Friday, June 3, 2016

Desperate Remedies Part 6 - Everything Falls Apart

Illustration by Shayna Pond.
Please cite the artist and blog if you reuse this image.
After the wedding that was left unconsummated, Desperate Remedies slips into a torpor. The overarching theme is one of limbo: Cytherea in a half-married, half-unmarried state; Edward unable to advance his cause do to the debt incurred from the inn's burning; Manston searching for a wife recently presumed dead; Miss Aldclyffe receding from the story as a whole.

Manston does his due diligence (though he is near fixated on Cytherea) and places advertisements encouraging his wife to return. After the third advertisement, Manston receives a letter from his estranged wife and she returns, moving into his steward's quarters at Knapwater House as was the original plan. Cytherea and Owen move to a nearby town while she recovers from an illness brought about by the stress of her situation.

It is this point in the book (about two-thirds of the way in) that Desperate Remedies becomes a little tedious. Part of the problem is that the most interesting characters are basically shelved and replaced by two very earnest and almost murderously dull architects (Owen and Edward) painfully unspooling the inconsistencies in the events as they have unfolded. Cytherea will have no part of a marriage with Edward while her virtue is in question, which she perceives that it is due to having married an already married man if in rite only. Edward becomes obsessed with proving that Manston knew his wife was alive before he married Cytherea, which would out him as a knowing bigamist and exonerate her of any implied guilt.

The details of that slow unraveling are too dull to document point by point but they wind us up at the most improbable of outcomes: namely, the discovery that the woman who has been living in Manston's home is not the same woman who arrived at the inn those many months earlier. At the same time, the faux-Mrs. Manston (whom we'll now address by her name, Anne) is having her own doubts about her "husband's" reason for perpetuating the charade. She comes across a letter written by her doppelganger AFTER she'd arrived in Carriford, thus proving she survived the fire. Each of Manston's allies (his fake wife, Miss Aldclyffe and a rector) are peeled away from him by the ever-lengthening trail of evidence until his ultimate motive is revealed in a scene that would be hilarious if it weren't so macabre.

Suspicious of his motives, Anne follows Manston after he presumes that he has slipped her a sleeping concoction. He retrieves a suspicious bundle and trudges off into the forest. Anne sees what no one else does - that Manston is being watched by a man who in turn is being watched by a woman who is being watched by Anne herself and they all follow one another, with Manston as the drum major bearing the bulky load deep into the forest. After he buries the bundle, there is a chain reaction wherein Manston is alerted to his male stalker by the unknown female stalker and, after striking the man down with his shovel, he runs off into the forest. The man is a detective hired to follow Manston and, backed up by the rector and Anne's testimony, they dig up the parcel to discover the lifeless body of the original Mrs. Manston -- her murder his desperate remedy for his obsession with marrying Cytherea.

The woman who alerted Manston was Miss Aldclyffe who, it turns out, is Manston's natural mother. He was the secret lovechild that made her marriage to Ambrose Graye impossible those many years ago. Her machinations to wed him to Cytherea is the final desperate remedy revealed but instead of righting the wrong of her youth, it transforms her son into a murderer in order to escape his joyless marriage. There is a bit of roughhousing at the end when Manston tries to kidnap Cytherea to take her out of the country but his efforts come to naught as eventually the self-inflicted noose, literal and figurative, finally tightens around his neck.

I know that was probably a lot of plot description to take in but it should give you some sense of how twisty this book is. I'll wrap up my discussion of Desperate Remedies in two posts: one looking at Hardy's descriptions of nature and architecture; and the final looking at how Desperate Remedies intersects with our understanding of Hardy himself at the time he wrote the book.

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