I’m not sure how, but I stumbled across this book on Project Gutenberg a few weeks ago and was intrigued enough by the title and the cover illustration to download it. For those who don’t know about Project Gutenberg, it was founded in 1992, and pioneered digitizing out of copyright books to freely distribute them. It’s a labor of love in that all their staff are volunteers. Their books are available in multiple formats: HTML, Epub, PDF, Mobi, etc. (except Kindle, obviously). You can get all the classics there to read on your ereader or computer. Even though I have all Jane Austen’s books in physical paper editions, I got them in electronic format as well (’cause you just never know when you’re going to need a Jane fix). Amazon also carries it, but it’s not free from them.
But on to today’s topic, Love Among the Ruins
It’s really hard to find a description of this book online. Mostly what I’ve run across are disclaimers that because it’s a scanned file it may include errors or typos or missing pages. The cover of course gave me some idea, although it’s been kind of fun to read it with no idea of what it was about and let it unfold with no preconceptions. It was written by Warwick Deeping who was a prolific English author, and published in 1904. I suspect even in England he is largely forgotten now, and I’m sure he’s a complete unknown to Americans. His most famous book, Sorrell and Son, concerns his experiences in World War I and has been made into a movie three times. Makes me wonder what else is out there that’s been unjustly forgotten.
The novel opens with a scene of ruin and disaster. A young noblewoman has survived the sacking and burning of her family home because she was away when it took place, but while she has survived her family has been put to the sword, ostensibly by an enemy family. The writing is colorful (should we say purple prose?):
The branches of the forest invoked the sky with the supplications of their thousand hands. Black, tumultuous, terrible, the wilds billowed under the moon, stifled with the night, silent as a windless sea. Winter, like a pale Semiramis of gigantic mould, stood with her coronet touching the steely sky. A mighty company of stars stared frost-bright from the heavens.
A pillar of fire shone red amid the chaos of the woods. Like a great torch, a blazing tower hurled spears of light into the gloom. Shadows, vast and fantastic, struggled like Titans striving with Destiny in the silence of the night. Their substanceless limbs leapt and writhed through the gnarled alleys of the forest. Overhead, the moon looked down with thin and silver lethargy on the havoc kindled by the hand of man.
Our heroine, Yeoland, escapes with the only member of her household to have survived, the minstrel Jaspar. As they attempt to flee to safety they’re taken prisoner by a former knight named Fulviac, a Robin Hood-like character and self-proclaimed outlaw who leads a band of dispossessed downtrodden others like himself. Yeoland’s first sight of Fulviac’s men inspires the expected response of Haves towards the Have-nots, but Fulviac cautions her not to judge them so harshly:
Say no hard things of them; they are folk whom the world has treated scurvily; therefore they are at feud with the world. The times are out of joint, tyrannous and heavy to bear. The nobles like millstones grind the poor into pulp, tread out the life from them, that the wine of pleasure may flow into gilded chalices. The world is trampled under foot. Pride and greed go hand in hand against us.
Yeah. Some things never change. The conversation goes on as Yeoland still views the world from her superior attitude, and Fulviac acquaints her with the harsher realities. Despite the somewhat overblown prose, there are some good lines. I particularly like this one:
Give doubt the password and the outer battlements are traitorously stormed.
Yeoland’s character is well-drawn, especially for the time (Edwardian era). While Tolkien is often criticized for his flat portrayal of the few women in his books, this one is told through Yeoland’s eyes and while I don’t yet know how her character arc will play out, I think it’s safe to say we’ll see a big change of heart.
I’m about halfway through it and I have to say I’m really enjoying it. I’d love to see this on the big or small screen, and these days with all the focus on period dramas (Spartacus, The Borgias, Camelot, even Game of Thrones) someone needs to mine these older books for material. I think I’ll be reading more of Deeping’s books.