby. Edgar thinks the idea that people could get to know and like each other before falling in love is ridiculous. Love “comes into existence all at once,” and “after one upward look in Agatha Thesiger’s face, [he loves] her with a love that [is his] doom.” Poetic, huh?

Eventually he and Agatha become engaged, which makes Coralie more than a bit annoyed. Apparently she loves Edgar too, but if he marries Agatha…well, her threats are kind of incoherent. She asks Edgar to marry her instead of Agatha a number of times, and each time he refuses. So she has no choice but to reveal her secret: she was married to Miles Trevelyan and she has a kid hidden away somewhere. He, not Edgar, is the heir to Crown Anstey. So Edgar goes abroad as someone’s secretary while Clare stays with the Thesigers and Coralie has her son move in with her. In both of the Braeme stories I’ve read, she has the hero go through a period of exile: Basil in jail, and Edgar abroad. And that’s all very well, but there’s really no point if you don’t dwell on the length of time. Instead, the beginning of that period of exile is where Braeme begins to fast-forward us through the rest of the story. So. Coralie’s son dies. She catches the fever or whatever it was that killed him and she dies too, but not before summoning Edgar to her and repenting on her deathbed. She’s sorry now that she was “unwomanly and wicked,” and Edgar forgives her. And then he marries Agatha. The end.

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