This novel, set in the time of the French Revolution, concerns the destiny of Charity Cottrell - extraordinarily beautiful and talented. Early in life she was deprived of her secure home base because of an eviction. She had to become a live-in domestic to keep a roof over her head. In desperate self-defence, she attacked one of her employers, the lecherous aristocrat Lord Rispian, and had to go 'on the run'. In the course of her adventures, Charity encountered the attentions of Lord Clover, a passionate admirer, who became a patron. He built her up as an Opera Star, and she received massive ovations.
Later, she was kidnapped and taken to a French brothel, where she was 'groomed' by the proprietress, Madame d'Esprit, to be a supremely desirable Lady of Pleasure. She developed some Sapphic feelings for the proprietress. She was eventually rescued, and spirited away - in the nick of time before the brothel was destroyed by a Revolutionary mob. She did an 'anvil' marriage with Lord Clover. Shortly after this, the villainous Lord Rispian did a vendetta on Clover, his deadly rival. Charity had felt she was happily married, and was devastated at the news. But having established the validity of her marriage certificate, she came to inherit Clover's estate. After her bitter struggles through life, she emerged with status, strength and power - to rename herself 'Charity Renegade'.
would she fare? Would they both be acclaimed at the conclusion, or thrown into
the refuse pit of obscurity? She could hear the chords of instruments as
musicians in the pit orchestra tuned their instruments to the right pitch. She
glanced, almost hysterically, to the left and right of her, searching for Lord
Seyton Clover’s form, trying to thrust from her, the murk of shadows and
apprehensions which threatened to stultify her into perpetual somnambulism. He
was nowhere in evidence and she knew that very soon she should have to walk the
threatened to overwhelm her again. What was her cue?
What her words?
Would she remember the actions, attitudes she must adopt? Was it also a fact
that the King and various members of his family, were this very night, in the
audience? Charity fiddled with the strands of pearls and jewels hanging about
her slender, white throat, her own reflection staring vividly ashen white, back
from a mirror. The snowy powder, lit with minute garlands and butterflies of gems,
sparkled in the dappled density of her wig.
Her low-cut gown
was spangled with subtle designs; the cloak and high collar - reminiscent of
the Elizabethan age - forming a rising backdrop for the stark alabaster beauty
of her bared throat, her shoulders. Her beautiful full bosom had been hauled,
so it seemed to Charity, so that it looked twice its normal size: large,
luscious fruits they were, and not many to the pound at that!
The stage had been hung in luxuriant fantasies of
drapes and curtainings: all in medieval richness. The raised dais which
supported the gold brocaded and tasselled couch (upon which she must pose), was
surmounted by a black urn standing on a pedestal, whereon was displayed a
cluster of pure white orchids and lilies.
was the whisper of a curtain being hastily pushed to one side and Lord Seyton
Clover was in front of her. She chewed nervously upon the vermillion painted
lips, looking bewildered: she stared with intensity into his strangely
“I, I, I am ..................... nervous, Your Lordship.”
with good reason, my fair damsel, for there are royal personages upon the
premises tonight. Do not worry, for I feel utterly confident that you will be
Charity found herself further at a loss, for the
first half of the sentence he breathed upon her, he was saying she had good
reason to fear and with the remainder, he was encouraging her, as only he
could. She stared, deep into the velvety depths of his shimmering eyes. Dare
she ever pull her own stare away from his gaze?
“You...will not....be...far... away, Your Lordship?”
indeed! For do not forget: I shall be conducting the orchestra. It will be
after all, Charity, only a performance of a few minutes. But, believe me, you
shall bring the house down!”
The audience was becoming increasingly impatient,
judging from the hullaballoo they were creating. Obviously they considered that
they were being asked to wait an inordinately long stretch of time for what
was, after all, only a Bill Filler.
in hell’s teeth,” had hissed Lord Fitzroy Rispian, “Was this ‘Hélène
de Noir' anyhow?”
as far as he could construe, had ever heard of her before. He had some
familiarity with the theatres of Paree and it was not a name which fell with
seasoned ease from his lips. Lord Rispian was all set for heckling. That
surely, was half the enjoyment of attending the theatre, the opera house. What!
What an excuse, also, for a roughing-up of those you didn’t like, or couldn't
stomach! Yes, a chap had to enjoy himself the best he could and if blooding the
noses of a few jumped-up worthies added to the entertainments, then that was
the sort of work he was set about enjoying! Not to mention the pinching of a
few ample bottoms, nipping a flowing bosom here and there.
At length, silence was called for by the
owner of the theatre and an uneasy quiet it was which enshrouded the playing
rose slowly upon a darkened stage. Some devilishly clever technician had been
to work: for a subtle spot-light of candle flames transfused the wispy
silhouetted figure who stood to the left of centre stage, back turned towards
the audience. The conductor’s baton rose and hauntingly beautiful yet
melancholic music flooded from the pit into the auditorium.
The figure turned slowly to face the audience,
a domino of some black material - with the hint of rainbow-coloured gems
flashing along the upper rim, - covering the eyes. The singer opened her mouth,
the words were low at first, then rose to an incredible soprano, soaring high
into indescribable crescendos.
The song was a
tale of love and abandonment, of disaster and death. All eyes were fixed upon
the tragic figure as she swayed and moved about amidst the shadows and rays
which kaleidoscoped the stage.
her cape, she cast herself into the pool of its luxuriant mystery, pulling the
fabric closer about herself. Rising it fell into fluidic drifts away from her.
Her monumental bosom heaving, she sank to the dais, singing like a nightingale
– rising to dance like a swan, - before sinking again into a swoon upon the
couch, imitating death upon the golden brocade of that support.
As though to add an extra dimension to the
performance, the air was heavy, redolent with the scents of flowers. The
audience was startled into awed silence. Then, as the heavy curtains rolled
down, thunderous applause flooded throughout the theatre. An emotion, hitherto
unknown, came to Lord Rispian, filling his breast with desire of the
enchantress. He was filled with the yearning to possess that enigmatic and
entrancing dame - completely to hold her in the breech of his own sturdy arms,
to savour her complete fantasy, to know her in total!
No Gentle Bondage
This is a powerful Interracial Romance, set in 18th Century Jamaica. Plantations, buried treasure, piracy and attempted vendettas lurk in the background; also initiation into Obeah. Some reference to runaway slaves wreaking vengeance on soldiers; black desires white, white desires black. In this Caribbean melting pot, there is En Jon Dow, a half-caste, with possibly Indian mother and Caucasian father, who is often taken for an oriental, but in terms of his demeanour is in most respects a cultured European, his father having provided him with an Oxford-educated tutor. There is one slave women, Eboinée, who had been something of an aristocrat before her abduction from Africa, and retains some of her lofty attitudes. She loses a child who had been with her on her transportation voyage, and after her ‘resettlement’ is double-named Jezebel; she becomes a threat to the status quo, partly because of her magical powers. The array of strong characters includes the black slave Abu/Eli, who sustains a remarkable level of moral integrity in view of his (lack of) status, combined with his exceptional looks – he is forced to pose as a life-drawing model. Lovely bathing scene leading to a failed seduction! A fascination also develops between Eboinée and Abu.
Captain Kate Goshawke, who radiates fascination, is the ‘macho woman’ heroine. Widowed when very young, she had been left to fend for, and prove, herself in the hard world of mariners. Because of her sometimes wearing man’s attire, there is some speculation about her real gender, and she attracts obsession from both sexes. En Jon, a successful philanderer, meets his match in Kate. They play elaborate, flirtatious mind-games together.
Another forceful character is Mara, daughter of ageing plantation owner Bartholomew Sadler, who has a bitter rival in the form of fellow plantation owner Esmé Durrance. Esmé has quite a close attachment to En Jon Dow on account of a shared love of literature. In parallel with Ebionée, Esmé has lost a child, and is also credited with magical powers.
In the novel here is no explicit sex, which for the reader, heightens the intensity of the desire, and the impassioned approaches which go with it. These make an important counterpoint with the politics of half-arranged marriage, integral to the novel’s structure. The love interest is counterpointed with the proprietorial and matrimonial designs of other plantation owners. There is also an adulterous relationship and concern about illegitimate pregnancy. In the case of Mara Sadler, there is a clear conflict between her inner desires and the matrimonial role expected of her. There is some conflict between Abu and Eboinée; Abu thinks she was responsible for the death of his wife. Bartholomew Sadler takes a shine to Eboinée.
Later, Bartholomew Sadler collapses and dies. This may have been the work of Eboinée’s spirits. The decease will suit daughter Mara’s plans to take over the property, so Eboinée bargains with Mara to obtain her freedom. Mara then plots Eboinée’s assassination, at the hands of Abu/Eli. Eboinée gets wind of the scheme, and tries to cultivate En Jon Dow to help thwart Mara. The assassination is faked, with Eboinées’s ingenuity in engineering a ‘decoy’ of bogus bloodstained remains; Eboinée escapes. Eboinée approaches Esmé Durrance, with the bait of being able to lead to buried treasure.
For Tsunami-aware readers, there is a superb description of a tropical storm towards the end. There is speculation about whether Eboinée’s magic brought about the storm. Love is unrequited for En Jon and Kate, but there is a suggestion that it may prevail with Mara and Abu/Eli.
I think Shiva Naipaul would have approved of this story.
With a peremptory
gesture she had fitted her hand over his right arm, and he, realising her
gave way to a commencement of their languorous perambulations along
the quay. En Jon was
impressed to see what a fine lady Kate looked, once
removed from her nautical raiment. She was
now attired in a lavishly tinted
gown of violet silk, cut in a style which pre-empted the post French
Revolutionary mode, low upon the bosom with tuckers beneath so that the main
shift fell fluidly to
the hem, under which was exposed a froth of mauve
petticoat. The scarf tied over her shoulders and
concealing in part, the bosom,
was but the flimsiest excuse and even in En Jon’s brief visual
could see that even this part of her anatomy was toasted a becoming, light
Upon her head, she wore a cocked hat of light coloured straw, with
a large white ostrich plume
bowing to her left shoulder.
Her hair had been
piled up and away from her forehead, but a few stray curls had been allowed to
fan over her brow. He had found it difficult to assess her age previously, for
she seemed to have an aura of perpetual youthfulness and even as he stole
occasional glances at her, on this morning, she appeared at times to be no more
than seventeen and at others, a woman of mature years.
Abu had been some few minutes swirling the cooling waters about his
body, when the urge to submerge himself and his scorching, fire-tingling back
into the river, became even more immediately demanding. Slipping the trousers
from his body, he placed them to one side.
He was in, not caring about all the ugly rumours he had heard concerning
the fate of shirking slaves, nor mindful particularly of the myriad legends he
had heard, concerning the venomous, dangerous creatures said to inhabit the
river and its banks The mood he was in just then, should he be bitten and the
bite prove fatal, so much the more would he like it. Anything would be
preferable to the life he had inherited, standing, toiling, day after day, from
dawn until dusk, in the broiling heat of the plantation fields. He smiled as he
floated upon the cool waters, looking at the blue perfection of the cloudless
sky overhead. He saw the shaking murmur of foliage, the lifting of a cloud of
butterflies, the darting of bright plumaged birds. Love for Nature in all her
aspects and guises, flooded upon him in a wave of irrepressible emotion. Tears
formed and fell down to unite with the waters which supported him. He would be
nigh on willing to barter his soul for a measure more of freedom.
Little did Abu/Eli know it then, but solutions
can be found to most problems, prayers answered, one way or another. Yet, for
everything there has to be a price.
He did not see the shadow falling beside his
discarded clothing by the water’s edge, nor hear the gentle swish of clothes as
they were dropped to the ground. The first he was aware that he was not alone,
was a sudden movement behind him in the waters. Fearful now, that some
crocodile or other carnivorous reptile or beast might be about to devour him,
he flipped over onto his stomach, his eyes for a fraction, blinded by the
shaded green of the river’s surface.
“What? You afraid of something, slave? Not of a white lady surely?” Mara
Sadler, striking out, was headed, sleek and white like a shark, to where he
paddled water. Although he was by no means conversant with the English
language, he knew enough, coupled with the picture which was here being
presented, to know that this scenario could mean certain, painful death to him.
He began to swim away from his pursuer. But she was having none of it.
“You're a shirking slave, big black boy, and
the penalty for shirking can be mighty tough – it could, for instance,” she sought a fresh
intake of air, “have you whipped within an inch or so of your life.”
tiger's eyes, were following his movements with a greedy malevolence. With a
thrust, she had propelled herself through the water and clasped her naked arms
about his powerful neck.
“Missy; Mistress! I beg of you to let me go, do not do this thing. Yes
Missy, you must not!”
“Why not slave,
blackmail, why not? No one here is going to see, and if they does, what of it?
They don't want to tell an’ git trouble for theyselves.”
Abu/Eli, fascinated by her wanton disregard,
and likewise the fluorescent sheen to her yellow eyes, was backing towards the
gentle incline up the river bank. Mara Sadler stopped her pursuit of the errant
slave and stood, hands on hips, laughing with a low, guttural sound, at his
actions. Embarrassed, Abu/Eli tried to cover his nakedness, then with fleet
footsteps, he scooped his trousers from the ground and pushed his torso into
them. He began to run from the scene. He glimpsed Mara as she emerged, stark
naked, from the river, still laughing, tossing her unbound hair in a silent
red-gold frenzy about her face. He was quite convinced that the white missy was
For her part,
Mara thought that the black slave was himself, crazy for having refused her
invitation. Others, as she recalled, hadn’t been so reticent. The remembrance
irked her. She’d bring him to heel yet, so she would. Swiftly, she redonned her
clothes, squashing the hat over her hair. She retraced her footsteps to where
she had hidden her pony. Her thoughts as she made her way, genuinely this time,
towards her home, were upon her sister Ann’s sudden betrothal. Well, that was
two ‘grand’ occasions her Papa had cheated her of. She wondered if she should
get a chance to see her sister before Ann sailed for England.
Posted on behalf and request of David Russell.