Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review ~ Lucile by Owen Meredith

Good morning, everyone! One of my goals this month was to pull books from my shelves that I hadn't read yet and actually read them. This week I pulled out Lucile by Owen Meredith. 

It was originally published in 1860 by Robert Bulwer-Lytton writing under the pseudonym, Owen Meredith. The book was published in England several times over the years while in the U.S. the book was published over 2,000 times from the date of its publication until 1938. The University of Iowa has an interesting website devoted to the publication of Lucile called the Lucile Project. It gives information on the book and is attempting to keep a record of various publications of the book since quite a few of the publications were not dated, like my own copy of the book.

The story of Lucile is a narrative poem written in anapest meter. It begins with a letter written by Comtesse Lucile de Nevers to Lord Alfred Vargrave. She congratulates Lord Alfred on his upcoming marriage to a young girl named Matilda and asks that he return any letters he might have of hers from their romantic affair years before.

Lord Alfred travels to France to return the letters, but after encountering Lucile again, he realizes that despite his supposed anger at Lucile for their breakup, he still cares for her. For her part, Lucile never forgot Alfred; over the years, she had been the belle of France and had many potential suitors, but she rejected everyone. 

Her current potential suitor is Eugene de Luvois, a young Frenchman, who is continuously gay and merry, flitting from one party to the next, spending money lasciviously with no care in the world for making something of himself. With Lucile at his side, he thinks he can make something of himself and achieve meaning in his life.

Alfred confesses his feelings to Lucile, but she asks that he wait for her reply. Eugene confesses as well, but is rejected. At that same time, Alfred receives her letter that says that they can never be together and he is heartbroken, but after reading it a second time again, he realizes that Lucile still loves him, but cannot be with him because he is 'not free'. 

On his way back to England to 'free' himself from Matilda, he meets Eugene on road, who despite being rejected, gives Alfred a triumphal grin as if he had won Lucile's heart. Alfred took that grin as triumph, not jealously; he returns to England and marries Matilda.

The second part of the story sees all four characters at the same town and inn in France. Eugene's life has continued to be one of dispensation. But seeing Alfred and Lucile speaking once again, he decides to cause havoc by revealing to Matilda that Lucile was Alfred's previous lover.

Matilda had always loved Alfred and assumed she was loved as well, but with Eugene's words, she doubts everything. Fortunately, Lucile comes to the rescue and tells Matilda that Alfred loves her and no other. She reprimands Eugene strongly and refuses him once again. She tells him that she will always be his guide if he needs her in the future. She tells him to make something of himself and forget the past.

Years later, we see Alfred and Matilda, now poor (due to a dubious uncle who squandered the family's money), but happy because of their only son. Their son is in the army fighting during the Crimean War. He has been injured, but is nursed back to health by a nun named Sister Seraphine. Despite her care of his injury, he is dying from a broken heart. He has fallen in love with a girl named Constance, but cannot be with her because of her uncle's refusal.

Sister Seraphine goes to the general of the army to ask for his help with the boy. It is revealed that the general is Eugene de Luvois. No longer a layabout, but an upstanding man who has devoted his life to helping others. When he realizes that Seraphine is Lucile, he is astonished, but all of his anger comes back when she mentions who the boy is, his rival's child. At first he refuses to give his consent for his niece Constance to marry, but in the end he relents. 

The story comes full circle with Alfred and Matilda together, their son and Constance together, and Eugene and Lucile still alone, but atoning for their 'supposed' sins by giving help to the world where they can.

I have a theory as to why the book resonated with American audiences. In any other story, Lucile would have been the catalyst that broke Alfred and Matilda's relationship apart, she would have been the villain. Instead, the author gives us a character who gives up her love for Alfred and becomes a nun. She transfers her love for Alfred to a love for everyone. She is a constant source of comfort and solace for those she encounters. With Eugene, she convinces him to become something, to do good in the world, when she could have left him to his own devices and let him destroy himself and others.

Considering America's ideals of women in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Lucile's character is one that women could see themselves in. Forgiving, noble, and loving throughout trials of life.

With the book's popularity, it was made into at least four plays in the early 20th century before 1910. It was also made into a film in 1912 by the Thanhouser Company, but sadly it did not survive. Perhaps it will come to light one day if a copy still exists in the world, but is buried in a storage somewhere. We can only hope.

While reading the book, I found some interesting ephemera that a previous owner had slipped in the book. The first was a receipt for Century Subscription Agency to extend a subscription for Biff Magazine. The receipt dates to 1913 and was signed by a woman who lived in Omro, Wisconsin.

The second item was a partial silver gelatin photograph. It shows a young boy wearing a black cap sitting beside a woman in a white blouse. I wonder who they were? Family of the owner of the book and receipt?

Don't you love finding notes and other items in used books? I know I do. Gives the book an addition life beyond the words on the page.

With the date of the receipt, I would hazard a guess that my copy of the book was published circa 1913. It was published by M.A. Donohue & Co. in Chicago. My version is one of their 'handy volume' editions of the book.

I hope you enjoyed my ramblings today. If you would like to read the book, Amazon has it for free on Kindle and you can also find it through Project Gutenberg, a great website for books in the public domain.

Until next time ^___^

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