19 November 2018

The Adventures of a Globe-Trotting Girton Girl



Miss Cayley's Adventures
Grant Allen
Richmond, VA: Valancourt, 2016
230 pages

Men come off particularly poorly in this novel. The first mentioned is Jack Watts-Morgan. He married Captain Cayley's widow, used her small fortune to pay off his gambling debts, and then carried her off to Burma. The poor woman is dead now, as is Watts-Morgan. The brief account of the widow's ill-advised second marriage is backstory, explaining how it is that Miss Lois Cayley, Captain and Mrs Cayley's only child, finds herself with nothing more than twopence in her pocket.

Miss Cayley's Adventures was first published between March 1888 and February 1899 in the pages of The Strand. Its heroine and narrator, Lois Cayley bears great similarity to Juliet Appleton, heroine and narrator of Allen's 1897 novel The Type-Writer Girl.* Both recent graduates of Girton College, Cambridge, each finds herself suddenly orphaned and next to penniless. Of the two, Lois Cayley is the more adventurous. Where Miss Appleton first thought is to seek office work, the high-spirited Miss Cayley finds liberation in her new, impoverished state, and determines to set out on a voyage that will take her around the globe. "I submit myself to fate," she tells her friend Elsie Petheridge. "I shall stroll out this morning, as soon as I've 'cleaned myself,' and embrace the first stray enterprise that offers. Our Bagdad teems with enchanted carpets. Let one but float my way, and, hi, presto, I seize it."


Lois's Bagdad being London, she sesoon finds herself in Kensington Gardens, where she happens to overhear two elderly grand dames in conversation. The "eldest and ugliest" complains that she has had to dismiss Célestine, her lady's maid, an action that jeopardizes her approaching trip to Schlangenbad. Lois dares approach the crusty old old woman – Lady Georgina Fawley – suggesting that she might take Célestine's place.


Titled "The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady," the opening chapter is followed by "The Adventure of the Supercilious Attache," in which our heroine, now en route to Schlangenbad as the cantankerous old lady's companion thwarts a jewel thief. Ten more adventures follow. Lois does make her way around the world – slowly at first, sprinting in the final stretch. Along the way she wins a bicycle race, exposes a quack doctor, scales down a mountain, rescues a kidnapped woman, kills a tiger, and draws the adoration of Harold Tillington, Lady Georgina Fawley's nephew.


Lois Cayley is frequently cited by academics as an early female detective. I don't quite agree. Like Harold Tillington, I was smitten by Miss Cayley, but am not so blinded by love to give her too much credit. The thwarted jewel thief (M le Comte de Laroche-sur-Loiret) and the charlatan doctor (Dr Fortescue-Langley) are one in the same. Anticipating Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf, he shows up again and again, under various guises. What is meant to be his greatest coup, is again thwarted by Lois, but she does this not through deduction but "intuition."


I hesitate in describing the man pretending to be M le Comte de Laroche-sur-Loiret and Dr Fortescue-Langley – his real name is Higginson – as a cardboard character because the others are so very well realized. Lady Georgina Fawley, the cantankerous old lady, was a favourite. Such are her ample dimensions that the reader readily accepts Lois's growing love for the grand dame. It may say something about the Lady Georgina's family that my second favourite is Viscount Southminster. Another nephew, Southminster is after the fortune of her brother Marmaduke Ashurst:
"Marmy's doing very well, thank yah ; as well as could be expected. In fact, bettah. Habakkuk on the brain: it's carrying him off at last. He has Bright's disease very bad – drank port, don't yah know – and won't trouble this wicked world much longah with his presence. It will be a happy release – especially for his nephews."
Like Lois, I saw though Southminster, though I did enjoy his "baronial drawl" and talk of Newmarket, Ascot, and music halls. A simpleton, in his effort to secure Marmy's fortune, he follows a brilliant plot that was put together by Higginson.


At the end of the novel, Southminster is exiled, while the mastermind is sentenced to fourteen years. Given a choice, I would have preferred the reverse. Of the two, Southminster is the more dangerous. As evidence, I present this exchange between Miss Cayley and Viscount Southmister that took place in India, where both had ben guests of the generous and loyal Maharajah of Moozuffernugger:
" So you've managed to get away? " I exclaimed, as he dawdled up to me at the hot and dusty station.
     "Yaas," he drawled, fixing his eye-glass, and lighting a cigarette. "I've –  p'f – managed to get away. Maharaj seems to have thought – p'f – it would be cheepah in the end to pay me out than to keep me."
     "You don't mean to say he offered to lend you money? " I cried.
     "No; not exactly that: I offahed to borrow it."
     "From the man you call a nigger?"
     His smile spread broader over his face than ever.
"Well, we borrow from the Jews, yah know," he said pleasantly, "so why the jooce shouldn't we borrow from the heathen also? Spoiling the Egyptians, don't yah see? – the same as we used to read about in the Scripchah when we were innocent kiddies. Like marriage, quite. You borrow in haste – and repay at leisure."
That the country Southminster is exiled to is South Africa only lends to the injustice.
* I'm indebted to my friend wollamshram for this observation. As he notes, bicycles and typewriters are key to the plots of both novels. No pun intended.
Trivia: Miss Cayley's Adventures is the second Allen novel I've read in which Canada figures as a setting. Blink and you'll miss it:
I cannot describe to you that journey across a continent I had never before seen. It was endless and hopeless. I only know that we crawled up the Rocky Mountains and the Selkirk Range, over spider-like viaducts, with interminable effort, and that the prairies were just the broad Pacific over again. They rolled on for ever. But we did reach Quebec – in time we reached it; and we caught by an hour the first liner to Liverpool.
Object and Access: A trade-size paperback on bright white paper with introduction by Elizabeth Foxwell. My copy follows the 2008 as the second Valancourt edition. The cover draws on the 1900 Putnam edition.

The true first edition (right) was published in 1899 London by Grant Richards. Both it and the Putnam edition feature eighty – eighty – illustrations by George Brown. I see three copies of the Richards first listed for sale online; priced from US$250 to US$675, condition is a factor. The Putnam edition is nowhere in sight. Both edition can be read online here thanks to the University of Alberta and the Internet Archive.

Library and Archives Canada and just ten of our university libraries hold copies. It is one of the gaps in the Kitchener Frontenac Public Library's Grant Allen collection.

Miss Cayley's Adventures holds the distinction of being Allen's more translated novel: Danish (Frk. Cayleys Eventyr), Dutch (Met een dubbeltje de wereld door), German (Miss Cayleys Abenteuer), French (Les Aventures de Miss Cayley), Indonesian (Mengembara dengan oeang sepoeloeh), and Sudanese (Ngalalana mekel saketip). The novel appears to have done particularly well amongst the Dutch; I count at least three different editions.


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2 comments:

  1. This looks delightful. I'll have to read it...

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    1. It's not my very favourite Allen - that would be The Devil's Die - but it is indeed delightful. Recommended without reservation!

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