Wednesday 26 February 2020

Review: Love Intrigues by Jane Barker

The next on my odyssey through the Oxford collection is Love Intrigues by Jane Barker. She was the first author in the book I hadn’t heard of, though I’ve later heard a lot more about here through the book The Rise and Fall of the Woman of Letters by Norma Clarke.

Jane Barker was always fond of learning and, with support from her brother, even taught herself anatomy and medicine. In her visits to the universities, she found herself in poetic circles where she shared in discussion of poetry as well as writing poetry and passing them on to each other. When William of Orange landed, Barker, a dedicated Jacobite moved to St Germain as a part of James II’s court in exile where she continued to write. 

Later, she’d create a series of books called The Patchwork Screen, which were (what seems like) fascinating mixtures of story, poetry, essay and anything else that would work. Love Intrigues, on the other hand, and the other two short books that made up the Galesia Trilogy were largely autobiographical, which may explain how un-novel-like some of the strangeness of this book.

It starts with a sprightly eleven your old girl called Galesia being pulled out of a school in Putney because the reversal in the King’s fortunes means that the family’s are a little more precarious then they had been. This is okay because her older brother’s friend has taken a shine to her, “though he were already a man, and I but a child.” (Ick). His name is Brafort.

Galesia also has her eyes fixed on another young man called Bosvil, he isn’t into her yet as she is a child (hooray) but happens to be her cousin (ick, again). 

When she reaches fifteen she lives with an aunt in London to learn the ways of a gentlewoman, where she spends more time with Bosvil and the two start to build a friendship. Brafort also comes over to woo her but she pretends all of his romantic talk is nothing more than playful banter.

Brafort, realising that his attempts aren’t really getting anywhere and that Bosvil is moving onto his patch, gets his creepy little self over the parents and promptly arranges a wedding. However, as the wedding approaches he gets sick and he dies on the day of the wedding, sleeping in his “grave, instead of his nuptial bed.”

This should be the moment for Bosvil to make his move but he doesn’t, indeed he goes all cold. Galesia decides to dedicate herself to learning, carving a poem into a tree and deciding to learn medicine (which Jane Barker also did). 

However, when Bosvil comes around again his, “eyes darted love, his lips smiled love, his heart sighed love, his tongue was the only part silent.” Again they kindle something of a relationship but when he goes away he is cold again. This is the rest of the story, Bosvil intermittently sending signals of love and then signals of indifference. I honestly thought the book was building into a reveal of two Bosvils, one who loves Galesia and one who doesn’t, and them having to keep it hidden for some elaborate reason. It’s not that though, it’s a simple case of misreading the signs. Bosvil did love Galesia but was under the impression that she didn’t love him and had been mourning for Brafort, so he ignored her (and even eventually married) - whereas she’d loved him best all along.

The most entertaining parts of the book are when Galesia is angry. When she hears that Bosvil is getting married, she sends him horns, a symbol of cuckoldry, as a bit of a joke, which doesn’t go down too well at the wedding. She also has an elaborate page imagining murdering Bosvil and the thanks she would get from womankind for ridding the world of an inconstant lover, declaring that, “I shall delight myself to see the blood pour out of his false heart.” It’s a brilliantly over-the-top and utterly realistic depiction of an angry person having the sort of revenge fantasy that might embarrass them in a more sober mood.

Despite the flimsiness of the story, it is packaged well and is wrapped up in consistent theming, particularly when it comes to metaphors of language and the language of love. The whole story relies on the misreading of love’s language, references to love and language learning are scattered throughout the text. Although ‘the merest freshman in love’s academy could not but read and understand that language,’ of her love, Bosvil must be somewhere in nursery level. During Bosvil’s first period of coldness, Galesia decides to learn Latin so she can learn anatomy and medicine but she struggles with conjugating ‘amo, amas, amat’ just as she and he fail to conjugate. 

The plot may be flimsy but the telling is involved, the depictions of inner thought and conflict point towards later novels and the tightness of its theming ties it in a nice bow.

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