Friday, February 21, 2014

Exceptional Read: A Gentleman's Gentleman by Sir Max Pemberton 1896

I define an Exceptional Read as a well written book that shakes me up, emotionally or mentally. It stops me in my tracks for some reason; challenges me to consider things that really - in my ordinary existence -  make no difference. An Exceptional Read challenges my thoughts, emotions, and spirit. I'm convinced, even if only for the span of the book, it should matter to Every Being in the Universe.  There are qualifiers to exceptional reads.  The label I apply depends on my mental engagement and my emotional response.  Your mileage may vary.

A Gentleman's Gentleman:  Being Certain Pages from the Life & Strange Adventures of Sir Nicolas Steele, Bart. as Related by His Valet Hildebrand Bigg, 1896

"They say no man is a hero to his valet.  Maybe they speak truth, though for my part, I wouldn't pass that for a good saying."

Sir Max Pemberton uses the voice of Hildebrand Bigg to speak about men, romance and life as the turn of the century approached.  He does so with his tongue in his cheek, the haze from his pipe gentling images and perhaps a bit of disdain for lesser mortals. His style of writing captures you from the first and there are times you aren't quite sure if this is actually fiction or not.  I think he was a bit of a rascal too....

Of course everyone loves a rascal ... until they go too far.  Sir Nicolas Steele not only went too far, he was driven out of Ireland.  Called everything from blackguard to thief, most men would've buckled under the weight of the lies and scandal mongering but not Nicolas.  He returned to London to wait for better weather, or the next quarter day, whichever came first, so he could go to Paris.  As his valet, Hildebrand Bigg (H.B.), informs us,  "All said and done, there's no cure for a trouble of this kind like a bit of travel; and if Paris won't lift the gloom off a man's mind, he may say good bye to the doctors."

Proceeding from the lowest point in Sir Nicolas Steele's life, he assumes you've read the dozen variations of card trouble, heard at least one of the hundred tongues that told all about The Woman that set the scandal going, and really, who would believe the truth after all the journalists earned their bread making profit from lies; scandal from misfortune.  H.B. doesn't think ill of journalist but he cannot think well of the so-called friends that crossed the street to avoid his master.  Neither can H.B. admire the ones Nicolas had a right to count on that turned their backs on him.

From London to Paris to the countryside of Derbyshire; next Vienna  to Brittany and back to Paris then on to Russia, Nicolas takes the cure of travel while H.B. keeps them both one step ahead of trouble.  Time after place, just as everything appears to be going his way, Nicolas is left reeling under the fact that he is a mortal unlucky man that regularly battles fate and Fortune, what a slut you are!

Nicolas falls in love so regularly H.B. can only hope to prepare for the aftermath before it arrives.  They race from one adventure to the next and you read on because you so want this one to work out! In the end, of course, it does all work out, though not quite as expected.  Nicolas learned a thing or twenty from H.B over the years.  As a student, he surpassed the master, or in this case, the valet.

Not only is the book well written it is full of detours, a fairy tale without a moral, plus a bit of nonsense, and more than a few moments where you find yourself admiring both men as Icons of their time.  Of course they weren't, but well, one wishes they had been.  Too many Victorian novels of the day and romances in our modern genres create rogues, rascals and scoundrels for the sole purpose of reforming them so they might be lapdogs for mi'lady, or grinding them to dust beneath the hero's well polished boots, or worse conveniently dismissing them to slink away and become another country's problem.  Sir Pemberton perfected his creations to the point they are above the common mold and if I dare say, heroes, in their own way.

I want to call this a rousing good read but it is much too thoughtful between the lines to deserve such a trite phrase.  It is a credit to the writing that you can read it with either focus and enjoy it perfectly well.  So, Whether you're reading for an afternoon's adventure or an evening's thoughts, A Gentleman's Gentleman is worth your time.

Read or Download A Gentleman's Gentleman Here
Sir Max Pemberton on the Wiki

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