Veronique

First published in 1869, Veronique is a rather weak bigamy tale.  What makes this novel particularly interesting in Marryat’s preface, in which she addresses the novel-reading public and attacks the critics:

Although my name has been now for more than four years your common property, to praise or censure as you please, I have never yet ventured to appear before you in my proper person, or speak a word upon my own behalf; nor should I intrude myself upon your notice even now, did not the plot of “Veronique” call for a brief explanation.

The word “sensational” has been so twisted from its original meaning by the cant of what, in this age, we term criticism, that is has become difficult to know in what sense it should be applied.  To affirm that the story I submit to your approval is not sensational, ie, that its incidents are not intended to appeal to your feelings, would be erroneous, since it boasts no higher claim; but on the other hand, should I be accused of distorting nature in order to give birth to a “monstrosity of fiction,” my answer is, that the most unlikely scenes depicted here, the adventures on the Neilgherry Hills, and the wreck in the Chinese seas, have happened, and are drawn from life; and it is a remarkable fact, that those incidents in my novels which have incurred most abuse or ridicule at the hands of the public press, have invariably been those gained from the same source.  The situations which I created are passed as probable; those which I have seen take place, rejected as libels against nature.  To quote an abler authority than myself: “Whenever you present the actual simple truth, it is somehow always denounced as a lie; they disown it, cast it off, throw it on the parish; whereas the product of your imagination, the mere figment, the sheer fiction, is adopted, petted, termed pretty, proper, sweetly natural; the little spurious wretch gets all the comfits, the honest lawful bantling all the cuffs.”  Perhaps my honest bantling may share the same fate, but I attest his legitimacy before the world.

I perfectly agree with the following sentiment, as delivered by the Saturday Review, on the ninth of last January: “Let a man once have absolute confidence in his line, whether of thought or action, and he smiles at attack.”  And I have proved it by carrying out this tale to its legitimate conclusion, in spite of the onus which will probably accrue to me.

But a novelist is professedly a delineator of human nature, and I maintain that whilst half the world sits in mourning, a true craftsman has no right to paint life one clash of marriage bells.  He has no right, in fact, to deny the instinct which is in him, and will make itself heard, since, strive as he may, his best achievement must fall so far short of his lowest ambition, in order to bring his novels up (or down) to the standard of the circulating libraries.  And for my own part, ephemeral as are the secondary romances of the present day, I have sufficient reverence for the profession of which I know myself to be so unworthy a disciple, to make me prefer that my efforts should fall stillborn from the press, rather than flourish by pandering to a false taste for false art.  Notwithstanding which avowal, I venture to hope that “Veronique” may be received with no less kindness than her predecessors, and I gladly take this opportunity of thanking you, who are my true critics, (and the only critics whose opinions make or mar my fortune), for the cordial hand-grasp which from the first you have stretched forth to me, and which, (though doubtless in a great measure given for my father’s sake),  has had more than the power to counterbalance such small disagreeables as a woman placed in my position must inevitably incur.

The “abler authority” to whom she refers is Charlotte Bronte, who includes those lines in her novel Shirley.

Veronique is dedicated to Charles Dickens, as follows:

MY DEAR SIR

I thank you sincerely for permitting me to write your name upon the dedication page of “Veronique”.  My offering is but a common flower – perhaps a weed – but, at any rate, plucked feebly from the fields of my imagination; and neither forced in a hot-house, nor sprung from a dunghill, as some of the criticisms upon modern novels would lead one to believe.  “Veronique” will not live longer than a gathered blossom, but whilst she does so I lay her at your feet, with greater pride in the remembrance that you were one of my dead father’s nearest friends, than that you are the greatest living novelist of the age.

Believe me
With every kind regard and wish,
Sincerely yours,
Florence Marryat Church, Brussels, May, 1869

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