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"Winkler never glosses over Jamaican deprivation, prejudice, and violence, yet the love of language--and the language of love--somehow conquers all. It's almost as if P.G. Wodehouse had strolled into the world of Bob Marley . . . Winkler's fiction magics the island into a place of rough-edged enchantment."
--The Independent (UK)
"Winkler may be the best novelist you've never heard of. He continues the brilliant, irreverent recasting of Europe's colonization of Jamaica
Winkler tells a story seeped in satire, sex and humor. Another textbook example of fine fiction writing."
"Witty, humorous, and full of interesting predicaments, this is a wonderful human interest story."
--Historical Novel Review
"A complicated character study and darkly comedic look at early 19th-century plantation life."
--Historical Novel Society
"Mr. Winkler has written an amusing, at times satirical novel, while touching on important historical aspects, such as human rights, slavery, and colonization
I would recommend this book, especially to those who enjoy historical fiction."
--Turn the Page Reviews
"Set in the 19th century, the Jamaican-born author’s lyrical and engaging novel transports readers to his native country’s sugar cane plantations in the tumultuous years before the abolition of slavery."
--Arts ATL (Included in “Beach reads: a half-dozen best bets for summer from Atlanta authors”)
"The Family Mansion is an intensely charming book that is truly laugh-out-loud funny from cover to cover. It is both smart and witty, full of sophisticated surprises, great insights and very unique historical perspectives. It delves heavily into philosophy and really entertains. This is not the type of novel with which you will easily get bored. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys wonderful writing, great humor, or human interest stories."
"The Family Mansion is a little bit story, a little bit rollicking history lesson and a little bit philosophical treatise
well written with a tastefully applied zing of humor in just the right places."
--Sacramento Book Review
"It's a special kind of happiness, when the first bits of a novel deliver a thrill, and The Family Mansion by Anthony C. Winkler does just that."
--The Denver Post
"Winkler proves his salt, daring to weave slices of British and Jamaican history, and slavery's savagery on to a blaring tale that already stood on its own. He picks his spots. His timing is meticulous, narrating a history of woe with an effortless joie de vivre."
--The Gleaner (Jamaica)
"Highly recommended, especially if you want to read some historical fiction that doesn't feature corset-bound women swooning and jumped-up wankers twatting around on horses and smoking cigars. A refreshing read."
"Every country (if she's lucky) gets the Mark Twain she deserves, and Winkler is ours, bristling with savage Jamaican wit and heart-stopping compassion."
--Marlon James, author of The Book of Night Women
"With Hartley's point of view as its primary focus, the narrative transports readers to exotic lands, simultaneously exploring the brutality of England's slavery-based colonization."
The family mansion, a hulking presence of mortar and stone, squatted with the indifference of a concrete Buddha in the center of an enormous manicured lawn ornamented with flower beds, ivy hedges, topiary trees, and an army of neatly trimmed bushes. No one was in sight, and a vast sea of silence covered the land like a morning fog. The trees had shed their leaves in the cold, and the bushes looked stumpy and dowdy like old women at a funeral. Occasionally the morning stillness was broken by the startling sound of wild laughter that seemed to rattle from somewhere deep inside the house and that had a humorless herky-jerky lilt to it like the bleat of a disgruntled goat.
It was February 1805, the dark of night in a country borough in England, placid and seemingly deserted of all life. The only human forms to be seen were frozen statues of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, caught in the middle of a chase with a leaping dog, also made of stone, bounding at her side, both of them posing in the petrifaction of sculpture next to an enormous yew tree. Nearby was another statue, this one of the god Pan gamboling beside a rosebush, which in the general dreariness had the squat appearance of a pygmy. Here and there in the dimness lurked similar figures made of stone, part of the garden statuary that had gradually accumulated over the years, acquiring the green tint of mildew or bad beef.
From the house came another peal of laughter, automatic and regular like the horn of a fogbound ship. Inside the house, in a chilly room flickering to a half-dead fire, an imposing gentleman, his cheeks bracketed by gaudy muttonchops, his face red and swollen from the cold, was peering intensely across a desk at the young man who sat before him laughing. Nothing funny had been done or said, and the older man occasionally wiggled his nose as if to signal his perplexity at the periodic salvos of laughter.
The room in which the two men sat was crammed with ornate plaques and paintings and figurines. Behind the older gentleman, some distance above his head, hung the stylized painting of a distant ancestor gazing out proprietarily at the world as if he were its owner. He stood against a backdrop of a fuzzy cloud bank or what some viewers might take to be a foggy mountain. (In portraits like this one the mountains were always made to look fuzzy and inconsequential so as not to upstage the gentleman or lady who was paying the artist.) On the head of this particular ancestor was an imposing and ridiculous-looking furrowed wig that draped down past his breastbone and might have been mistaken for the pelt of a full-grown Merino sheep. On one side of the ancestor in the painting was a stack of books no reasonable man could imagine such a puffed-up, pretty creature reading, and on the other a spyglass suitable to a pirate or a peeping Tom.
Books littered not only the painting, they were also scattered everywhere throughout the room: in a disciplined phalanx on the bookshelves; in small piles on the spacious desk like the rubble found on the grounds of a half-built brick building. Many of the books had the crispness of unsoiled newly printed money. None of them had been read completely through. All of them, however, had been fondled over by the older gentleman. He liked being surrounded by books since he believed that they reflected well on him even when unread. His son, who sat across the desk and was at that age when he didn't care much about what the world thought of him, disliked books and made no bones about it.
The two gentlemen were members of the Fudges family, the older one being the paterfamilias, the younger man who laughed a lot being his unfortunate second son. They had been discussing the young man's future, about which the old gentleman was quite concerned. He had had high expectations that tonight his son would have announced his engagement to the widow Bentley, who was the best catch available in the entire district. But something had happened, something extraordinary that not only did not result in the engagement being announced, it sparked an announcement of just the opposite kind by the widow—namely, that there would be no marriage between Fudges and Bentley. What exactly had happened was known only to Fudges the younger, whose Christian name was Hartley, and it was this information that his father was trying his best to pry out of him. But all he had gotten for his efforts so far were the annoying mocking laughter of his son and the dismissal reply that everything was fine, nothing was wrong.
Fudges was a peculiar surname that was oddly plural even when it referred to a single family member. This was the deliberate design of the elder Fudges. Many years ago the name of the family was Fudge, but by the early seventeenth century that word had come to suggest shiftiness and hedging, to say nothing of a particular kind of confectionery. So the elder Fudges began spelling his name with an added "s," lessening the linkage between the family name and the namesake candy and confusing hostesses who didn't know whether it was singular or plural. If you meant one family member you said Fudges. But what did you write if you meant several family members—Fudgeses or Fudges? This sort of confusion was exactly what Fudges the elder calculated would cause his name to become memorable. A man liked his name to be enigmatic and mysterious, not circumstantial and ordinary.
The elder Fudges, as he faced his second son, was asking himself what could have possibly happened between his boy and the widow to upset all their hopes and carefully laid plans. Hartley Fudges, on the other hand, was being so tight-lipped and secretive that he conceded nothing and offered no explanation.
Hartley Fudges was twenty-three years old. He was neither particularly bright nor especially dumb, neither ugly nor good-looking. His facial features were a bit jumbled as if nature, with no theme in mind, had assembled them from various grab bags of miscellaneous noses, eyebrows, chins, and foreheads. If a man may be compared to an earthquake, Hartley Fudges was an imperceptible tremor that left no lingering aftershocks. He had been born the second son into a minor aristocratic family and had been his mother's favorite child—she had six children but only two survived to adulthood, Hartley and his older brother Alexander. Before she could thoroughly spoil Hartley, which she was devoutly trying to do, she herself was carried off by an outbreak of typhoid when she was only forty-two. In spite of this tragedy, Hartley was definitely born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was as pampered as any young aristocrat child could be, raised by nannies and cosseted by a small company of servants and sent to both Eton and Oxford where he learned to talk like an aristocratic Englishman.
Every time an Englishman opens his mouth he tells the world to which social class he belongs. Upper-class Englishmen went to the finest schools where they were taught how to speak with a certain posh accent that would distinguish them from the man in the street. This accent is known as received pronunciation or, informally among academics, as RP.
Received pronunciation is a hideous style of speech that sounds as if the alphabet were being blown through the speaker's nose. It is so distinctive that its use immediately signifies that the speaker is from the upper classes. Why it was necessary to so publicly tell the classes apart is baffling to us who live in the twenty-first century. We can only guess that part of the perceived necessity may have been founded on the fact that dueling was an accepted albeit illegal custom among the upper class for resolving conflicts and settling differences, and without knowing it, if telltale accents did not exist, a bamboozled earl or duke or count might find himself trading shots at fifteen paces with his neighbor's gardener. That would never do. Only gentlemen who used received pronunciation as their main mode of speech were entitled to slaughter each other on the field of honor. Hartley Fudges, by this measure, was indubitably a gentleman. Every word he spoke came through his nose. He faithfully tacked an aspirant sound before any word beginning with "h." He committed no malapropisms. And if he swore, he uttered odd expressions such as "egad" and "zounds."
England of Hartley Fudges's day was a rigidly stratified society with horrendous and gaping differences between the classes. There were more lords and earls and dukes and counts and marquises than blackberries in summer. Lifestyle differences between the privileged and the poor were obscenely evident and indefensible even while a glib windbag such as Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) tried to justify the principle of subordination as necessary to the survival of England. By subordination he meant the shuffling of the population into layered classes where the few had much and the many had little. Belonging to the few who had much was Hartley Fudges, a man of twenty-three on whom an expensive education had been wasted, producing a jack-in-the-box who did not like to read but who spoke impeccably through the nose using only the purest received pronunciation.
The father of Hartley Fudges gazed at his second son with obvious fondness. Earlier he had glimpsed Hartley and the widow sitting in the corner of the drawing room talking animatedly while all around them revelers swirled in a kaleidoscope of bright colors and convivial chatter. He had not drawn close enough to overhear their conversation, but if he had, he would have noticed that the widow had gotten progressively drunker and drunker as the night passed. She began to slur her words and issue grand opinions about everything under the sun, from blasting that Gallic beast Napoleon to praising the wonder of Johann Ritter (1776–1810), the German electrochemist who claimed to have discovered some new properties of light.
Had Hartley Fudges heard about that discovery? Hartley Fudges had not. He was not a reader of magazines or books and found all their speculation about life, the arts, and science that was their lifeblood almost unbearable. He was in the middle of explaining his dislike of reading when the widow interrupted him and suggested they find someplace where they could talk in private. Excited at the prospect of being alone with his quarry—a recent widow who was said to have an income of over £10,000 a year—Hartley stood up and escorted her to a room that served as a makeshift library. It was tucked away off a hallway near the kitchen, as inconspicuously as an appendix off a colon, and was rarely used and dimly lit by a single candle, making it the perfect place for any one of the Fudges men to swive the occasional attractive young maidservant.
The lovers entered the room stealthily. Hartley closed the door carefully behind him, and drew close to his prospect of £10,000 and the freedom and luxuries such a fabulous income would buy. In the wavering candlelight his widow looked younger than her twenty-nine years, the dim light acting like a balm to mask the lines and wrinkles hinting of the facial shriveling that loomed ahead. She was six years older than Hartley, who had drawn near enough to sniff the muskiness of her body that came from once-a-week baths, and even though she smelled to him like a closet that had not been opened for months, in his imagination £10,000 pounds a year would perfume even a stinkpot with the aroma of fresh spring blossoms.
She shied away briefly from his attempt to kiss her and stared up at him with grave earnestness. "Mr. Fudges," she asked demurely, "you know that although I am a woman, I have a scientific bent. It is my nature. Do you mind if I make a crucial measurement?"
He had no idea what she meant, but her tone seemed to call for a display of gallantry. "Of course not, my dear," he said magnanimously just as he felt her hand sliding down the front of his pants and grabbing a gentle hold of his private parts, which immediately became engorged to her touch. She tried to circle the shaft with her index finger and thumb but couldn't. Hartley endured this scientific groping with a stoical demeanor and a manly sigh. She was soon finished and gazing at him with a sad expression.
He chuckled. "Did I pass?"
She made a little birdlike noise and shook her head gloomily. "I'm sorry, Mr. Fudges," she said in a matter-of-fact voice, "but you're altogether too big for me. I simply couldn't manage you."
"But Madam," he protested, suddenly realizing that she was serious, "I've seen many naked men. In that regard I'm quite average, I assure you."
"If you are," she said crisply, "then nature is being very unkind to Englishwomen. I only know that you have a beast down there whose care and feeding I could not possibly undertake. I'm sorry. I want no more than six inches; indeed, five is my heart's desire."
She headed for the door. He stepped in front of her to beseech her not to be too hasty, and to rethink her decision. She glided nimbly around him and slipped into the hallway. A few minutes later, when the piano player took a break, she stood up and said to the assembled throng, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. Mr. Fudges and I have decided that we are not suitable for each other, but will still remain dear friends. Thank you."
And then she sat down. The elder Fudges hurried to the side of his second son who was standing in a corner looking as if he were being punished.
"Damn!" the father cried under his breath. "What the devil was that all about?"
The second son laughed.
The dilemma facing Hartley Fudges was that he had been born the second son in a monarchical nation whose strict laws of succession mandated that the firstborn male inherit everything upon the death of the father. Nothing was left for the other sons except what the firstborn chose to provide through his generosity. Known as the law of primogeniture, this doctrine had its roots in a twelfth-century conflict between King John and his nephew Prince Arthur. For men like Hartley Fudges, it was a law that essentially dispossessed them of their homeland and cast them out into the cold. And although its prime justification was initially to ensure a smooth succession to the throne, the doctrine soon came to apply to all England, mainly to give it legitimacy. None of the other European countries practiced it, and the founding fathers of the American Revolution had specifically rejected the principle as undemocratic. Only England had clung to it for six centuries.
With the first son getting everything, the second son had few options. A military career was one possibility, except that in 1805 a Corsican half-pint by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) was running rampant over Europe and sparking a succession of wars that greatly increased the risk of death in battle. Another option was to become a cleric and exercise spiritual leadership over a congregation of farmers and working-class families. One was unlikely to be killed in the line of duty if one chose this path, but early death from boredom was a distinct possibility.
The third alternative offered the greatest promise: marriage to a woman of wealth such as the widow. Widowed only recently, she was so fresh from the deathbed of her elderly husband that up to now she had drawn little attention from the hordes of wife-hunting second sons. But it was only a matter of time before she was spotted and overwhelmed with both suitors and offers.
The final alternative was to go abroad and make one's fortune in the colonies.
Wide-ranging and immense, the British colonial empire in 1805 included the subcontinent of India, Canada, Australia, to say nothing of its beachheads in Africa, Malaysia, and its possessions in the West Indies. At one time a quarter of the surface of the earth and the people living there were under the control of Great Britain. The manpower required to administer these far-flung holdings to a large part was provided by second sons such as Hartley Fudges.
Hartley's father was not unsympathetic to the plight of his second son. Himself a second son, the elder Fudges had at one point in his life been on the threshold of a similar dilemma when, through the mercy of God, his older brother, the first son, was struck dead by smallpox, which in those days killed four hundred thousand Europeans annually. Unfortunately, the first son had only recently gotten married and left behind a pregnant widow who spitefully gave birth to a son. This undeserving infant would have inherited it all, leaving the elder Fudges penniless, if God had not smote the pretender with a lethal dose of diphtheria. That was how the elder Fudges had escaped the fate of Hartley and become the first son and why he was outwardly such a pious man who always acknowledged the power and wisdom of God. It never occurred to him that with infant mortality hovering around 50 percent, what had happened to him was no more than the indifferent grinding of statistics and had nothing to do with the intervention of a homicidal deity.
Excerpted from The FAMILY MANSION by ANTHONY C. WINKLER. Copyright © 2013 by Anthony C. Winkler. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
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Posted July 8, 2013
In 19th century England, the aristocracy were compelled to follow primogeniture laws, where first born sons inherited all the family wealth and second or subsequent born sons were left to find other means to scrape out a living without family financial support. Despite this, these sons were still expected to uphold social morals and values. Many travelled to the colonies to start new lives.
In the novel, THE FAMILY MANSION, second born son, Hartley Fudges, is faced with the dilemma of how to support himself. The easiest way to gain wealth would be to seduce and then marry a young wealthy widow. When this fails, he attempts to murder his elder brother with disastrous results. His plot is discovered and his father exiles him to Jamaica. There, on a sugar plantation, Hartley must learn to manage not only the daily operations, but slaves and their forced labour. In this land of contrasts, slave vs master, black vs white, poor vs rich, Hartley seeks to adapt, hoping to find contentment and happiness.
As a native of Jamaica, the author is able to weave intricate historical and environmental details which lend authenticity to this satire. The novel is charming, filled with accurate facts, and gives precious insight into a way of life long abandoned. The characters are vividly portrayed, their actions cleverly touching upon the readers’ emotions because of their heart-wrenching predicaments and/or sometimes laugh-out-loud antics. It is written in an easy to read prose. Witty, humorous, and full of interesting predicaments, this is a wonderful human interest story.
Posted June 7, 2013
No text was provided for this review.