Anyone who publishes a novel titled “Anything But What You Expect?” is probably setting themselves up for a fall. The title effectively guarantees plot twists and novelties, and thus we build these into our prior expectations, and leads us to continuously rty and second guess the author.
I suppose that now in the twenty first century we are used to convoluted plots and shock endings, cinema and television drama depends upon them, and they have been raised to a sophistication unknown 200 years ago.Thus it is probable that Jane Harvey’s novel could never hope to live up to its title for a modern reader.
At present I am approaching the end of volume 2 (of 3). We have been presented by a fairly typical story of love and marriage, albeit the love interests and marriage partners do not always coincide. As so often love is a fault of the young, and marriage is a contract essential for the preservation of the noble family name and estates. We marry where our financial needs rather than our hearts dictate.
We are then given an abandoned bride, her new husband vanishes hours after the wedding and his whereabouts remain unknown for the best part of a complete volume. For once, it has been the groom that has been forced into the marriage, Cordelia did indeed love Lord Lochcarron, it was his heart that was elsewhere. Rumours abound that he has fled to meet up with Catherine, daughter of his father’s steward, his own true love; rumours even that they were already married and thus his wedding with Cordelia was bigamous and a sham.
In her earlier novels, Jane Harvey was much criticised with regard to the woodenness and lack of character of her main characters. Anything flows along at a much slower pace than her earlier adventures, and gives her much more time to flesh out the personalities of the cast. She tends to be wordy, sentences writhe around like snakes sometimes looking for their endings, but in general she does give us characters in whose destinies we can take an interest, rather than two dimensional actors propelled from dramatic event to dramatic event.
She is even able to throw in a reference to a key debates of the day, often glossed over in earlier novels, in allowing Catherine to say
“… he placed me in a boarding school in Surrey, where, at the expense of all that my father left me, both in principal and interest, i received what is frequently termed a first-rate female education; that is, i was taught to execute and display with facility, and in the most fashionable style, those acquirements which are usually called acomplishments; imagination was cultivated at the expense of judgment, and a spurious off-hand species of memory was so assiduously called forth and furnished, that I could easily make myself appear well-instructed in arts and sciences which I knew very little about.”
So – what to expect? Normally we all await the happy ending. lochcarron’s dissappearance will be explained away, fears of bigamy will be removed and he and Cordelia will live a happy life, the family estates secure and their children and grandchildren will gather around the fireside to hear of their exploits.
If that is the expected ending, and if we are encouraged to expect different, then maybe Catherine will turn out to be the abandoned daughter of a Count, her secret marriage to Lochcarron acknowledged and Cordelia left to live out her life, Miss Haversham like, ever the forgotten and jilted bride.
Oh, how much more entertaining and refreshing the latter ending might be, I dare you Miss Harvey to write it, but sadly I think that having once raised our expectations she will eventujally chicken out and lead us to a happy ending. But again, if we expect drama and unhappiness then a happy ending becomes Anything But What We Expect. Indeed the writer may find herself in a win-win situation.
If we expect the unexpected and the unexpected doesn’t happen….. – well clearly we find ourselves in the realms of a debate of higher logic.