Oops. This was supposed to post on June 16. I usually do my Short Story Wednesday posts two weeks in advance, but when I wrote this morning, my fumble fingers activated and it went up today. Som consider this a bonus post for today. I'll do another post for June 16 tomorrow. -- JH
"Madam Lucifer" by Richard Garnett (from his collection The Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales, 1888; no earlier appearance known)
Here's a cute little fable from the days when sexism blithely ran rampant and a harridan was a stereotypical comic figure. But first, we must ntroduce Madam Lucifer's better (?) half.
We open with Lucifer playing chess for a man's soul. We all know who is going to win, and so does Lucifer's victim, who delays making his moves as long as possible. He tells Lucifer that he would not mind being condemned to Hell if it were not for the thought of losing his fiance, the Lady Adeliza, who is the epitome of terrestial loveliness. "She is a rose, a lily, a diamond, a morning star!" the poor man said. Lucifer relpied that, if true, he himself would assume the man's likeness and woo her. Then, checkmate, and the man vanished in a puff of smoke to his eternal damnation.
It's not easy being a man when you have been a demon for millions of years. One has to content with "coats, shirts, collars, neckties, fols, cigars, and the like ad libitum;" and, in the case of the man Lucifer is impersonating, "three challenges, ten writs, and sevety-four unpaid bills." Nnetheless, Lucifer manages to avid two bailffs, a perfumer, and a bootmaker on his way to meet Lady Adeliza. And what a lady! "Such beauty, such wit, such correctness of principle! Lucifer went forth from her presence a love-sick fiend."
Of course, there's a snag -- there always is. This time it is in the form of a celestial saint with whom Lucifer had never really gotten along. This saint had just been appointed Inspector of Devils, replacing Lucifer's old friend Michael, who had been put out to pasture because of his advanced age. Lucifer wants to marry Adeliza, but is told he cannot unless he gives his current wife to Adeliza's original betrothed -- the man now rotting in Hell. Lucifer is so stricken by Adeliza's purity that he knows he can only have her by marrying her. For the same reason he cannot -- as suggested by the demon Belial -- lue the fair lady into sin so that she would eventually go to Hell. And if Lucifer does marry Adeliza, he must cede all claim to Hell, along with all his authority and possessions.
Belial thinks he can woo Adeliza himself and lure her into sin -- a tricky thing for a demon who is humpbacked, squinting and lame, with horns sticking from under his wig. So Belial goes to woo the lady and has some success but, alas, he also falls for her charms and her innocence. To lure her away from Lucifer (whom she still believes to be her original betrothed), Belial takes her down to Hell to see what is really going on.
Meanwhie Madam Lucifer is not happy with the idea of having to marry a mortal man. Then the demons bring him before her and she sees that he is scrupious eye candy and changes her mind. Her future husband takes a look at Madam Lucifer and refuses to marry her. Understandable because her robe was dripping with blood, her complexion was a "sulphurous yellow," she had no hair, her nails were "exceptionally long" (for she was a thousand million years old and looked every it of it), and her temper was unholy.
Adeliza leps to the scene, sees her lover's fate, and rushes to his side. Madam Lucifer is about to rend both apart when Lucifer (still kin his human guise) shows up. Madam Lucifer looks at two identical men, confused. Lucifer is upset because he was about to lose Adeliza to Belial and would not have either his hellish kingdom or the lovely lady. Lucifer then cuts his losses, reverting back to his normal appearance, renouncing Adliza, and embracing Madam Lucifer. For her part, Madam Lucifer could not stand the presence of the two human lovers, so they are sent back to Earth, with Lucifer's parting remark: "Be off! You'll find all debts paid , and a nice balance at the bank. Cut! Run!"
I really enjoyed this short tale, with it's occasional pun -- the ruler of Hell and Lady Adeliza, for example, make a "Lucifer match."
Richard Garnett (1835-1936) was a well-known man of letters as a scholar, biographer, poet, short story wirter, and librarian at the British Museum. He was the son of Richard Garnett (1789-1850), an important philologist, author, and libraian (also at the British Museum). The Garnett family was a notable one. The younger brother of the elder Richard, Thonas Garnett (1799-1878), was a prominent naturalist who discovered the economic value of angora wool, was an early experimenter with guano, and was one of the first to propose aquaculture; his articles on naturaliam were collected after his death. Olive Garnett, Richard the younger's sister, was a noted diarist. Richard (the younger) was the father of Edward Garnett (1868-1937) was an editor, author, and critic, who was instrumental in publisshing D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lover; Edward was married to Constance Garnett (1861-1946), who was a noted translator of nineteenth century Russian literature, including major works by Chekhiv, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy, Turgenev, among others. David Garnett (1892-1981), then only child of Edward and Constance, was a prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group, publisher, writer, and bookseller. He is perhaps best-known for the award-winning literary fantasy Lady Into Fox (1922), as well as A Man in the Zoo (1924). David Garnett had an interesting life. a homosexual, he married twice. His second wife was the daughter of one of his former lovers, although she did not discover that until much later. This second wife, Angela, was a niece of Virginia Woolf. David and Angela had four daughters, the eldest of whom was Amyrillis, an actress who drowned at age 29. The next eldest was Henrietta, a "free spirit" who became pregnant at seventeen and married her father's nephew, only to be widowed at eighteen. Henrietta threww herself into the hedonistic life of the Swinging Sixties; she later threw herself from a hotel roof in a botched attempt at suicide. She pubnnlished one novel and a biography of Anne Ritchie, William Makepeace Thackaray's daughter; Ritchie was a sister-in-law of Henrietta's great-grandfather.
An interesting family.
Twilight of the Gods, in both its 1898 edition and its expanded 1924 edition, is availbel to read online.