The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
Rufin's Legacy: A Theosophical Romance (1892)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
Rufin’s Legacy: A Theosophical Romance was written by “Wirt Gerrare,” the pseudonym of the British writer William Oliver Greener (1862-1946), a novelist and authority on firearms.
Englishman Will Glynn is in Russia visiting his friend Rufin Petrovich when Rufin asks Will to run an errand for him: when next Will is in London, bring a letter to one Caradoc Morgan. Rufin excuses himself to get the letter. Will waits for him, and waits, and eventually goes looking for Rufin. Will finds Rufin, freshly shot dead, and runs to the window of Rufin’s apartment to find a woman in a domino cloak and mask walking away from the apartment building. Will is upset, naturally, and searches Rufin’s apartment for any evidence of the killer—as far as Will knew, Rufin had no enemies, so the murder is mystifying to him. Will finds a hidden folio of Rufin’s papers, and is not sure what to make of them but assumes that they were what the murderer was looking for and keeps them with him. Will also finds a strange letter written by Rufin to a Xenia Alexevna Agamaloff, who Will does not know. He looks her up, but is surprised and upset to find that she is not unhappy that Rufin was killed. She explains that she is a revolutionary but not a Nihilist and that Rufin was a member of the secret police. His death is a good thing as far as she is concerned. But she wants the folio, and Will is unwilling to give it to her. (The fact that Xenia is a member of something called “The Society for the Committing of Motiveless Murders” has something to do with Will’s reluctance to help her). But Xenia is willing to forgive him that, because her enemy is the same woman who murdered Rufin: Madame Felician, a sort of freelance agent for the Russian secret police. Felician killed Rufin for her own personal reasons rather than to help Russia. Xenia hates Madame Felician and wants to free Russia of Felician’s influence, and Will agrees to help her to avenge Rufin.
Will and Xenia work together in fighting Madame Felician’s plans. After various plot complications and actions by Will and Xenia Madame Felician is arrested. But she is soon released, Rufin’s folio is stolen out of the bank vault in which Will stored it, and Will, pursuing Madame Felician by train, is psychically attacked, in a frightening scene, by Madame Felician. Luckily for Will, he meets a nameless man (who may be Greener’s “Me” character) who is a powerful mesmerist and who teaches Will how to resist mesmerism and psychic attacks. Madame Felician’s agents kidnap Will’s fiancée, Frida, back in England, giving Will another reason to want to stop Felician. Xenia is captured by Felician’s agents, but Will frees her and Frida. Felician disappears, but the pair figure out where she is going and chase her by train across Poland and Germany. Felician disappears again, but the two, now knowing that Felician’s plans involve gaining political and mundane power for herself, read the German papers, figure out Felician’s new identity in Berlin, and foil her plot there. Felician decamps to London and Will and Xenia follow her there. In London Will hears the name “Caradoc Morgan” and remembers that Rufin wanted him to carry a letter to Morgan, back before Felician killed Rufin. So Will goes to see Morgan, who turns out to be a rather sinister mesmerist and Theosophist. Will and Xenia, trying to capture Felician, fall into a trap instead, and the pair are left to starve to death, rather painfully. But they are rescued and continue the chase. Will discovers that Morgan is Felician’s ally and then finds Xenia dead of an apparent suicide. Will knows, however, that Felician used her psychic powers to possess Xenia to make her kill herself. Will tries to trap Felician, but she is too clever for him and flees England. Will chases her and corners her, but she takes poison and commits suicide. Frida, however, dies as well, from the lingering effects of what Felician did to her when she was Felician’s prisoner. And then Morgan dies, but Will discovers that he can move his consciousness from body to body and is not really dead, and Will’s left with the possibility that Madame Felician, like Morgan, is still alive, only in the body of another. And there the novel ends.
Rufin’s Legacy is a standard late-Victorian adventure novel. The espionage/secret service aspects of the novel are only trappings for the adventure plot. The fantastic aspects of the novel, the psychic and mesmeric powers which Felician and Morgan wield, are given a Theosophical justification, but the actual use of Theosophy in the novel is not overwhelming and is easily skimmed through. The novel stands as an anticipation of twentieth-century psychic espionage thrillers, but Rufin’s Legacy is too mediocre to be really memorable. The characterization is slightly more than perfunctory, and the dialogue readable enough. Greener maintains a decent pace, and if the tone is too lackluster to properly convey Will’s perils. Greener does show a suitable hardheartedness in disposing of characters as well as taking the logic of the characters’ psychic powers as far as they will go.
What is notable about Rufin’s Legacy is the imagery–Greener’s descriptive abilities are better than average–and the occasional moments of horror, like Felician’s psychic attack on Will, which are quite effective. Greener also lets Xenia make some good points about English manipulativeness and ruthlessness. While Greener is not kind, via Xenia, about Russian men, he is more unkind about the amoral tendencies of Englishmen and English foreign policy.
Print: Wirt Gerrare, Rufin’s Legacy: A Theosophical Romance. London: Hutchinson, 1892.