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Automatic Eve by Rokurō Inui

Haikasoru, 2019, 315 p. £10.99. Translated from the Japanese Jidō ibu (自動イブ,) by Matt Treyvaud. Published in Interzone 284, Nov-Dec 2019.

 Automatic Eve cover

How necessary is it to suspend disbelief in order to appreciate, or perhaps persevere with, a work of fiction? Conventional wisdom suggests it is at least a necessary condition. Automatic Eve suggests that might not be the case.

The plot of Inui’s novel hinges on the existence of elaborate automata. Not toys, not merely small things like crickets, but better than android–like simulacra of human beings. Things of convincing, warm, outer human appearance but internally consisting of metal, cogs, gears, wires – each with a pendulum for a heart. Yet the automata here are effectively so realistic that they appear to be completely human to everyone involved, even to the extent of being able to have sex convincingly, to inspire love and devotion, and to experience these things for themselves. Even capable of being convinced that they themselves are human – until, perhaps, they find otherwise. And that’s a leap that’s a big requirement to ask of a reader. (This one always had nagging doubts.) Yet, to carry on, to keep faith with the story, said reader has to take this on trust. (And, maybe, later, write a review.)

It is a mark of Inui’s writing, and his translator’s ability to convey it, that the necessary perseverance isn’t a problem. The story here is engaging enough to keep you turning the pages. It helps that the central concept is introduced fairly gradually.

The setting is a little odd though. The characters know of Chemistry, electricity and clockwork, yet the society in which they are embedded has a mediæval feel. It is obviously closely based on Japan, but not a Japan which ever existed. Yes, we have sake, bathhouses, sumo, cricket fights, meticulous gardening (albeit also a cover for spying,) a certain pleasure in fine objects, finely wrought – not to mention the goings-on in the building known as the Thirteen Floors. There is, too, intrigue between an Imperial court and a shogunate, but the divine figure is an Empress, and the succession goes through the female line, to a female. It is a Japan tweaked just so, to enable the story. A fantasy, then.

Would-be Sumo wrestler, Geiemon Tentoku, has fallen in love with the Eve of the title and selflessly seeks to release her from her indenture in the Thirteen Floors to restore her to the man he thinks she loves. Kyuzo Kugimiya learned all he knows about the construction of automata from Keian Higa, who had plotted the overthrow of the system before being executed after his plans were betrayed to the authorities. Under the instructions of the Imperial Gardener (really a spymaster) Kihachi Umekawa, the shogun’s spy, Jinnai, is investigating Kigimiya’s activities. All these are actors in the overall plot, which concerns the contents of the Sacred Vessel, a sealed container within the Imperial Palace.

The existence of convincing automata leads a couple of characters to question the nature of humanity. Kyuzo thinks, “A pregnant woman’s body was home to not one soul but two. Where did the life in her womb come from, and when? If souls came from elsewhere to reside in the human body, was it not possible that one might take up residence in the infant automaton they were building?” Later, Jinnai wonders, “Where did the soul come from? Where, in the body or brain, did it conceal itself while a human still lived? …. Automata like Eve showed human behavior [sic] as a response to the care and love they received from humans.”

Such metaphysical considerations are invited by the subject matter – and are arguably the raison d’être of literary fiction – but Inui doesn’t let them bother the thrust of his story for too long.

There is a slight flaw to the book’s structure, however. Rather than a novel it is a succession of seven shortish novellas, albeit featuring ongoing characters. That the narrative viewpoint changes between these sections is not a problem but certain repetitions of information suggest that they may not have been conceived or written as a whole but subject to a later fix-up. And Automatic Eve herself is more like an absence than a protagonist. Though she does appear in them all she is neither the focus nor viewpoint character in any of the seven segments.

None of that, however, takes away from the overall effect. It may lack innovation in its central idea but Automatic Eve is still a well-written, solid piece of fiction.

The following did not appear in the published review:-

Pedant’s corner:- “none were too explicit” (none was too explicit.) “The master of accounts were responsible for” (the master … was responsible.) “None of these new revelations were the answers Kakita sought..” (None of these new revelations was the answer ..) “none of them understand the situation” (none of them understands the situation.) “None of the spies were supposed to know” (None … was supposed to know.) “The attendant’s quarters” (attendants’ quarters.) “The group made their way…” (The group made its way,) “‘I gather that neither of those fates await those who are careless?’” (neither of those fates awaits those, plus the sentence isn’t really a question.) “Mounts of leftover soil and worktools ..” (‘Mounds’ makes more sense.) “‘The palace has decided to keep the news to themselves for now’” (to itself is more grammatical,) “for this automata” (for this automaton.) “These question had always bothered Jinnai.” (These questions.)

The Sin of Father Amaro by Eça de Queiroz

Black Swan, 1985, 430 p.

 The Sin of Father Amaro  cover

Like The Sealwoman’s Gift this is a story about the conflict between duty and conscience on the one hand and human urges on the other. As I noted before, the cover of this book is something of a spoiler, leaving little doubt as to the nature of Father Amaro’s fall from grace. And the title is inaccurate in that, though it is rather skated over and only mentioned in two short passages, he had already fallen in his previous parish, Feirão, before he met the Amelia Joanneira who is the other focus of the novel – and there is a further crime to add to his debit account by the story’s end. Set in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, The Sin of Father Amaro is, however, about more than a single priest’s misdeeds, dealing as it also does with the privileged position the Portuguese Roman Catholic clergy enjoyed and the hypocrisy it encouraged.

The titular sinner is Amaro Vieira, a junior priest (paroco,) more or less forced into the priesthood by circumstance, who comes to the parish of Lieira after finding existence in Feirão too spartan for him. The senior priest, Canon Dias, arranges for him to lodge with Senhora Joanneira (a woman with whom we find later he himself is having relations) and whose daughter Amelia is profoundly religious. Nevertheless, the proximity between the paroco and her will tend to its natural conclusion. No matter how religions attempt them (usually by blaming women) efforts to curb human sexuality will always founder, as is true in any other societal arrangement.

The pair’s attachment grows despite Amelia also being subject to the attentions of a young clerk, João Eduardo. He is a potential firebrand who finds the strictures of religion claustrophobic and is agitated by the connection between Amaro and Amelia. To try to allay suspicion she agrees to marry Eduardo (a temporary rift between Amaro and Amelia ensues) but a tract he writes anonymously for a periodical called The District excoriating the cosy hypocrisy of clerical impunity and hinting heavily at Amaro’s failings, causes a minor scandal. On being exposed and confronted he strikes Amaro and is excommunicated. As a religious woman cannot be associated with an excommunicant Amelia withdraws her consent to marriage and Eduardo leaves the town. The coast is then clear for the liaison between Amaro and Amelia to come to fruition.

The newpaper editor, Dr Godinho, tells Eduardo when he bemoans his fate, “a good Catholic; his thoughts, his ideas, his feelings, his conversations, the employment of his days and nights, his relations towards his family and his neighbours, the food he eats, the clothes he wears, his diversions – all is regulated by the ecclesiastical authority (abbot, bishop or canon) approved or censured by his confessor, counselled and ordered by him as the director of his conscience. The good Catholic, such as your little girl, doesn’t belong to herself; she has no judgement, no wishes, no free will, nor individual feeling; her priest thinks, wishes, determines, feels for her. Her only work in this world is to accept this direction; accept it without discussion, obey it, no matter what its demands.” When Eduardo argues that’s all very well except when love is devouring someone, Godinho says, “Love is one of the greatest forces of civilisation,” but adds a warning, “the heart is a term which usually serves us, for decency’s sake, to designate another organ. It is precisely this other organ which is the only one interested, in the majority of cases, in affairs of sentiment. In those cases the grief doesn’t last.”

Whether it truly reflects de Queiroz’s attitudes or only those of the time (and of later it must be said) there is a strong course of misogyny running through the book. The master of moral at Amaro’s seminary had “explained the anathema of the saints against women, who were, according to the expressions of the Church, Serpents, Darts, Children of Lies, Doors of Hell, Sources of Crime, Scorpions ….. Paths of Iniquity, iniquitas via.” This leads Amaro to ruminate on the conflict between this and the fact that one of these pariahs was enthroned over the altar as Queen of Grace. In another instance Abbot Ferrão opines to Canon Dias that being possessed by the devil only happens to women, never to respectable notaries nor dignified judges. A character called Pinheiro compares a woman to a shadow, “if we run after her she runs away from us; if we run away from her she runs after us.”

In situations such as occur in this book it was always of course, the woman who paid the price of sin, in novels, as in life. In his depiction of Amaro, de Queiroz does not let him off the hook of culpability, but his position ensures he does not incur a penalty for it.

Pedant’s corner:- “‘Make you mind easy’” (your mind,) waggon (wagon,) shrunk (x 3, shrank,) sprung (sprang,) Sanches’ (Sanches’s,) Novaes’ (Novaes’s,) St Carlos’ (St Carlos’s,) Fernandos’ (Fernandos’s,) Nunes’ (Nunes’s,) “all was not lost” (not all was lost,) strategem (x 3, stratagem,) “a whole series of caresses were necessary to calm her” (a whole series … was necessary.)

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Two Roads, 2018, 368 p, plus i p A Note about Icelandic, iv p List of Characters, i p Maps and i p Contents.

 The Sealwoman’s Gift  cover

The author is well-known (in Scotland) as a television newsreader and possibly more widely as a presenter of Songs of Praise. (Her father Magnus also made a career in television – he was the questioner on the original Mastermind – and translated various works from Icelandic to English; see The Fish Can Sing.) In this book Magnusson draws on her Icelandic heritage to tell the tale of a woman, Ásta Thorsteinsdóttir, caught up in a traumatic incident of Icelandic history, the abduction and enslavement of hundreds of Icelanders by Barbary corsairs in the mid-1600s.

The novel begins on the corsair ship taking the pregnant Ásta and the rest of her kidnapped family to Algiers. Despite her pregnancy, her defiance – in contrast to the more accommodating attitude of her husband Ólafur, a priest in the staunch Icelandic Protestant mould but who wishes to converse with his captors – fatefully takes the eye of the ship’s captain, Wahid Fleming, a man of Dutch origin. On board, and just before she gives birth she receives a cryptic piece of advice, the gift of the title, from the dying Oddrún, who had long claimed to be a sealwoman who once took off her skin to bask in the midnight sun but found it stolen when it was time to return to the sea so had to make a life for herself as an Icelander.

In Algiers Fleming sells Ásta and her family to Ali Pitterling Cilleby, with the suggestion of petitioning the King of Denmark (Iceland’s ruler at the time) for their ransom. Cilleby’s wife had hoped for a seamstress, in which regard Ásta is a disappointment. Cilleby sends Ólafur on the long journey to Copenhagen with the ransom demand, which the King refuses. Once back on Iceland, Ólafur, with the local bishop’s encouragement, sets about raising the money by community effort, via the selling of knitted socks etc.

The Icelanders in Algiers make their own accommodations with their new life. Some convert to Islam in order to make their way, others remain true to their own traditions. Even as she realises that this society, with its sights, sounds, smells, opulence and food abundance so in contrast to the harsh realities of life in Iceland, is in many ways much more civilised than her own, Ásta is anguished when her daughter, brought up among the strange foreign customs, becomes more at home with them than with her mother’s.

The ransom not forthcoming, Cilleby’s attention falls on Ásta. Inviting her to his chamber one night, he is astounded by her refusal to lie with him, which by the laws of his state he may. Her understanding, she tells him, was that she was not bought as a concubine. Moreover, she is married so cannot take another man for herself. This clash of customs and the building of the relationship between them forms the majority of the book’s largest section. Cilleby’s interest in her becomes intellectual as well as sexual as she relates the details of Icelandic sagas, in which he manages to find material to contradict her abomination of slavery. It is here that the book explicitly riffs on the tales of the Thousand and One Nights (not that Ásta is in any danger of execution, as Scheherazade was.) Yet there cannot be a meeting of minds. Both are too steeped in their respective values.

Via a Dutch intermediary, the ransom eventually arrives – for all the Icelanders, not all of whom wish to return. Cilleby offers Ásta the choice, he will turn down the money if she wishes to stay. Though torn between her children and her husband, duty wins out. Ásta’s equally long return to Iceland, via Denmark, allows Magnusson to explore other instances of human frailty and the conflict between religion and emotion. Back in Iceland Ásta fails to recognise the old man her husband has become and has to come to terms with how her experiences have changed her.

This novel is many-layered; it is among other things a story about stories, about love and loss, the ties that bind, and the barriers between cultures. Magnusson’s writing is assured and even her minor characters have depth. This novel is very good indeed.

Pedant’s corner:- span (x 2, spun,) focussed (focused,) maws (x 2, a maw is a stomach, not a mouth,) smoothes (smooths.)

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski

Tor, 2000, 382 p.

 Brain Plague  cover

Since the events of The Children Star – the third in Slonczewski’s tales of The Fold – the people of Valedon have come to terms with the microzoöids found on the planet Prokaryon spreading through their population. With some hosts the tiny creatures are under control (usually by means of restricting access to the arsenic necessary for their survival but also via rewards of the chemical azetidine,) in others their proliferation runs rampant resulting in a disease (the Brain Plague of the title,) whose victims become zombie-like. A rogue human element known as slavers promotes fear in the population by abducting citizens to their concealed planet.

The book’s protagonist is Chrys (Chrysoberyl,) an artist who can see infrared. Initially she is struggling to pay her rent and keep painting and when she is introduced to her colony of microbes, which reveal themselves and communicate with their host by flashing colours in the host’s eyes, some of her former friends and associates withdraw from her. Since the hosts have power of life and death over them the microscopic creatures refer to their hosts as gods. They also have only a limited understanding of their hosts’ lifestyles.

Chrys’s colony, known as Eleutheria and to whose leaders she gives names corresponding to the colours with which they “speak” to her, inspires her work and her paintings become collectable. Her microbes are also mathematicians and allow her to gain a contract to refurbish a failing piece of architecture known as the Comb, whose ever expanding structure has become unstable. The colony members’ lifespans are short and they have their internal politics for Chrys to contend with.

There is plenty of Valedon politicking to occupy Chrys outside all this and some intrigue involving the slavers whose secret planet she is the first to be abducted to and return to tell the tale.

Brain Plague is 392 pages of fairly small font size print and continues Slonczewski’s trait of incorporating biological and chemical ideas into her SF. It is rewarding enough reading and deals with a common SF concern (alien invasion of the body) with an unusual slant.

Pedant’s corner:- shrunk (shrank,) “the stress must have wreaked its program” (wrecked, I think, [and I spell it ‘programme’,]) “the shear newness” (sheer,) “laying low” (lying low,) a missing quote mark at the end pof a piece of direct speech. “The sphere cut in, it’s the plane of section…” (The sphere cut in, it’s plane of section.) “She shined her light inside” (shone.) “‘Such an distinctive cut’” (Such a distinctive cut,’) “Chrys grasp his back” (grasped.)

Straw in the Wind by James Wilson

Hutchinson, 1960, 205 p

  Straw in the Wind cover

John Gavin was just too late to be involved in the Great War. He has nevertheless managed to learn to fly and after a period barnstorming in the US takes up a post in South America in a nascent air postal service. This book is very good indeed on the practicalities of early aviation, but especially its drawbacks. The rigours and contingencies of operating such a service in a potentially unstable country are also a major consideration. It is James’s relationships with his employer, the locals, his fellow pilots and their wives, which provide much of the substance here though. The characters, even those met briefly, ring true to life.

There are said to be only seven plots in literature. It would not be too much of a spoiler to say that the one deployed here is, “the getting of wisdom.” There is an element too of the Scottish novel’s penchant to lament time past, the something lost, as Gavin realises that the (not quite) carefree ‘knights of the air’ era is coming to an end. “For me, the biplane was part of the dream. It belonged with the free-roaming life of the barnstormer, and, when it went, that free, vagabond life went with it,” and later, “I had taken part in the end of an era, and in that I felt privileged as a man would feel privileged to have sailed in the last of the windjammers. But there was no going back. The freebooting days were gone for ever.”

There is too a recognition, in the form of a missionary storekeeper named Meikle, that the indigenous peoples will not be well-served by civilisation being brought to them.

Wilson could certainly write. I reviewed his Interrupted Journey here. It is a pity that he only ever published two novels. I would like to have read more.

Pedant’s corner:- Guinivere (Guinevere,) a missing quotation mark at the end of a piece of direct speech (x 2.)

Look At Me by Anita Brookner

Triad Panther, 1985, 193 p

 Look At Me  cover

The novel starts with the sentences, “Once a thing is known it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten.” Narrator Frances Hinton works in a medical library. While she is laying out the progress of her life to the novel’s point of crisis she more than once alludes to something in her past she does not wish to remember (“the time of which I never speak”) but, annoyingly, we never actually find out what that was, though we can guess. She lives in the big, old house which belonged to her parents, with Nanny still in attendance, though Frances is completely independent. In her spare time she makes notes for a projected novel. Though not much should be made of this, Look At Me is not primarily a novel about someone writing a novel, it does give Brookner scope to make observations such as, “writing is the enemy of forgetfulness, of thoughtlessness. For the writer there is no oblivion. Only endless memory,” and, “For those who put pen to paper do so because they rarely trust their own voices.”

Through her work Frances falls into the orbit of Nick and Alix Fraser. Nick has an alluring aura, (“He struck one as a much-loved creature ….. The combination of his golden and indiscriminate affection and his hard if random gaze at the women around him made one feel that possibly, and potentially, he might favour one,”) and Alix has “come down in the world,” and scarcely forbears to let everyone know it. When discovering Frances’s parents are both dead they take to calling her Little Orphan Fanny – a description she dislikes.

Frances strikes up a friendship with mutual friend James, the details of which Alix is perennially asking Frances to divulge. This relationship is the core of the book. Frances tells us that, “The worst thing that a man can do to a woman is to make her feel unimportant.” James appears to do the opposite yet Frnces does not seem to appreciate that till it’s too late.

Apart from one aspect Brookner’s writing flows very smoothly and almost transparently though the whole is perhaps a trifle inconsequential. The problem is that use of “one” as an (im)personal pronoun. While seeking to illustrate generality, it in fact undermines it, serving instead to point to the book’s class imperviousness. That phrase quoted above, “possibly, and potentially, he might favour one,” is utterly jarring in its awkwardness. The affect is so detached as to be alien.

Pedant’s corner:- ambiance (I prefer the spelling ‘ambience’.)

The Island Under the Earth by Avram Davidson

Mayflower, 1975, 157 p

The Island Under the Earth cover

I’m not sure I can give a full flavour of this novel as the conditions I read it under were not the best; I was away from home when I started it and my reading of it was interrupted by several days.

Davidson’s world here – it is not apparent whether it really is supposed to be under the Earth as the title implies – is technologically lacking and inhabited by humans (Fourlimbs) and Centaurs known as sixies, between whom there is a large degree of hostility. The setting seems to be agrarian or at least mediæval and the text’s attitudes are of its time, especially in regard to the off-hand (blatantly sexist really) treatment of females – of either species. It involves a quest of sorts and augurs called Gortecas and Castegor who are a sort of serious Tweedledum and Tweedledee and later merge into one entity called Troscegac.

Oddities abound. At one point an old sixie, seemingly dying, asks some humans, in garbled speech, for wine. The next day the sixie has gone, apparently revivified by the wine. Later it is seen frisking about and chasing a young golden-haired female centaur.

The text is couched idiosyncratically. Phrases such as “blue-green-white its phosphor light,” “heed the old ones not,” and “raised his both hands,” give some of the flavour. Some spellings are also non-standard. Yet other things bring us to ground once more. Again Davidson uses words that imply a Scottish ancestry. The implement used for sweeping here is named a besom as sometimes it is in Scotland.

I would say that The Island Under the Earth is not as successful a novel as previous ones of Davidson’s I have read. Rork! for instance.

Pedant’s corner:- talley-pebbles (why the deviation from tally?) “a sick fear that that” (only one ‘that’ required,) miniscule (minuscule,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, semanal (the meaning seems to be ‘seminal’, but it may have meant weekly) “is ought pursuing her” (I’ve only ever seen ‘aught’ before but apparently this is an accepted variant spelling.)

Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark

Penguin, 2001, 216 p

Aiding and Abetting cover

Hildegard Wolf is a psychiatrist in Paris. She has not one, but two clients who claim to be the fugitive Lord Lucan. One gives his name as Robert Walker, the other is known as Lucky. Between them though they have plotted to blackmail Wolf as in a former life she was the fake stigmatic Beate Pappenheim, still wanted for fraud. To avoid this she disappears herself, not even telling her lover Jean-Pierre Roget, where she has gone.

Spark leavens this pretty slim stuff with relatings of the details of Lucan’s murder of his child’s nanny and assault on his wife, his penchant for salmon and lamb chops (which the police could use to apprehend him if they ever got near,) mentions of his aiding and abetting by his friends, his frequent resorts to them for money. There is also a frankly unbelievable liaison between Lacey Twickenham, daughter of one of Lucan’s acquaintances and widower Joseph Murray, yet another who had known the earl, and accounts of their serial near-misses in confronting Lucky.

Spareness can be a virtue but here Spark is taking it to extremes. As in her later The Finishing School, she has given us a sketch for a novel rather than a rounded whole. I am really struggling to see why people hold her writing in high regard.

Pedant’s corner:- imposters (I prefer the spelling impostor,) “a nail-wound on each hand and foot, and a sword wound in the side” (this is a commonly held perception, but crucifixions were carried out by nailing the wrists and ankles, not the hands and feet. And wasn’t it a spear wound in the side?) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. “One way and another” (One way or another is the usual – and more sensible – expression.) “Could that young woman in the department store in Oxford Street be really Ursula?” (What kind of syntax is this? ‘Could that young woman in the department store in Oxford Street really be Ursula?’ is the more natural way to say this.)

After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray

Constable, 2007, 414 p

 After a Dead Dog cover

The author used to be an editor for Orbit and was in fact the person who bought my novel “A Son of the Rock” for publishing under that imprint. Unfortunately (for me) he left that post soon after and his replacement didn’t seem to take to my stuff. Ah well. Murray has since taken to writing himself and this was his first novel. By the evidence shown here his experiences of editing have not gone to waste.

There are, though, echoes/reminders throughout of the writing of Iain Banks, what with the setting in rural Scotland (here the Kintyre peninsula,) an ex-lover for whom the narrator still holds a torch (and who hasn’t quite got over him,) a family secret, a ‘big house’, a political connection and a crime – several crimes – to be unravelled. As in The Crow Road, which the text explicitly mentions, we start – Prologue excepted – with a funeral. The dialogue at times approaches the irreverence of the banter we meet in Banks but doesn’t quite have his zing and sparkle. The first person narrator, a more or less washed up poet turned TV scriptwriter, is even named Iain (Lewis,) though is for some reason often addressed by other characters as ‘Lewis, Iain.’

The funeral was that of Margaret Crawford, mother of Lewis’s first girl friend Carole (now Ferguson) whose relationship with him broke up shortly after the death of her father (attributed to suicide) more than a few years before. The Crawfords run a fish processing business in the town. At the funeral purvey Carole’s husband Duncan introduces Iain to a business associate from Dublin, Colm Kelly, and plies Iain with spiked drinks so that he will be arrested by the local bobbie for drink driving on his way home. Iain manages to avoid drinking them all, puzzling the copper, an old adversary from school, with his negative test. The plot then engages when Iain arrives home and finds a strange suitcase in his study. It contains money and packages with white powder in them. Wondering how, exactly, he would explain this circumstance to the police, he hides the suitcase. Shortly thereafter he finds Danny McGovern (who had earlier noticed a boat on the sea-loch making odd manoeuvres) dead in a caravan dragged from its usual position. Iain enlists the aid of his pal, crime reporter Dougie Henderson, to help him resolve his problem.

Iain’s narration is replete with allusion and more than the odd quotation – which will please the more highbrow reader – and we have enough degrees of skulduggery involving Kelly and New Labour politician and Scottish Executive Minister, Alan Baird to satisfy crime aficionados. Of Edinburgh Iain says it, “has a railway line where it ought to have a river, it’s not very nice to motorists and it’s always cold,” while its good people are positively icy. “If ever a city deserved a dyspeptic Duke it was Edinburgh.”

Murray spins a very good tale. Perhaps as a character Duncan is a bit underdrawn but Iain himself, Carole and Dougie are rounded personalities. The baddies are as baddies are, but then arguably that is as it should be. After a Dead Dog – an odd title but a quote from the Old Testament – is very readable stuff.

Pedant’s corner:- “‘Trick or treat?’” (while Murray correctly refers to the children coming round the doors at Hallowe’en as guisers, it is not usually the case – or wasn’t in my day – to ask this question. It was, however, expected that any child desiring largesse in the form of sweets or money from their hosts performed a party piece first as part of the implicit bargain involved,) Yeats’ (Yeats’s,) wifeys (usually spelled ‘wifies’.) “They were hewed from the same rock” (they were hewn,) “the Great Western Road, the Byres Road” (these well-known Glasgow thoroughfares don’t attract the definite article in local speech; they’re called Great Western Road and Byres Road,) “stamping ground” (isn’t the phrase ‘stomping ground’?) Stephane Grapelly (Grapelli,) “I felt like fool” (a fool,) Evans’ (Evans’s,) soccer (football!) “‘aren’t I?’” (said by Dougie Henderson. He’s Scottish, he would more likely say, ‘amn’t I?’)

Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany – 1813 by F Loraine Petrie

Arms and Armour Press, 1977, 406 p, including Index, plus iii p Introduction by David G Chandler, iv p Author’s Preface, four sheets of Maps and Plans, iv p Contents. First published 1912.

 Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany cover

The Author’s Preface notes the Napoleonic Wars as an evolution, the time of change from war as involving only the clash of armies to something which involved whole nations instead.

The main body of the book follows the course of the campaign of 1813 from Napoloeon’s initial invasion to its culmination at Liepzig, the largest engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, with a brief description of the minor battle at Hanau in its aftermath. The essence of the tale is that the Russian adventure in 1812 had severely weakened Napoleon (not least in a deficit of cavalry in comparison with before, but also with many new recruits to be assimilated into his armies) if not his personal reputation as a master of war. His aura was still such that during the armistice in mid-1813 the Allies formed a pact not to engage separately the army of which the Emperor was directly in charge unless and until they had united and had a large superiority in numbers. This stricture did not apply to his Marshals who according to Petrie were very well-versed in tactical matters but a failure to train them in strategical considerations meant they were lacking at crucial junctures.

The decline in Napoleon’s abilities from his glory years is illustrated by contrasting his switherings in this campaign with his decisiveness at Jena seven years earlier. There was a fatal conflict of Napoleon’s priorities as Emperor, and dominator of Germany, compared with his military objectives. Here he tended to try to protect the land he held, specifically the city of Dresden, over his previous focus on destroying his enemies’ armies in the field. Petrie also quotes the man himself as saying experience in war does not count for much, that he thought himself as insightful in his youthful campaigns in Italy as he ever was later. His early battles were of course smaller affairs over which he could exercise a large degree of control. Noitwithstanding the fact that armies in 1813 were much more densely concentrated than in later times, by the time of Liepzig this sort of close oversight was perhaps beyond any one person.

It amused me when at one point Petrie wrote, “These extensive expeditions of considerable bodies of cavalry in the French rear are a peculiarity of this campaign which is the only instance of their employment on a large scale in a European War. Similar raids played a considerable part in the American Civil War of fifty years ago. In this case, as in 1813, the raids were generally carried out in a country the inhabitants of which were often sympathisers with the raiders, to whom they supplied food, forage, and information. Moreover, there were few or none of the modern facilities for sending information to the other side. It seems more than doubtful what success such raids could hope for in these days of telegraphs in Europe. (My emphasis.) Petrie notes a like raid by Petrushenko in the then recent Russo-Japanese War which, “can hardly be deemed a great success, and it was only possible to carry it out at all owing to the route being taken through an area devoid of telegraphs.” The thought of such wires being cut in the furtherance of raiding activities does not seem to have occurred to him. And didn’t the Boers in the also recent South African War in effect also use tactics like this? Of course the presence of technologies such as the telegraph, telephone, and radio, did not negate the opportunity for operations behind the lines in later wars.

The language of the text can be a little precious. Petrie uses unnecessary formulations such as “We left Oudinot, at 11 am,” “We now return to Ney,” etc, and there is the usual alphanumeric soup of divisions and Roman-numeralled corps. The four sheets of maps (seventeen diagrams in total) are more or less useless not only since they require awkward folding out but also because they are affixed to pages towards the end of the book, nowhere near the parts of the text they are meant to illuminate. Their appearance is also too cluttered.

Pedant’s corner:- “This broke down one” (broke down once,) England (The United Kingdom,) “6 per cent. on the then population” (of the then,) throu (through,) Friederichs’ (Friederichs’s,) many ionstances of names ending in s being treated this way – Dolffs’ (Dolffs’s,) Reuss’ (Reuss’s,) even one where the final s is not sounded and the possessive therefore positively demands “s’s” – a missing full stop, “unable note Bulöw’s advance” (unable to note,) Probetheida (Probstheida,) “came to nought” (nought = the number zero, ‘came to naught,’)|Naumburg (elsewhere Naumberg.)

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