|the author, from www.trollope.org|
Forgotten Books, 312 pp
Anyway, to get down to it, the story focuses on Charles Hargrave and his family, who are living in Paris as the story begins. Hargrave is a widower with one daughter from his marriage, Sabina, and a stepdaughter Adèle de Cordillac. His dead wife's sister, Madame de Hautrivage, also lives with the family, along with a number of servants. Hargrave's reputation is such that he is a man with a gigantic fortune, well known for his huge gala balls that run into the wee hours of the morning, his fine taste in clothes, etc., and he is at the top of the social ladder of the city. It isn't too long though until we discover that it's all a sham and that he's become desperate for money, in debt to several people and having bills he's having trouble meeting. He keeps his secret from the rest of his family and the rest of society, however, and goes on living the high life.He knows that he must get his daughters married off to wealthy suitors and depend on them to take care of him. Meanwhile, the police are looking for answers as to who's been robbing high rollers coming out of a local club called Riccardo's. While Adèle and Sabina are meeting the men of their dreams (the plans of which are thwarted soon enough), Hargrave has a huge fete (another one of his gala extravaganzas) and has invited a certain Madame Bertrand along with her husband to attend. She is rich and flaunts her wealth by wearing diamonds sewn onto her dresses, but at the end of the party around 4:30 a.m. or so, she turns up missing. Hargrave's opinion is that the young lady has eloped, gone off with a lover.
Forgotten Books, 311 pp
There's a big problem brewing, though, and that's Adèle, who had heard and seen things both during the fete and afterward from her bedroom window. She decides to investigate on her own, and discovers certain evidence that leads her to believe that Hargrave is involved, and decides that the family should make a run for it. However, before all of this plays out, at the same time Mme. Bertrand had gone missing, Adèle had sent her servant Roger Humphries on a personal mission that will later come back to bite the pair of them, since the police are out in force looking for Mme. Bertrand's abductor; Roger just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The family makes up some rather stupid but credible excuse to feed to the chatty aunt about why they're leaving and establishes a false trail in case anyone comes after them.
Forgotten Books, 325 pp
In Volume three, our fugitives are safely ensconced incognito in the forest near Baden, and while Charles is missing his once-great life, Adèle has begun to hate him, knowing exactly what kind of man he really is. Things come to a head when she learns that Roger's been imprisoned for the kidnapping and supposed murder of Mme. Bertrand and she realizes that she has the power to save him. Charles is too caught up in worrying about his own reputation and his own future to let her go and threatens to lock her in to prevent her leaving. While I won't reveal how things play out , I have to say that Trollope has spun a cracking good yarn with this book, which over the space of its full 900-plus pages gave me hours of sheer, lowbrow pleasure.
To be fair, this is not strictly one hundred percent a crime novel. Sussex says that it is "a romance plot yoked to a crime mystery," and it may be that, as Kate Watson notes in her book Women Writing Crime Fiction, 1860-1880: Fourteen American British and Australian Authors, Trollope
"simultaneously uses the conventional trappings of sentimental romance in Hargrave; this incorporation suggests the social and literary limitations place upon women writers; they had to conceal both crime in their fiction and the crime of writing about such an unsuitable subject." (20)So far in my own explorations, Hargrave seems to be one of the earliest works of crime literature written by a woman, which makes it beyond noteworthy, although Watson makes the point that Catherine Crowe's Adventures of Susan Hopley; or Circumstantial Evidence (which I should have read but forgot that I actually own until this very second) came out two years earlier in 1841. The real point here, stated so eloquently by Kate Watson, is that even at this early date,
"...women were writing crime, and it seems that their texts have somehow been repressed or dismissed in favor of the male canon."Once again I've picked up a novel that not very many people will want to read, and that's okay. I wouldn't have even known about it before starting this project, but as it turns out it was a fine novel, easy to read, and above all, fun.