So! Big day, today. My book, Horror Fiction in the 20th Century, is now officially shipping from Amazon.com today!
Publisher’s description here:
Horror Fiction in the 20th Century encompasses the world of 20th-century horror literature and explores it in a critical but balanced fashion. Readers will be exposed to the world of horror literature, a truly global phenomenon during the 20th century.
Beginning with the modern genre’s roots in the 19th century, the book proceeds to cover 20th-century horror literature in all of its manifestations, whether in comics, pulps, paperbacks, hardcover novels, or mainstream magazines, and from every country that produced it. The major horror authors of the century receive their due, but the works of many authors who are less well-known or who have been forgotten are also described and analyzed. In addition to providing critical assessments and judgments of individual authors and works, the book describes the evolution of the genre and the major movements within it.
Horror Fiction in the 20th Century stands out from its competitors and will be of interest to its readers because of its informed critical analysis, its unprecedented coverage of female authors and writers of color, and its concise historical overview.
But this blog isn’t just about self-promotion—it’s also about me maundering about some of my favorite things. Which, in terms of Victoriana, includes the ending of the Reverend Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! (1855), a real page-turner and an influential book in its time.
Westward Ho! (novel online here) is the story of a Devonshire lad, Amyas Leigh, and his adventures in England and in the Americas, culminating in Leigh taking part in the fight against the Spanish Armada, and, crucially, what happens during and after that battle.
Amays is a strapping young man in Bideford, Devonshire, who is in love with the prettiest girl in Bideford, Rose Salterne. But Amyas longs for adventure at sea, especially in the New World, and goes around the world with Sir Francis Drake on Drake’s first circumnavigation of the world. When Amyas returns, he is told by a friend, Salvation Yeo, a horrifying story of how Yeo and his friend (John Oxenham) and his friend’s daughter had been captured by the Spanish Inquisition. Amyas, hearing this, wants to join the fight against the Spanish, so Amyas and Yeo join Sir Walter Raleigh in the fight against the Spaniards in Ireland. Amyas captures a Spaniard nobleman, Don Guzman de Soto, and takes him back to Bideford to await his ransom.
Well, things take a turn. Don Guzman catches the eye of Rose Salterne, and she him, and when Don Guzman’s ransom arrives he leaves—and takes Rose with him. At least, Rose disappears, and Amyas and his friends are sure that Rose was kidnaped by Don Guzman.
Amyas and his friends set out to rescue Rose. This leads to a trip across the Atlantic to Caracas, a battle with Don Guzman’s men (in which Amyas’ brother Frank is captured by Don Guzman), an overland march across Mexico, battles with hostile natives, and a native princess (Ayacanora) falling in love with Amyas and accompanying him on his travels. Three years later, Amyas et al. capture a Spaniard galleon, on board of which is Lucy, an English witch, who tells Amyas about how the Spanish Inquisition burned Rose and Frank at the stake (for being Protestants).
Amyas is, naturally, infuriated at this, and swears, “Henceforth till I die no quarter to a Spaniard.” Amyas returns home, drops Ayacanora off with his mother—after all this time Amyas views Ayacanora like a sister, which annoys her no end—and goes off to fight the Spanish Armada. On one of the Armada’s ships is Don Guzman. Amyas goes after Don Guzman, but Don Guzman’s ship is wrecked, Don Guzman is drowned rather than killed by Amyas, and a bolt of lightning strikes Amyas’ ship, permanently blinding him. Amyas goes home, where he is cared for by his friends and mother, and he marries Ayacanora.
Westward Ho! was written by Kingsley to stir up patriotic feelings among the English, so that they would support the Crimean War. Unfortunately, for the first 150 pages of the novel, this means that Kingsley engages in really reprehensible Catholic- and Spaniard-bashing, as well as no small amount of bigotry against those of African and Native American descent. Kingsley was what we call a “muscular Christian,” and equated effeminacy with moral weakness and physical vigor with moral strength. Kingsley’s ideology also leads him to sacrifice historical accuracy in favor of jingo: Spanish cruelties are highlighted while English cruelties are downplayed; the English are portrayed in almost entirely positive terms as pure conquering holy Aryan warriors while the Spanish and the Catholics are portrayed in almost entirely negative terms; and, most damningly, the Elizabethans are shown to have the political attitudes of the Victorians, especially with regard to the slave trade–Kingsley’s Elizabethans abhor it, while the real Elizabethans saw it as just another honorable trade.
But after those first 150 pages, something interesting happens. Kingsley settles down and does not let his agenda get in the way of his telling a cracking good tale. The Catholic- and Spanish-bashing occasionally reappears, but most of the time Kingsley is more concerned with describing Amyas Leigh’s exploits. Westward Ho! reads as if the storyteller in Kingsley, who had been cowed by Kingsley’s religious side at the start of the book, slowly won the struggle for control over the writing of the story. After that one hundred and fifty pages Westward Ho! has enough shipboard combats and sword fights to satisfy any young, adventure-seeking boy or girl. Kingsley himself admitted that the novel was “bloodthirsty,” but modern readers, whose sensibilities are considerably more coarsened than Kingsley’s, should merely find the novel great fun.
So why am I singling it out? Because of the ending. See, Kingsley wasn’t content to let Amyas be a straightforward hero. Kingsley wanted to teach a moral lesson using Amyas. Amyas believes that Don Guzman is responsible for the deaths of both Rose and Amyas’ brother Frank, and Amyas places his own personal vengeance against Don Guzman above his responsibilities to his crew or his duty to Queen Elizabeth. As the years pass and Amyas’ vengeance is increasingly delayed, Amyas’ hate for Don Guzman grows until he becomes filled with it, and all other emotions are driven out. Even Amyas acknowledges that he is so filled with hate that he can feel no joy or love any other man. For this sin God punishes Amyas by taking his vengeance away, by having Don Guzman die in a shipwreck rather than be killed in combat with Amyas, and by blinding Amyas. And then, even more unexpectedly, God sends Amyas a dream in which Amyas sees Don Guzman and Rose together. Amyas at last accepts that Don Guzman and Rose truly loved each other, rather than Rose having been unwillingly abducted from Bideford by Don Guzman, and Amyas then speaks with Don Guzman’s ghost:
And I saw him sitting in his cabin, like a valiant gentleman of Spain; and his officers were sitting round him, with their swords upon the table at the wine. And the prawns and the crayfish and the rockling, they swam in and out above their heads: but Don Guzman he never heeded, but sat still, and drank his wine. Then he took a locket from his bosom; and I heard him speak, Will, and he said: ‘Here’s the picture of my fair and true lady; drink to her, señors all.’ Then he spoke to me, Will, and called me, right up through the oar-weed and the sea: ‘We have had a fair quarrel, señor; it is time to be friends once more. My wife and your brother have forgiven me; so your honor takes no stain.’ And I answered, ‘We are friends, Don Guzman; God has judged our quarrel and not we.’ Then he said, ‘I sinned, and I am punished.’ And I said, ‘And, señor, so am I.’ Then he held out his hand to me, Cary; and I stooped to take it, and awoke.”
After around 450 pages of action and adventure and Amyas’ toxic hatred for Spaniards being repeatedly driven home to the reader, this is a surprising passage, and surprisingly effective.
I can’t recommend reading all of Westward Ho!—those first 150 pages (the first six chapters, basically) are tough sledding for readers with modern sensibilities. But everything after that is a classic Victorian historical adventure novel, and is a rewarding read.
Check it out!