Jezebel's Daughter Page 01
by Wilkie Collins
TO ALBERTO CACCIA
Let me begin by informing you, that this new novel does not present the proposed sequel to my last work of fiction--"The Fallen Leaves."
The first part of that story has, through circumstances connected with the various forms of publications adopted thus far, addressed itself to a comparatively limited class of readers in England. When the book is finally reprinted in its cheapest form--then, and then only, it will appeal to the great audience of the English people. I am waiting for that time, to complete my design by writing the second part of "The Fallen Leaves."
Your knowledge of English Literature--to which I am indebted for the first faithful and intelligent translation of my novels into the Italian language--has long since informed you, that there are certain important social topics which are held to be forbidden to the English novelist (no matter how seriously and how delicately he may treat them), by a narrow-minded minority of readers, and by the critics who flatter their prejudices. You also know, having done me the honor to read my books, that I respect my art far too sincerely to permit limits to be wantonly assigned to it, which are imposed in no other civilized country on the face of the earth. When my work is undertaken with a pure purpose, I claim the same liberty which is accorded to a writer in a newspaper, or to a clergyman in a pulpit; knowing, by previous experience, that the increase of readers and the lapse of time will assuredly do me justice, if I have only written well enough to deserve it.
In the prejudiced quarters to which I have alluded, one of the characters in "The Fallen Leaves" offended susceptibilities of the sort felt by Tartuffe, when he took out his handkerchief, and requested Dorine to cover her bosom. I not only decline to defend myself, under such circumstances as these--I say plainly, that I have never asserted a truer claim to the best and noblest sympathies of Christian readers than in presenting to them, in my last novel, the character of the innocent victim of infamy, rescued and purified from the contamination of the streets. I remember what the nasty posterity of Tartuffe, in this country, said of "Basil," of "Armadale," of "The New Magdalen," and I know that the wholesome audience of the nation at large has done liberal justice to those books. For this reason, I wait to write the second part of "The Fallen Leaves," until the first part of the story has found its way to the people.
Turning for a moment to the present novel, you will (I hope) find two interesting studies of humanity in these pages.
In the character called "Jack Straw," you have the exhibition of an enfeebled intellect, tenderly shown under its lightest and happiest aspect, and used as a means of relief in some of the darkest scenes of terror and suspense occurring in this story. Again, in "Madame Fontaine," I have endeavored to work out the interesting moral problem, which takes for its groundwork the strongest of all instincts in a woman, the instinct of maternal love, and traces to its solution the restraining and purifying influence of this one virtue over an otherwise cruel, false, and degraded nature.
The events in which these two chief personages play their parts have been combined with all possible care, and have been derived, to the best of my ability, from natural and simple causes. In view of the distrust which certain readers feel, when a novelist builds his fiction on a foundation of fact, it may not be amiss to mention (before I close these lines), that the accessories of the scenes in the Deadhouse of Frankfort have been studied on the spot. The published rules and ground-plans of that curious mortuary establishment have also been laid on my desk, as aids to memory while I was writing the closing passages of the story.
With this, I commend "Jezebel's Daughter" to my good friend and brother in the art--who will present this last work also to the notice of Italian readers.
Gloucester Place, London:
February 9, 1880.
MR. DAVID GLENNEY CONSULTS HIS MEMORY AND OPENS THE STORY
In the matter of Jezebel's Daughter, my recollections begin with the deaths of two foreign gentlemen, in two different countries, on the same day of the same year.
They were both men of some importance in their way, and both strangers to each other.
Mr. Ephraim Wagner, merchant (formerly of Frankfort-on-the-Main), died in London on the third day of September, 1828.
Doctor Fontaine--famous in his time for discoveries in experimental chemistry--died at Wurzburg on the third day of September, 1828.
Both the merchant and the doctor left widows. The merchant's widow (an Englishwoman) was childless. The doctor's widow (of a South German family) had a daughter to console her.
At that distant time--I am writing these lines in the year 1878, and looking back through half a century--I was a lad employed in Mr. Wagner's office. Being his wife's nephew, he most kindly received me as a member of his household. What I am now about to relate I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. My memory is to be depended on. Like other old men, I recollect events which happened at the beginning of my career far more clearly than events which happened only two or three years since.
Good Mr. Wagner had been ailing for many months; but the doctors had no immediate fear of his death. He proved the doctors to be mistaken; and took the liberty of dying at a time when they all declared that there was every reasonable hope of his recovery. When this affliction fell upon his wife, I was absent from the office in London on a business errand to our branch-establishment at Frankfort-on-the-Main, directed by Mr. Wagner's partners. The day of my return happened to be the day after the funeral. It was also the occasion chosen for the reading of the will. Mr. Wagner, I should add, had been a naturalized British citizen, and his will was drawn by an English lawyer.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth clauses of the will are the only portions of the document which it is necessary to mention in this place.
The fourth clause left the whole of the testator's property, in lands and in money, absolutely to his widow. In the fifth clause he added a new proof of his implicit confidence in her--he appointed her sole executrix of his will.
The sixth and last clause began in these words:--
"During my long illness, my dear wife has acted as my secretary and representative. She has made herself so thoroughly well acquainted with the system on which I have conducted my business, that she is the fittest person to succeed me. I not only prove the fullness of my trust in her and the sincerity of my gratitude towards her, but I really act in the best interests of the firm of which I am the head, when I hereby appoint my widow as my sole successor in the business, with all the powers and privileges appertaining thereto."
The lawyer and I both looked at my aunt.