The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
Denounced was written by John Bloundelle-Burton. John Edward Bloundelle-Burton (1850-1917) was a British writer of historical dramas. He wrote often and well, but he is now mostly forgotten. Denounced is a good example of Bloundelle-Burton’s virtues and flaws as a writer.
Denounced begins in 1746, during the Second Jacobite Rebellion, when Prince Charles Edward has landed in Scotland and is attempting to make his father King James III of England. Simeon Larpent, the Viscount Fordingbridge, and his wife Kitty are making their way in disguise to England. They are Catholics and Jacobites, and the current king, George II, has no love of either and is hunting for them. Simeon and Kitty are cold to each other; the marriage is an unhappy one. The man Kitty loves, Bertie Elphinstone, a Scottish soldier and Jacobite, also goes to England, and soon all three are living in or around London. Kitty and Bertie had previously been affianced, but Simeon and Kitty’s father, who was dependent on Simeon for money, connived to deceive Kitty. They lied to her and persuaded her that Bertie was married to another woman. Crushed, Kitty let herself be persuaded to marry Simeon. Only a month later she discovered that she was lied to, but her marriage to Simeon was legal, and she was stuck. She is sure that Bertie hates her, so when Bertie moves to London Kitty she sends him a letter, carried by their mutual friend, the Jesuit Father Archibald Sholto, who is also a former mentor of Simeon. In the letter she explains what happened. He responds and forgives her, and they agree to meet one last time and then part forever, he leaving the country. Simeon has foresworn the Jacobite cause and is an avowed Hanoverite and an advisor of King George II, but he is afraid of Elphinstone, so he tells an agent of the King that he knows of the presence of Jacobites in London: Elphinstone, his friend and fellow soldier Douglas Sholto (Archibald’s brother), and Father Sholto. This should, Simeon hopes, result in their arrest. But the arrest attempt comes at the costume ball at which Bertie and Kitty are saying their farewells, and Bertie and Douglas fight their way free, aided by the other Jacobites in the crowd. They return to her house, and she tells them that it must have been her husband who betrayed them and that she is leaving him. Bertie and Douglas go to France. When Simeon returns home Kitty has left him and gone to stay with friends, preparing to also go to France. Simeon has a final meeting with Kitty, in which she scornfully denounces him in front of witnesses, renounces being his wife, and returns to him all the clothing and jewelry he’d ever given her. Simeon insinuates that he became a priest, meaning that Kitty is not only married to a man she hates, but also married to a priest, something appalling to the Catholic Kitty. One of the witnesses, a King’s man who loathes Simeon, takes Simeon aside and cows him as revenge for his statement to Kitty.
Kitty goes to France, feeling much relieved at being free of Simeon. She meets Bertie and Douglas in an inn in Amiens, where Father Sholto confirms that Simeon is not a priest. By accident Douglas, leaving the inn, encounters Simeon, who has fled to France--he is wanted in England by the Crown. Simeon, who has gone insane by this time, kills Douglas, since only Douglas knows that Simeon has fled to France. Simeon then flees. Kitty, Bertie, and Father Sholto are all devastated at Douglas’ murder. They eventually go to Paris, Kitty staying with friends and Bertie resuming his position in the Regiment of Picardy. His conscience bothered by all the evil he has done in his life, Simeon confesses his sins, including his murder of Douglas Sholto, and almost immediately runs into Father Sholto. Simeon is convinced that it was Father Sholto who heard his confession, but it was not, and when Simeon is too free with his words about the murder he committed Sholto has him arrested. Some time later Bertie is arrested in Paris--why, he does not know--and sent to the Bastille. He is kept there for many months. Eventually he is forced to share a cell with Simeon, whose mind has broken and is now quite wretched. Simeon is eventually executed, although on the chopping block he sees Kitty, who is coincidentally riding by, and lets her know that Bertie, who as far as she knows vanished mysteriously, is kept in the Bastille. Father Sholto begins applying political and bureaucratic pressure, and eventually Bertie’s case is brought before a judge and it is revealed that he was imprisoned on a case of mistaken identity. Bertie is freed and rejoins Kitty.
Denounced is not as good a novel as Bloundelle-Burton’s In the Day of Adversity. Denounced’s beginning is particularly clumsy, with infodumps which were clearly designed to provide the reader with backstory but which are so awkwardly inserted into the text that the reading experience is made choppy. The dialogue in the first few chapters is mannered, stiff, and theatrical; the lack of naturalism and the obtrusively monologic nature of the dialogue also interrupts the reading experience. After his cast is settled in London Bloundelle-Burton accelerates the pace of the novel and makes the dialogue more realistic, but he is rarely free of the unnatural-sounding dialogue which so plagues the novel’s opening. While In the Day of Adversity did not exhibit any great degree of psychological insight, Bloundelle-Burton’s approach in Denounced is particularly unsubtle, with the heroes straightforwardly good and honorable and Larpent a scoundrel who knows that he is a scoundrel--bad people generally believe they are anything but, after all.
The characterization of Larpent is another of the novel’s flaws. He is an unintelligent, cowardly, pathetic, craven wretch, mean and weak and given to obviously futile threats. He is not a villain the equal of the heroes; he is a small man rather than the great villain which a proper historical romance of the 1890s often needs to be superb. Lastly, Bloundelle-Burton uses a deus ex machina plot device to explain why Bertie was imprisoned in the Bastille: another Elphinstone eloped with a Duke’s daughter, a fact not mentioned earlier in the novel and which is entirely irrelevant to the plot except in that it is used to explain Bertie’s imprisonment. If the reader has any interest left in Denounced by the time this fact is exposed, they will be extremely irritated with Bloundelle-Burton for this piece of bad plotting.
Denounced is only intermittently interesting, unfortunately. Bloundelle-Burton lacked the skill to make the relationship between Kitty and Bertie particularly moving. Those seeking action of the Baroness Orczy (The Scarlet Pimpernel) sort will not find it; Bloundelle-Burton is more interested in writing a romance than a Romance, and so slights action in favor of further difficulties for Bertie and Kitty. Subplots are abandoned and never revisited, such as the early mention of Kitty’s troubled relationship with her father.
Denounced does have an almost unprecedented positive portrayal of a Jesuit in the character of Father Sholto, who is an honorable man and not at all the black-hearted conspirator that Jesuits are in other historical romances (see: Father Darcy, The Wandering Jew) of the Victorian era. This of course goes back to 1540 and the origin of the Jesuits as a group committed to support the papacy and propagate the Catholic faith around the world.
In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformation England, Jesuitism was viewed as the aggressive military arm of a Catholicism with global ambitions. The Society’s deep roots in mission fields that were potential English colonies, its intimate relation to papal temporal and spiritual power, and its influence at the Spanish and French courts all encouraged the vilification of the Jesuit in English narratives of national usurpation and revival.1
In the nineteenth century this fear of a Jesuit-led Catholic interference in England’s affairs returned, provoked by legislation to restore Catholic civil rights. The fear of the Jesuits continued and mounted throughout the century. “Victorians inherited–and developed–a belief that Jesuitism represented an international menace and, more particularly, an alien presence infecting the country, attacking the nation’s constitution and social stability, and requiring a clear framework for containment and control.”2 Novels with anti-Jesuit messages were particularly common during the second-half of the century, arguably peaking with Walter Walsh’s screed The Jesuits in Great Britain (1903).
Which makes the character of Father Sholto quite at odds with the temper of the times. Bloundelle-Burton was not Catholic, but a few of his works are sympathetic to Catholics and the Catholic faith, including Denounced and his later The Fate of Henry of Navarre (1910), which debunked a long-standing anti-Catholic rumor about the 1610 assassination of King Henry IV of France. This may be as simple as Bloundelle-Burton being sympathetic to an oppressed group, or perhaps there was some other reason motivating Bloundelle-Burton. Whatever the cause, his portrayal of Jesuits and Catholics in his historical romances is an interesting exception to contemporary trends.
What Denounced does have going for it is Bloundelle-Burton’s attention to historical detail and the character of the Marquis de Chevagny. As he did in In the Day of Adversity, Bloundelle-Burton makes use in Denounced of an immense amount of information and knowledge about France and England in the late 1740s, so that the depiction of London and Amiens and Paris is completely convincing and at times flawless. The story of Bertie and Kitty is not compelling or even particularly interesting, but the modern reader can find some enjoyment of Bloundelle-Burton’s description of French and English culture and environment and in the accuracy of his depiction of the true conditions within the Bastille.
Denounced has some interesting aspects but is too often dull to be recommended. In the Day of Adversity is much the better of Bloundelle-Burton’s work.
Print: John Bloundelle-Burton, Denounced. Los Angeles: Hardpress Publishing, 2012.
1 Moran, Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature, 30.
2 Moran, Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature, 30.