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Irene Iddesleigh

Every sentence the able and beautiful girl uttered caused Sir John to shift his apparently uncomfortable person nearer and nearer, watching at the same time minutely the divine picture of innocence, until at last, when her reply was ended, he found himself, altogether unconsciously, clasping her to his bosom, whilst the ruby rims which so recently proclaimed accusations and innocence met with unearthly sweetness, chasing every fault over the hills of doubt, until hidden in the hollow of immediate hate. - From Irene Iddesleigh

Irene Iddesleigh is Mrs. Ros's first novel. A simple tale of misalliance, it tells of how Irene married Sir John Dunfern despite her true love for the feckless Oscar Otwell, thus bringing about the downfall of herself and practically everyone else in the vicinity.

Though Mrs. Ros' plotting is notable, it is for her unique use of language that we recognise her as one of the significant figures of literature. Alliterative, flowery, with metaphor extended to breaking point and beyond, while meaning peeks intermittently through and between the words, pressed Humpty-Dumpty-wise into service beyond their accepted limits...

The silvery touch of fortune is too often gilt with betrayal: the meddling mouth of extravagance swallows every desire, and eats the heart of honesty with pickled pride: the imposury of position is petty, and ends, as it should commence, with stirring strife.

Such quotations, torn from their context, give only the merest hint of the flavour of Mrs. Ros' writing. For the full effect, one has to read her from cover to cover - no easy task, admittedly, but one's mental hamstrings need a good stretching from time to time. Notwithstanding that, here is another favourite passage, in which Sir John remonstrates with Irene for her coldness towards him:

"Irene, if I may use such familiarity, I have summoned you hither, it may be to undergo a stricter examination than your present condition probably permits; but knowing, as you should, my life must be miserable under this growing cloud of unfathomed dislike, I became resolved to end, if within my power, such contentious and unlady-like conduct as that practised by you towards me of late. It is now six months - yea, weary months - since I shielded you from open penury and insult, which were bound to follow you, as well as your much-loved protectors, who sheltered you from the pangs of penniless orphanage; and during these six months, which naturally should have been the pet period of nuptial harmony, it has proved the hideous period of howling dislike!

"I, as you see, am tinged with slightly snowy tufts, the result of stifled sorrow and care concerning you alone; and on the memorable day of our alliance, as you are well aware, the black and glossy locks of glistening glory crowned my brow. There dwelt then, just six months this day, no trace of sorrow or smothered woe - no variety of colour where it is and shall be so long as I exist - no furrows of grief could then be traced upon my visage. But, alas! now I feel so changed! And why?

"Because I have dastardly and doggedly been made a tool of treason in the hands of the traitoress and unworthy! I was enticed to believe that an angel was always hovering around my footsteps, when moodily engaged in resolving to acquaint you of my great love, and undying desire to place you upon the highest pinnacle possible of praise and purity within my power to bestow!

"I was led to believe that your unbounded joy and happiness were never at such a par as when sharing them with me. Was I falsely informed of your ways and worth? Was I duped to ascend the ladder of liberty, the hill of harmony, the tree of triumph, and the rock of regard, and when wildly manifesting my act of ascension, was I to be informed of treading still in the valley of defeat?

"Am I, who for nearly forty years was idolised by a mother of untainted and great Christian bearing, to be treated now like a slave? Why and for what am I thus dealt with?

"Am I to foster the opinion that you treat me thus on account of not sharing so fully in your confidence as it may be, another?

"Or is it, can it be, imaginative that you have reluctantly shared, only shared, with me that which I have bought and paid for fully?

"Can it be that your attention has ever been, or is still, attracted by another, who, by some artifice or other, had the audacity to steal your desire for me and hide it beneath his pillaged pillow of poverty, there to conceal it until demanded with my ransom?

Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!"

Faced with work of such genius, the only true response is awe.

(If you ordered a copy of this book in 1905, you might have received a letter from its author. The Nonesuch edition of 1926 included three woodcuts depicting Irene and Sir John.)

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