Her blending complexion just now contrasted beautifully with the richness of her abundant brown hair. Her superbly-formed eyes of grey-blue, with lightly-arched eyebrows and long lashes of that brownish tint, which only the lightly-tinted skin of an Arctic seal exhibits, looked divine. Her forehead was not boldly high, but enough there was and no more to show that a world of honour, self-sacrifice, and unflagging bravery hid itself in its shapely palace. Perfectly fashioned in face and figure, her lips exposed, as they sometimes parted, a candid and sorrowful feeling, that could not fail to soften the expression of an angelic face. - From Delina Delaney
She introduced several new devices into this, her magnum opus. The most noticeable is her remarkable approach to the depiction of Irish dialect, which bespeaks her dedication to the higher truth to which all great writers of fiction aspire. Sacrificing comprehensibility over fidelity, she portrayed the speech of ill-educated Irish folk as it struck her ears, untranslated, raw and exact. Thus the (non-Irish) reader is led to feel just as if present in the company of her characters, forced to strain the perceptive powers mightily to arrive at an understanding. For example, here Delina's mother first learns of the engagement of her daughter to Lord Gifford:-
Raising her hands above her head, Mrs. Delaney first looked at her daughter, then at Lord Gifford, saying, 'Fadther ive saints! is it thrue dthat mac poor choild has tuk lave ive hur sinses buy pramisin' ta be dthe woife ive our koind an' good landlady's son, an' hur jist dthe offspring ive poor Joe Delaney-a poor old fisherman?"
Amanda's prediliction for sudden tragedy as evidenced in Irene is given further rein: Delina's father dies in the first chapter, and - shortly after the above-quoted passage - while Delina and Lord Gifford are travelling to London, her mother expires also. A few chapters later Lord Gifford's own mother goes mad as a result of his unaristocratic attachment to Delina. The following speech she utters in protest at Lord Gifford's disloyalty to his class shows just how unhinged she is:-
"Henry Edward Ludlow Gifford, son of my strength, idolised remnant of my inert husband, who at this moment invisibly offers the scourging whip of fatherly authority to your backbone of resentment (though for years you think him dead to your movements) and pillar of maternal trust."
Then, raising her huge dark eyes towards heaven until hidden underneath their appointed protection, she prayed, in accents that threaten to vibrate against the starry ceiling until this day:
"Heavenly Pater," she began, "listen to the words of a daughter of affliction, and chase, I pray Thee, instantly, the dismal perplexities that presently clog the filmy pores of her weary brain into the stream of trickling nothingness. Bind their origin with cloth of coloured shame, and restore, Thou, her equilibrium with draughts of soothing good."
A few pages further on she perishes in a lunatic asylum. Such is the peril of excessive devotion to worn-out social values.
Without a doubt, though, Amanda's greatest achievement in this book is the creation of the character of Madam-de-Maine, who will stand always in the first rank of monstrous villainesses. Hired by Lord Gifford to teach Delina the ways of her new class, this devil in human shape contrives instead to bring about her downfall. Consumed by jealousy, she first succeeds in causing Delina to run away, and then when Delina returns - in an original twist she is hired as a nurse for Lord Gifford, who has been made ill by the worry of her absence - Madam-de-Maine first shoots dead a fellow servant who suspects her, then makes an attempt on the life of Lord Gifford himself by poisoning his pudding.
Here she is, just after she has murdered the servant, old Joss:-
Breathing an air of freedom, she stood in the night's dead darkness. The stillness was broken by a miserable wail from a neighbouring bird that haunted the churchyard trees. She had now reached the hall door that opened so lately to the touch of a fully-fledged mass of mischievous tyranny: closed to the force of a clouded murderess. The light from the yellow-shaded lamp in her room shone over her. Now and then a deep-drawn sigh escaped from her lips. Her frame sometimes shook to chorus a thirsty sob, as if she were again contemplating a similar ordeal. Eventually, however, the signs of nervousness, that now had visited her, died and withered away, and a miraculous peace, sometimes seen on the marbled faces of Roman statuary, that exhibit strongly the polished calm of revengeful rulers, rested on her features. Her thin hands she tightly clasped, as they lay in her lap, stained with the blood of her savage bravery.
The dog now barked and whined. She quickly rose, undressed, and, burying herself in the manufacture of deft hands, whether to sleep or not she best knew.
The climax of the book is reached when both women stand trial for attempted murder. Madam-de-Maine is accused by Lord Gifford of being the agent of his near-destruction, while Delina is implicated by the discovery of the poison in her room, carefully hidden there by the real culprit. Both women are ably defended, but it is Delina who is found guilty, despite the eloquent plea of her counsel:-
"Being possessed of a jealous amount of personal beauty and amiable charms, chorused with a string of lovable traits, that have proved instrumental in capturing the heart of him for whom she unjustly has undergone such punishment as is only merited by the blackest-hearted perpetrator that ever breathed the stagnant air of a polluted cage of disgrace and shame, she seems to have incurred the indignation even of more of her sex than one. Her face of exquisite refinement has secreted within its well-chiselled outline the art of honesty, innocence, and true love of mankind. That she had become betrothed to Lord Gifford was only evidenced a short time before this awful deed was attempted. And, gentlemen, could minds, I say, could your honest minds, be tainted in the very meagrest degree by the thought, the terrible thought, that a young lady, promised in marriage to the man she loved with all her young heart and soul, could turn round almost in the selfsame hour and prepare a way to envelop him, not in the array of a bridegroom, but in the probable shroud of death? Such a strange course of procedure as that in which my guiltless client sits in that dock charged, could not possibly be entertained by the most thick-witted, empty-headed mob that ever faced the rugged coasts of Connemara, much less a band of gentlemen such as you whom I have the honour to address."
Delina goes to prison where she languishes until at last Madam-de-Maine makes a death-bed confession and Delina's innocence becomes clear. Delina and Lord Gifford are married and all ends happily.
In the summary above I have deliberately omitted one final plot twist so as not to spoil entirely the enjoyment of those of you lucky enough to come by this book. All I shall say is that it is at once preposterous and poetic, like Amanda herself.
Scribbled by Alfred Armstrong 16 years 8 months ago