Category Archives: British literature

The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, published 1899, is a rambling, wordy book with familiar themes of the era and will probably bore most readers


This book by a 19th century British author reflects many of the themes one would expect in the era of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy:

Kind-hearted but achingly poor folks being preyed upon by greedy businessmen and corrupt lawyers; lovely pure-hearted maidens; the filthy mean streets of London teaming with pickpockets, rogues and criminals; the absurd horrors of debtors prisons – but underlying it all, an avenue of escape promised by an overriding belief that there is a higher good, and a few well-placed saintly people determined to uplift the lowly.

What was surprising to me, however, was the tedious, disjointed and verbose rendering of this over-long novel. The writer is Sir Walter Besant, a bona fide scholar, intellectual and prolific author. Yet with The Orange Girl, he delivers a rambling mess of a work that is repetitive, pandering and ludicrously mawkish.

The story revolves around Will Halliday, a young man whose father is one of London’s richest shipping merchants. Halliday is expected to take over his father’s empire, but young Will becomes enamored with the fiddle. He desires the life of a musician. To his family, a musician is a step above a common footpad. Young Will chooses music anyway, is disowned, and is thrust into a life hovering at the edge of poverty.

The plot thickens when Will’s father dies and implements a real twist in his will – he leaves £100,000 to either his son or his nephew – based on which one dies first. If the poor musician outlives his cousin, he gets the fortune. If his cousin, the avaricious Matthew Halliday, who remained in the family business, lives longer, he claims the loot.

To make a long story short – a very long story – the matter of the inheritance attracts greedy lawyers, criminals and sundry troublemakers who hover around the fate of the unclaimed fortune like flies around a steaming pile of manure. They all scheme to make the life of the innocent fiddle player Will Halliday a living hell.

So who is the “Orange Girl?” That would be Jenny Wilmot, a blissfully beautiful, overpoweringly lovely and magnificently gorgeous goddess of a woman who is the purest of pure saints – so virtuous she is willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake and comfort of her fellow man. She crosses paths with Will Halliday, gets entangled in his life – and so the plot plays out.

The character of Jenny Wilmot is modeled on the real-life 17th Century British actress Nell Gwyn, and something of a folk heroine who also happened to be the mistress of King Charles II.

By the way, an Orange Girl is a young woman who worked the crowds at theaters or other public events. They carry baskets of oranges and either give them out for free or sell them for pennies. They do so while dressed as risqué and revealingly as the stilted 18th or 19th Century British society allowed – they are like an Elizabethan version of a Hooter’s waitress – although the Orange Girl enjoys a status more akin to a prostitute.

I have a theory as to why Sir Besant managed to deliver such a substandard heap of fiction, but since zero out of zero readers of this review have made it this far, I’ll just end it here by saying that “The Orange Girl” is not a work destined to be a classic, but a work destined to be forgotten.

Download a free copy of The Orange Girl here: THE ORANGE GIRL

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Free mystery novel ebook: “The Mystery of Lincoln’s Inn” is a pure delight, almost certainly based on true events of a major scandal which rocked Canada nearly a century ago


Robert Machray is described as a writer of “simple-minded mysteries” in the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction, and this novel The Lincoln’s Inn Mystery would probably qualify as that. In my view, however, it rises above simple-minded. Certainly, this is not a work of literary depth – but it is a well-plotted yarn that is a delight to read and highly entertaining.

What’s even more intriguing is the story behind the novel.

As it turns out, Robert Machray was the nephew of the Anglican Bishop ROBERT MACHRAY, an extremely important figure in Canada from the mid-1800s into the early part of the 20th Century. He was instrumental in the development of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Bishop Machray was also elected the “First Primate of all Canada” by the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. He was the bishop of Rubert’s Land” a huge area within the vast land of Canada.

In 1874, Bishop Machray’s two nephews, John and Robert Machray, were sent from Scotland to live under his care. John was educated at the University of Manitoba and went on to become an extremely powerful and later notorious public official in Winnipeg. He was eventually convicted of embezzling and/or misappropriating $1.8 million in funds from a variety of sources. (John Machray)

This was an enormous amount of money in early 1900s Canada, making John Machray something of the “Bernie Madoff” of his time, at least in this region of southern Canada. He died in prison in 1933.

So what’s remarkable to me is that in this tale a criminal British lawyer, Cooper Silwood, has embezzled funds from his own law firm and partners, Eversleigh, Silwood and Eversleigh. It is almost certainly inspired by the machinations of John Machray.

And yet, this book was published in 1910, some 22 years before Robert Machray’s brother was finally prosecuted and convicted. It seems amazing to me that author Machray would write a novel that is so obviously based on the shady practices of this brother. One might think the book would have tipped off the Powers-That-Be that something was rotten in Denmark … er, I mean, Canada!

It makes me wonder if the author was making a kind of back door attempt to flush out his own brother. Like his famous uncle, Robert Machray was ordained clergy of the Church of England. Even though he resigned his clerical duties to pursue the life of a writer, perhaps he maintained a high degree of moral propriety, and thus may have been disgusted about what he apparently knew about his brother.

Anyway, you don’t have to appreciate the extraordinary background to enjoy The Mystery of Lincoln’s Inn. All the juicy elements of a great mystery are here. There’s a dastardly criminal. There are pure-of-heart good guys and women who get caught up in an agonizing web of deceit, greed and corruption. A mysterious death and a jilted lover also thicken the plot and add depth to the narrative.

But what I really liked about this book is a hint of an understated cynical humor. This is almost a black comedy. It’s as if the intelligent, sophisticated and former Anglican minister Robert Machray found the folly of his fellow human beings not just sad, but slightly ludicrous.

The book is set mostly in London, but I was delighted that some of the events take place here in my native Minnesota. I think any lover of mystery novels will find this a first-class read. It hasn’t lost it’s edge or relevance despite being published more than a century ago.

Note: This book is available as a free download ebook in all formats on the Project Gutenberg site HERE.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

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Free ebook: “The Autobiography of a Cornish Smuggler” not much about smuggling, but a rather a man’s spiritual journey to renounce the greed, violence and suffering of the world


When I saw this free ebook, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A CORNISH SMUGGLER, I eagerly downloaded it and settled in for what I hoped would be tales of intrigue, danger and adventure on the high seas. The book is based on the manuscript of Captain Harry Carter an Englishman who was born and raised in Cornwall, and who grew up to adopt the life of a smuggler.

But there’s precious little about smuggling in this manuscript.

Most of the document written in 1809 by Carter describes his personal spiritual journey as a God-seeking Methodist after abandoning the illegal and harrowing life of a smuggler.

But I must also add that I was not entirely disappointed. His quest to find God and inner peace does not read like most of today’s (or any era’s) insufferable Christian tripe. Rather, Carter’s journey projects more like the journal of an acetic monk. He pitches no dogma, offers no haranguing lectures and does no proselytizing.

His journey might better be compared to that of a Buddhist renouncing all the material illusions of the world, or a Hindu seeker determined to focus only on the transcendent, and a desire to merge with the omnipresence of Universal Consciousness.

Carter’s strength is his ignorance, something he confesses to repeatedly throughout his many travails and travels. He possesses what Zen master D.T. Suzuki called “beginner’s mind.” Innocent like a child, he uses the broad tenets of Methodism, but finds his own way with constant simple prayer, fasting, singing (chanting), and a refusal to strive and grasp for wealth. He never resists the aggressive forces which confront him along the way. He only doggedly seeks peace, anonymity and to be left alone.

Carter is like a spiritual Ulysses, buffeted about by the winds of chance and circumstance. Like Ulysses, he often finds friends and aid at unexpected moments. His post-smuggling travels take him all the way to New York – which must have been a fascinating place in 1789 – back to England and then to France where he was caught up in the Reign of Terror precipitated by the French Revolution.

He becomes a political prisoner, but his incarceration is light-handed and mostly “in-house.” Carter demonstrates that a man who has absolutely nothing to gain, nothing to lose, and absolutely no worldly agenda cannot truly be imprisoned.

His aura of complete humility, his renouncement of all things material and his laser focus on aligning his soul with God is inspirational, no matter what your faith, maybe even for an atheist.

Even more famous than Harry Carter’s was his older brother, John, who to this day enjoys a lustrous status among Cornish culture. In Cornwall, John Carter’s star eclipses that of another legendary English social malcontent — Robin Hood — except Carter was certainly a real person and a real smuggler.

Smugglers were part pirate, part free-enterprise businessmen, part organized crime – but for the most part – few of them considered what they were doing wrong, even though they knew it was illegal under British law. The people of Cornwall were dirt poor. Their only options were to work seasonally in local tin mines as near slaves, scrabble out a living on a rocky patch of farm, or maybe eke out a living as fishermen.

Smuggling was a road to riches – it not only enriched the smuggler, but the loot trickled down considerably throughout Cornish society.

This document was published in 1900 under the auspices of John B. Cornish, who provides a helpful introduction and notes, and who is also listed as editor. A bit of Internet sleuthing turned up nothing about Mr. Cornish, so I’ll leave it at that.

My bottom line is that I find this to be a remarkable tidbit of history. It may not provide much insight into the world of Cornish smuggling, but “Captain” Harry Carter is an endearing and admirable soul. I was delighted to to have met him through the words he left behind.

Ken Korczak is the author of MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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