Hilda Wade: A Woman With Tenacity of Purpose
Grant Allen [and Arthur Conan Doyle]
New York: Putnam, 1900
A novel written by a dying man, Hilda Wade ends in reconciliation, redemption and a deathbed scene. Arthur Conan Doyle tells us that this is just as the author intended. I don't doubt it. A good friend, Doyle completed the novel Allen could not, following the story the stricken author sketched from his own deathbed. "He was much worried because there were two numbers of his serial, 'Hilda Wade,' which was running in 'The Strand' magazine, still uncompleted," Doyle writes in his Memories and Adventures. "It was a pleasure for me to do them for him, and so relieve his mind, but it was difficult collar work, and I expect they were pretty bad."
Doyle's chapters are every bit as good as the average. The best of Hilda Wade comes in the first half of the book, in which narrator Doctor Hubert Cumberledge introduces our heroine. Hilda Wade is a nurse at
There is mystery about Hilda. She reveals nothing of herself, yet knows much about others. Blessed with an eidetic memory and "so large a measure of the deepest feminine gift – intuition," she proves her character exemplary in several dramas that play out in St. Nathaniel's
"Another, Marcus, was said to have shot himself by accident while cleaning his gun – after a quarrel with his wife. But you have heard all about it. 'The wrong was on my side,' he moaned, you know, when they picked him up, dying, in the gun-room. And one of the Faskally girls, his cousins, of whom his wife was jealous – that beautiful Linda – became a Catholic and went into a convent at once on Marcus's death: which, after all, in such cases, is merely a religious and moral way of committing suicide..."My favourite passage in the book.
The doctor comes to play Watson to Hilda's Holmes. I like to think Doyle was amused. Midway through the novel, the secret of Hilda Wade – true name: Maisie Yorke-Bannerman – is revealed to both reader and villain. That villain is, of course, Sebastian. The professor tries to murder the nurse, but his ingenuity is no match for that of our heroine. He fails because hers is the greater mind; indeed, Hilda – Maisie, if you prefer – is the most intelligent character encountered in the ten Allens I've read thus far.
Given the circumstances of composition, it might be unseemly to complain about the novel's weaknesses, but regular readers know I will. After Sebastian's botched attempt on her life, Maisie flees for Africa, seeking refuge until it is safe to return return to London. A besmitten
I've noted before, because I believe the claim to be true, that Allen considered himself "the busiest man in England." He died at the age of fifty-two, leaving behind dozens of articles, poems, short stories, and a greater number of books than years lived. Had they been bad, the numbers would mean nothing, but Allen is easily the finest novelist born in Victoria's Canada.
He is a writer worth knowing.
Certainly, Doyle thought so.
Object and Access: A 383-page novel with ninety-eight – ninety-eight! – illustrations by Gordon Browne and five pages of advertisements for other Putnam titles, including Allen's Miss Cayley's Adventures (also illustrated by Browne).
The stuff of academic libraries, though residents of Allen's birthplace are served by the Kingston Frontenac Public Library. The Canadian Museum of History Library and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec succeed where Library and Archives Canada fails.
listed for sale (not auction) on eBay just two days ago. The copy to own, I say, it's inscribed by the author's widow, Nellie.
The Putnam edition is offered by a couple of Yankee booksellers, but they're no bargains: US$224.25 and US$250. I won my copy on eBay for US$6.00 at the beginning of February. It might be a good idea to watch and wait.
The novel was last published in 1902 by George Newnes as part of his Popular Sixpenny Novels series. Not a sign of that edition, either.
The Grant Richards, Putnam and Copp, Clark editions can be read and downloaded gratis at the Internet Archive.
I'm aware of two translations: Polish (Hilda Wada, 1900) and French (La Vengeance de Hilda Wade, 2013). Michael Wynn's brilliant and invaluable Grant Allen website raises the possibility of an Italian text.