TIGRESSES IN LITERATURE.* How did the tigress first make her
way into English literature ? No novel is now complete, and very few novels are successful, -without a specimen of a bad woman of a peculiar kind, hard as steel and as glittering, full of ability, insensible to fear, with the energy of a brigand and a brigand's recklessness of principle. Usually they have some one master passion,—love, or ambition, or the crave for luxury ; invariably they are exempt from the weak- ness, and purposelessness, and sensibility to small external influ- ences which novelists once thought essential to the delineation of the sex. Nine times out of ten they have odd physical peculiarities, green eyes, or violet eyes, or yellow hair, or sinuous figures, or eerie laughs, or unchanging pallor, and these peculiarities help to enslave the victims whom prima facie one would expect them to repel. They are infect human tigresses, though with the thirst for blood' undeveloped,—beings of exquisite form and feline natures, who can when driven to bay fight terribly, but would rather spring secretly but relentlessly on their prey. Their attitudes are of course varied according to the requirements of the story, and of the few qualities common to all tigers, whether fierce- ness, or treachery, or lust of prey, one is usually made predo- minant ; but the central idea is always the same—a woman
• Jenny Bell. A 1,1.Tel. 3 rob]. By P. Fitzgerald. Loudon : Bentley. Lead at Last. A Kos el. 3 vols. By Edmund Yates. London: Chapman and Hall.
beautiful with weird beauty, but dangerous to every one Who approaches her, with a will so intensified that crime produces no remorse, treacherous, greedy, and devoid of human feeling.
Sometimes, as in Jenny Bell, she exercises her skill in a gentler manner, hungering only for prey, and not for broken hearts. Mr.
Fitzgerald's heroine, in his first sketch of her called Bella Donna,
a human being very well outlined, is in Jenny Bell as adventuress pure and simple. Not absolutely "improper," we think—though the author with considerable art contrives to leave this doubtful—
but ready to become so if that would secure her success in life, plausible, untruthful, full of plots, unswerving in purpose, and utterly without feeling. From the necessities of the story her
exploits are chiefly of a domestic kind, but one little extract reveals the feline character. The manager of a watering-place hotel has rather persecuted her for her bill, she makes love to a lad who pays it, and complains to the proprietary. The unlucky manager, who has done nothing but his duty, beseeches her to forgive him.
For God's sake, don't go on with this matter!' he said, with an agonized voice, and wringing his hands. I shall ba ruined ! If I am dismissed a second time, I shall get nothing elsewhere ! I have a wife and children all dependent on me ! I shall not know where to turn to.' She said afterwards, describing the scene, and said it with great justice, 'Just as if I had been the cause of his misfortune! Why should he reproach me, poor man know,' said he, interpreting this look, I should have thought of this myself. But how could I know? There are people that come here as nice as ladies—nicer indeed than any ladies. It was very foolish—very improper—and I do most humbly ask your pardon. But you will not have me turned out in this way?.. . I am sure you will not be hard on a poor man. I am unworthy of your notice. A word from you,' he added, will do. If you and Mr. Swinton were to go to him and speak earnestly.' Jenny was truly con- cerned to see this picture of humiliation. What can I do—poor I? I feel for you, indeed I do. Do you suppose they would heed me ? It is in Mr. Swiaton's hands. You must try him. I don't like even to think of it. It is like a nightmare,' she added, trying to shut it out with her hands. 'As for putting herself forward in the matter—no,' she said, shaking her head calmly. I must try and wipe it out. It is a hideous page in my life. Good-bye, Mr. Bird. I do indeed forgive yea--don't let that disturb you—and wish you everything—everything.' " To win her game it is only necessary to separate a worthy
gentleman who has befriended her from all his friends, to make him distrust his daughters' affection, and to induce him to marry herself, while she is in the act of proposing to another man ; and she does it, would have done it; had the doing involved breaking the hearts of all she was pretending to love, with as soft and
resistless a pat as she crushed the innkeeper withal. Her stealthy manoeuvres through the jungle till she springs upon her prey have of course their interest—most of us would like to watch a tigress on her path—but it is the interest of watchfulness alone.
So it is in Mr. Yates' novel Land at Last, an exceedingly clever
story of Bohemian life, with artists for actors, and a woman supposed all through to belong to the demi monde for heroine. Mr.
Yates has evidently tried hard to combine the realistic novel which he would write if left alone to follow his own bent, with the kind of interest now demanded by the public, and he has no doubt in a measure succeeded. His story is interesting enough, and the lesser figures, Geoffrey Ludlow, the patient, slow, strong artist, with genius in him which does not emerge except in his pictures, and is wholly absent from his conversation,
unselfish, and with a trace of romance, is admirably drawn. So is Lord Caterham—sketched, we fancy, like the hero of A Noble Life, from the late Mr. Smedley—and so is, in all but some external peculiarities, which if real pall as they would do in real life, William Bowker, the old wise artist, of broken heart and lost reputation, whose heart is as warm as ever but needs wiiie, and whose brain is as keen as ever but useless to himself. But all the figures in the book are dimmed to a degree Mr. Yates probably does not himself perceive by the blazing figure of the tigress,
with dead whiteface, and violet eyes "set in that deep dead-gold frame of hair." The quality of the tigress in this case is an absorbing love for her mate, which swallows up every vestige of feeling. She has married and been deserted by an aristocratic cadet, who has persuaded her to call herself his mistress. During their amour she has lived the fast life of the demi monde, eaten dinners at Richmond with lively men and livelier women, sat on the box of a drag loaded with men about town, been pelted with half real, half impure, and, as she thinks it, wholly pleasant, worship.
Deserted, she starves, and is rescued from immediate death of cold and hunger by an artist, Geoffrey Ludlow. To him she tells
her story as if she had been her seducer's mistress, and he, besotted with her violet eyes and dead-gold hair, marries her. For a time immunity from cold and hunger make her grateful, but her heart is still burning for her husband ; and the respectable comfortable life, the kindly but vacillating companion, the prosy surroundings
of her home fill her with unspeakable weariness. She cannot care for Geoffrey, or the child she brings him, or his art, or her daily exist nice, and the crave for the old free life, bad, but full of motion, slowly fills up her heart. At last her husband returns, and in a scene of high though strained dramatic power she tells Geoffrey Ludlow that she never loved him or her child, that the boy is a bastard, and she will return to her husband. She is tigress in fact, with her love for her mate as apredominant motive power. Natural of course she is not; the cat who became a lady, but yet sprang after the mouse, never can have been quite natural—say when rats were scratching at the wood-work; and these tigresses always wear the human skin very loosely ; but she is worth watching in her couchant weariness, with the fiery eyes always watching for the impulse which is to bid her resume her form, worth watching as she waits for " her
husband's guests," and thinking of the past-away life in the jungle "A great weariness was on Margaret that day ; she bad tried to rouse herself, but found it impossible, so had sat all through the morning staring vacantly before her, busy with old memories. Between her past and her present life there was so little in common, that these memories were seldom roused by associations. The drill, never changing domestic day, and the pretty respectability of Elm Lodge, did not recall the wild Parisian _revels, the rough pleasant Bohemianism of garrison lodgings, the sump- tuous luxury of the Florentine villa. But there was something in the weather to-day—in the bright fierce glare of the sun, in the solemn, utterly unbroken stillness—which brought back to her mind one when she and Leonard and some others were cruising off the Devonshire coast in Tom Marshall's yacht—a day on which, with scarcely a breath of air to be felt, they lay becalmed in Babbicombe Bay ; under an awning, of 'course, over which the men from time to time worked the fire-hose ; and how absurdly funny Tom Marshall was when the ice ran short. Leonard said—The gate-bell rang, and her husband's voice was heard in hearty
welcome of his friends And she must listen to the old lady's praises of Geoff., and how she thought it not improbable, if things went on as they were going, that the happiest dream of her life would be ful- filled—that she should ride in her son's carriage. 'It would be yours, of course, my dear ; I know that well enough; but you'd let me ride in it sometimes, just for the honour and the glory of the thing.' And they talked like this to her : the old lady of the glory of a carriage ; Matilda of some hawbuck wretch for whom she had a liking ;—to her! who had sat on the box-seat of a drag a score of times, with half-a-score of the best men in England sitting behind her, all eager for a word or a smile."
It is hard to read of this woman, utterly bad except in-her mad, tigress-like love for her first husband, adulteress and traitress in her adultery, faithless wife, cold mother, and cruel friend, without
an interest, and harder to explain whence the general interest arises. For the moment it is general—such a woman sells any book—and we want to know whence it comes. It is not from the naturalness of the character. There have been such people in real life perhaps. Marguerite de Valois, as described by history and not by Dumas, was such a woman, and so was Mary Stuart, but nobody believes the genuine tigress frequent in English life. Bad women are common no doubt, and women who are bad in other respects than cruelty, but they are almost invariably small women, given to petty plot and small wile, with purposes liable to be turned by conventional obstacles, and when free from stain remarkably solicitous for their reputation. The woman who is -capable of inventing a false story of her own seduction, for instance, without motive—for a hundred stories would have been
as probable, and a dead husband would have been most vraisem- blant of all—has probably among Englishwomen yet to be created.
The real hard, English girl would avoid just that, press to her
object by any means save that—lie, deceive, and simulate to avoid precisely that imputation. Nor though women often plot, do they often plan, plan deeply, with a resolution to sweep away any
obstacle in their path. Becky Sharp is the true representation of the British adventuress—Becky Sharp, who amidst her intrigues sighs for respectability, and only loves her husband in the one moment when his just wrath has crushed her schemes to powder.
The tigress is not real,—but if not real, where is her charm ? The true explanation is, we take it, not very creditable to -the dignity of the novel-reading public. They like such stories, just as children like stories of savage and wild adventure, incidents of hunting, dangers by flood and field. They read, -especially women, of Margaret Deere as boys read of Captain Kidd, forgetting the criminality of the deed in the excitement of the danger. They watch her stalking her prey as we have all watched the Forest Ranger, admire a bold leap through the safeguards of society as we admire a leap across some impossible chasm, read of social obstacles as formerly of rocks and ravines, note the defeat of the bad man as boys record the lucky shot which kills the buffalo in the path of some mighty hunter, and are as callous to the agony of the victim as children are to that of the elephant some heroic sportsman has brought down. It is the hunting instinct to which these books appeal, though the game is human,
the weapon an unscrupulous use of beauty, and the jungle Lon- don society, with its dense foliage, and grassy glades, and hid- den beasts and reptiles. The taste for such literature passes away very speedily, and we doubt if while it endures it is much more injurious than the stories of pirates and highway- men, while, though more artistic, it is certainly not more bene- ficial. We prefer analyses of men and women, but if readers really enjoy sketches of tigresses in human form, they may as well buy sketches as careful and, despite the subject, as pure in idea as Mr. Yates'. They are at all events artistically better than the really astounding one of a monster of self-will and bad temper upon whom Mr. Mark Lemon, in Falkner Lyle, has chosen to waste his powers. The tigresses are bad enough to us, but this woman, Bertha, whose infamous temper gives occasion for three volumes of misery and complications, is a shade worse. She is as insufferable in a book as she would be in real life—a purposeless, charmless, vicious-tempered bore, who ruins what might other- wise have been a readable novel.