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'THE WING OF AZRAEL.', Issue 7946, 29 June 1889, Supplement
'THE WING OF AZRAEL.'
AIONA CAIRO'S MOURNFUL AND MUCJI-MAKUIED MURDEIIESS.
THREE VOLUMES OF MATRIMONIAL
fFitoji Oi'B Special C-ORBEsro.vwa-'T.]
Loni/ojt, May 2. Whether the 'Wing of Asracl' would have attracted more attention than xtlrs Caird's 'One that Wins' and 'Whom Nature Leadcth,' but for her famous article on 'ls Marriage a Failure ?' and the appalling aud prodigious 'Daily Telegraph' correspondence following after it, is, I should think, very doubtful. Probably the majority of reviewers would not have struggled beyond the fiist few chapters, which struck me as prolix, prosy, and didactic to a degree. But the whole agonising situation on which the story hinges is painfully and unnecessarily drawn out. The book would have been twice as readable in half the space. It is also grim, gloomy, suggestive, and (for many I should think) profoundly unwholesome. A more dangerous work for a young, sensitive, and highly-imaginative girl to get hold of it would indeed bo difficult to name. Such tenets as Mrs Caird's might easily lead a youug woman sometime or other to wreck her whole life. The book is furthermore not one for " babe 3 aud sucklings," in that it constantly trenches sugge&ttvsly on forbidden ground, and draws frequent _ attention towards sanctities of martied life not usually talked about. I feel sure, too, Mrs Caird does society a gross injustice when she describes coteries of young married ladies revelling in naughty gossip and roaring over cerulean anecdotes. Because one's own experiences have been unlucky in such matters, it is not either safe or just to condemn society at large. Ihe story of 'The Wing of Azrael_' is the story of an extra sensitive, morbidly imaginative, and quaintly conscientious girl, who allows herself to be weakly forced into a hideously uncongenial and unhappy marriage. The novel is one after Mr Stead, of the 'Pall Mall's,' own heart, and he devotes a long notice to describing it, from which I cull the following : "The conflict of emotion hetween the unfortunate girl and her autocratic father and her affectionate but weak mother is very finely worked out, and enables the reader to appreciate what may be called the Marion-Dolormeish nature of a marriage of convenience that is forced upon a reluctant woman by her parents. At last, after considerable hesitation, in which her reluctauce is overborne by his dexterouß use of a curious episode in her child-lifo in which she had nearly murdered him by pushing him over a precipice, the poor girl yields, persuading herself that it is a higher duty which leads her to subordinate her feelings as a woman to her duty as a daughter, and therefore delivers herself over a sacrifice to her triumphant suitor. Unfortunately for the prospects of their married life, the day after the betrothal had taken place her betrothed displayed such an absolutely fiendish temper over a very trifling incident that sho struggled desperately to break off the engagement. Her efforts, however, were unavailing, and you see the net closing round the doomed girl. At this point Mrs Caird complicates the situation materially by introducing another young man, who is passionately in love with her heroine, and who, seeing, with the quick perception of an ardent affection, the nature of the sacrifice that was being imposed upon the hapless lady, uses his best exertions to disBuade her from consummating the crime to which she had been committed, in deference to social necessities. This does not make the situation any better, and contains within it the seeds for the tragic denouemtnt which from this time steadily advances through each succeeding chapter. All his etforts are in vain, and the marriage draws near. In portraying the emotions with which the event is anticipated, Mrs Caird displays great power of pathos in her sympathetic delineation of a mind torn by conflicting ideas of duty, hesitating between both, yet driven, as it were, relentlessly onward by an unkind destiny. Her lover gives her a small, antique knife as a wedding present, which she wears in her hair, and on returning from church, where the solemn mockery had been gone through of registering hollow vows before high Heaven, her husband spied the knife in his bride's hair. Instantly exerting bis marital authority, he ordered her to take it out. This, however, was a little premature on his part, and his bride flatly refused, whereupon he attempted to take the offending knife from her hair by sheer force, whereupon my lady, unclasping a necklace of brilliants which ho had given her, held them out ot the window, saying: 'lf you take my gift I drop my necklace !' a threat before which even he recoiled. ' You shall pay for this !' he exclaimed ; and he was as good as his word. "The rest of the book represents a miserable married life, and the consciousness that there is nothing but misery to come out of it constantly growing deeper and deeper. Viola's husband, Philip, went too far, 'even for a husband.' When a man can tell his bride on his wedding day : ' You talk too much nonsense, even for a wife. The world regards and criticises you now as my wife, and nothing eke. What else are you ? Vou possess no other standing or acknowledged existence,' it is impossible to expect things to go smoothly. Up to this point there is nothing to which the most rigid moralist can take any exception. It is no part, even of conventional morality, that young ladies should marry men whom they do not lovo in order to redress the fortunes of their families, even if they have nearly murdered them in their youth ; but after this point, when the heroine has been a. wile for aome years, the book diverges into some questionable morality. Other characters come upon the scene, among them a lady who entertains very advanced opinions indeed on the subject of the right of the individual to seek elsewhere the happiness denied in marriage. " Then, as the first part of the book described the struggle in the mind of the girl between her duty to herself and her duty to her parents, so the concluding part represents a similar struggle, in which the wife is racked by uncertainty as to whether her duty to her husband, whom she does not love, and who treats her cruelly (threatening her with a ' keeper' and all manner of enormities), imposed upon her the duty of refusing the affection which still continues to be proffered to her by her former lover. For a long time the struggle goes on, until at last it ends in the decision of the unfortunate woman that life is not worth living any longer as the abject slave of a domineering and cruel tyrant. She determines to leave her home and seek that happiness which had hitherto eluded her grasp in the company of her lover. Going to her secret chamber, where she kept her private treasures, letters, and keepsakes, she takes out the knife which caused the painful scene on her wedding day. After placing it in her hair, she is surprised by her husband, who, suspecting her intentions, has returned surreptitiously in Older to frustrate her plans. Ho goada her with reproaches and sneers into a state of frenzy, gloats over her despair, and tells her that henceforth she is to be treated as a lunatic, and placed under a keeper. The following is the final scene:—
Overcoming her frantic resistance he kissed her long and steadily on the lips, partly because it pleased him to do so, partly, it seemed, bee i use it tortured her. Then he let her go.
Philip stopped abruptly to examine something. "Ah! what's this glittering bauble in your hair ? This must come out, and at once." " Don't touch it! " cried Viola, and her hand w9s on the hilt of the knife almost at the same iustant that Thilip's wcrds were uttered. She drow it out and held it behind her defiantly. He held out hj is hand for the weapon. " Don't oblige|me to take it from you by force. You must try and reaUse the situati n. If I could make you understand that, somehow or another, by fair means or by foul, I intend to reduce you to submission and that immediately, you would save yourself and me a lot of fruitless trouble. Your conduct throughout our married jife has been simply intolerable, and we must have an end of it. Women can't be reasoned with; they can only be governed autocratically. You have confirmed my opinion on that subject. Sheer willforce is the only argument that goes home to them. Kow thou, we understand each other. Give me that offensive weapon and come with me." " I will not come with you; I will not yasa
another night under your roof, though I die for 'it,"said Viola. ~ ~ I "And how arc you going to avoid it, my dear?" asked r-ilip. "The woman doesnfc know when the is beaten ! What power on caith cm protect you now against me '! iou yourself have locked the dour leading to tho hoiue, and cut yourself off fiom chance intcpositi.n. Besides, who would ht-ipa wito against her hu bind ?" She kept her eyes fixed upon every n ovement, desperate and delimt. Ho moved close up to her to take possession of ttic knife and to lead her away. ~ " Don't touch me, don't touch mc, or The rest of the sentence was lost in a Bound of loathing and horror, for Ph lip had disobeyed hf r. Advancing till she was driven against tho corner of the window and there was no possible loophole of cscap. l , he t?ok her in his arms deliberately. "Don't make a fcol of yourself," he said ; "do what you are toll. Give me that weapon at once,"
His touch, constraining, insolent as it was, forcing her in spite of all her resistance towards the door, excited her to very nudne;s. He laughed, and bent down till his lips touched her cheek; hi 3 hand was seeking hers to seize the knife, while at the same time he was still drawing her away with him, steadily, resistlessly. He bent still closer, and said something in her ear in a whisper, with an insulting laugh. Then in an instant - a horrible instant of blinding pasiioa- the steel had flashed through the aic with a force bcrn of the wildest fury-there was a cry, a curse, a groan, a backward stagger, and Philip lay at his wife's feet mortally wounded. For a second—but ab! how interminable was that bo ond!—there was silence w'.thin that chamber of death. The everlasting boom of the waves, with their mean and limentat:on, sounded loudly outside—the distaut chant of many voices mourning.
Her husband dies cursing her, and her lover enters. The narrative goes on : He parsed abiuptly, and there was a moment of dead silence. Viola was standing with head held high, the knife still in her hand, and in her eyes was a look tint made the very heart stop beating. At her feet lay a human form, perfectly still, the white face upturned, one hand with the thumb pressed inwaids conspicuous in the moonlight, which was tracing the outlines of the lozenge panes delicately upon the polished floor. Beside tho proatrati figure was something glistening, something—"Good God, what is it? What have you done?"
"Come and see," she answered, with a wild Eort of exultation, She went to him, put her arm in Mb, and drew him eagerly foTard. It was a ghastly moment for him ! "You see I have killed him with this knife." She held it aloft, and then threw it on the floor. "Oh ! you are mad !" he exclaimed. " You have not done this ! Let me look at you " He turned her facing the full moonlight, and scanned the haggard features with an awful dread in his heart; yet almost a hope, so d sperate was the crisis. "Are you mad ? Oh ! tell me, are you mv 7, yon poor tortuied child ?" he groaned. "Slad? Oh no. I meant to do it. I knew it would kill him—l would do it again ! I would do it again!" she died in wild excitement. " I leave a life behind me so loathsome, so intolerable— Yes," she broke off fiercely, " I would do it again." "Oh, spare yourself! Have mercy on yourself."
" But it hj true; it is the only thing that I can bear to let my thoughts rest upon—the only spot in my black life that is not black to me." She held out her right hand and looked at it, moving it in the moonlight. " Call me guilty; it is sweet to me—sweet and clean md wholesome! lam guilty; I have murdered him." Bhe dre v an ecstatic breath. Harry looked at her aghast. Say what she might she was mad. " His blood seems to wash away some of the blackness, the htdeousnesjof the past—if that could be—but oh, no, no, no! "—(she thrust out her hands, shrinking back)—" nothing can do that; there are no words for it; the horror is in my heart, and it burns there; it burns—it will never cease burning—never, never I" "Will you come with me instantly?" he said. " There is no time to lose, and I must save you," " Save me ?—save me .'"
For an instant—a horrible instant—a flicker of repulsion passed across his face ! Ihe scene, the circumstance, ths gbastiiness of the dcom seemed to have overwhelmed him.
Suddenly, a? if she had b en struck, Viola shrank away with a half-arfciculatc cry, which rang echoing through the room and made the very heart stop beating, and a sickening chill run through tho frame from ho dto foot. It was the cry of a spirit hulled from its last refuge, cut off from human pity and fellowsdiip, cast out from the last sanctuary of human love. t; But I can't be saved," she said calmly, "don'iyou see? lam lost and'cast out for ever; his curse is upon me; the hand of Fate is upon me. What earthly thing can Bavo nic ?"
"Love can save you," he said. "Love!—for «.' Oh! you are sp?aking falsely: you are playing with we. lam not alive any longer. I have nothing to do any longer with human fee'.ings and passions; lam dead. It is ghasily work playicg with a dead woman 1"
" The concluding chapter is somewhat weird. Henceforth she must bear her doom alone—not even love can save her now. The heart blighted and withered, the brain alternately dazed and fevered, the whole nervous system irretrievably shattered, the victim of a false marriage vanishes into impenetrable darkness. The story at its close leaves the reader uncertain whether the heroine has thrown herself over the cliff, fallen over it by accident in her wild flight across the downs when by a ruse she has evaded the pursuit of her lover, or has drifted out to sea in the boat in which they had intended to make their escape. All tha r the reader knows is that there is doom inevitable ; that the ' sins and transgressions of Israel' have been laid on the scapegoat, which is sent out alone into the wilderness for an atonement.
"Opinions will differ as to whether Mrs Caird's story is a proper one for the young person to read, and it is possible it may be vehemently assailed by moralists- who hold that it is unwise to discuss as an open question whether it is permissible, under any circumstances, for a wife to desert her home and unite herself to another than the man to whom she had pledged her marriage vows No one reading the book will have much difficulty in deciding which side Mrs Caird would choose; but, on the other hand, it must be admitted that there is no picture here of guilty love triumphing in the transgression of the law. There is, on the contrary, nothing but a griri destiny presiding over the whole story. The heroine is, from first to last, the sport of a cruel fate, and is punished alike when she subordinates her instincts to the conventional law, in the first book, and quite as much so when she sets it at defiance in the last. So far as tragedy can purify the soul by the emotions of pity and terror, Mrs Caird's novel will have that- tendency. Infinite pity, and blank, hopeless despair, arc the two notes which never cease to sound in every page of the book, which is not inappropriately named ' The Wing of Aisrael.'"
'THE WING OF AZRAEL.', Issue 7946, 29 June 1889, Supplement
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