Today on Project Gutenberg, we have…
A Gray Eye or So by Frank Frankfort Moore
Soooo you may remember that we have met this guy before in our Project Gutenberg travels. Good old Frank Frankfort Moore, author of The Love That Prevailed, AKA that deeply weird novel where the real-life founder of Methodism got the brooding romantic hero treatment. This book is from 1893, a few years earlier than that other one. Moore started his fiction career around 1890, so this would have been one of his first novels. I know what you’re thinking: how does it compare to what we’ve already seen of his work?
Upon first opening this book and looking at the table of contents, you might think that you’ve stumbled upon a collection of essays. Each chapter has a title like “On Modern Society,” “On Honesty and the Working Man,” “On Science and Art,” etc. But there is in fact an actual narrative here. It’s buried under a ton of bad dialogue and overly long descriptions, but it’s there.
Let’s see if I can describe to you what’s going on. So we have Harold and Edmund, two British politicians (or at least aspiring politicians). Are they in the same party? Who knows? Harold has gone to Ireland with the intention of proposing to a rich girl named Helen Craven. Edmund is also there for…reasons. Anyway, Harold is supposed to propose to Helen, but he runs into Beatrice, the daughter of a local historian, and falls in love with her instead. I think Edmund also falls in love with her eventually? And Harold’s father tries to marry her so that Harold can’t marry her? Because that’s a normal reaction to this kind of thing.
You may be wondering why I can barely describe the plot, and it’s because the actual prose of this book lost me at right around the first two sentences:
“I was talking about woman in the abstract,” said Harold.
The other, whose name was Edmund—his worst enemies had never abbreviated it—smiled, lifted his eyes unto the hills as if in search of something, frowned as if he failed to find it, smiled a cat’s-paw of a smile—a momentary crinkle in the region of the eyes—twice his lips parted as if he were about to speak; then he gave a laugh—the laugh of a man who finds that for which he has been searching.
A lot of the book reads like that. It’s not quite purple prose, but it still borders on incomprehensible. And then there’s the awful, awful dialogue:
“No woman is quite frank in her prayers—no politician is quite honest with the Working man.”
“Well. I am prepared to be not quite honest with him too.”
“You may believe yourself equal even to that; but it’s not so easy as it sounds. There is an art in not being quite honest. However, that’s a detail.”
“I humbly venture so to judge it.”
“The main thing is to get returned.”
“The main thing is, as you say, to get the money.”
“Perhaps I should have said the woman.”
“The woman? the money? Ah, that brings us round again in the same circle that we traversed yesterday, and the day before. I begin to perceive.”
“I had hope that you would—in time.”
It makes my head hurt with how inane it is. And this is how the books starts! The first three or four chapters are just Harold and Edmund riding around in a boat saying weird shit like this, ensuring that you’ll put the book aside well before the main plot actually starts.
If there’s any compliment I can give this book, it’s that I’m more interested in what it’s trying to say than with Moore’s other book. Somewhere in here, there seems to be a commentary on how the English interact with the Irish. You get the sense that the English characters, especially those who are more upper-class, have this curious fascination with Irish culture and folklore while disregarding the Irish themselves, and that they pick and choose which aspects of that culture are acceptable enough to be venerated. At least, that’s what I think it’s about.
This is a difficult book to read and to talk about. The long, awkward blocks of description and the boring dialogue make it almost inaccessible for modern readers. Even I had trouble getting into it, and I’m used to reading books from this period. Then again, it’s possible that my brain is just too fried to understand this after how busy I’ve been recently. If you want to take a crack at deciphering it, then be my guest.
And that’s what we found today on Project Gutenberg! See you next time!