The Pleasure Pilgrims by Ella D’Arcy

The Pleasure Pilgrims can be seen as a love story, a murder tale or a sort of Christmas Story (though it’s not set at Christmas). But most of it all it is a story that lays bare the differences between British and Americans. They speak the same language, but they mean different things and seem incapable of understanding what the other really means.

We’ve done another of Ella D’Arcy’s stories on The Classic Ghost Stories Podcast: The Villa Lucienne. That too deals with the wealthy elite who skipped around Europe staying in grand houses. There is a ghost in that story, there is one in this too—ultimately.

Observations as we go along are that the hosts, the Ritterhausens, and Germans in general don’t make much of an appearance in The Pleasure Pilgrims. They add a little local colour. The setting of a grand old German castle near Hamelin with its pied piper is delightful set-dressing.

Ella D’Arcy really brings this out with the snowy train journey, the old bridge choked with ice floes, the German servant in the horse-drawn carriage in his second-best livery.

The main character, Campbell is a successful novelist. However, he is a bit of an innocent. He has some funny ideas about the purity of love and we wonder whether he has ever kissed a girl. D’Arch makes two remarks on the British character, one at the beginning when Campbell is forced to share the carriage with the two American girls. They only ride with him out of kindness to the German servant to stop the man making two trips. Campbell is, like most British people, shy, D’Arcy says.

Then at the end, when the deed is done, she refers to the ‘cold, complacent British unresponsiveness’. I don’t think this pairing at the beginning and the end is accidental. In fact, the whole story is a study of British versus American character, and the British don’t come out of it so well.

Campbell has his cynical second Maynes, who won’t believe a single good thing about Lulie and when Campbell himself starts to relent, Maynes is always there to convince him she’s putting it all on. Campbell comes over was a cold-hearted, vain, prig, and Maynes as simply a monster.

D’Arcy gives us a short passage where she explains that Maynes really did think Lulie was putting it on and that he wasn’t just an evil pig. At the end, she also explains that Lulie has led the loveless, homeless life of a poor little rich girl. Rich people are people too, you know in case you are ready to dismiss her suffering as not being as valuable as the suffering of a poor person.

Lulie also has her second, Nannie Dodge who appears to be complicit in Lulie’s shameless seduction. If we believe Maynes’s version of the story.

Throughout, Lulie’s ostentation and lack of reserve are emphasised, from her flamboyant and luxurious clothes to her persistent warmth and affection.

I was reminded of the case of the English nanny Louise Woodward. There is a great article here

Here and There | The New Yorker

Woodward was never seen to cry. In court she sat, hunched, deferential, submissive, lowered eyes and voice. This was seen apparently by American eyes as indicating her guilt. However, this deference and submission in an English court is exactly what would show her innocence. The writer makes the point that in America if you are telling the truth, you meet your questioners eyes, you throw your shoulders back, you have nothing to hide. The the British Woodward was appropriately modest and self-effacing as she should be in court being judged by a judge, who might well be a lord. In America, she was shifty and with her eyes down, must have something to hide.

Two nations divided by a common language. I remember going to the States for the first time and thinking how amazing it was we really did speak the same language. Small, homely words such as cuddle and nana are used by both side. But then after a week or two I thought Americans think very differently to us. In fact, the self-effacing politeness of the Japanese made me feel right at home.

I won’t easily forget the time, early on in my stay in Seattle as a resident alien, when I fell into a hole of transatlantic misunderstanding at the supermarket. “And how are you today?” said the checkout clerk. “Oh, terrible,” I said cheerfully. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “What’s wrong?” As I fumbled my way out of this, I saw her face curdling into an expression of contemptuous distaste. I had played idly on her good nature. I was a sarcastic, lying jerk. It’s no wonder that a certain brand of English accent has become a hallmark of deviousness in Hollywood. When the American audience with whom I saw “Reversal of Fortune” shuddered pleasurably at Jeremy Irons’ portrayal of Claus von Bulow, it was Irons’ slippery, uncandid Englishness that made him such a satisfactory villain.

You don’t say what you mean. Of course not. Even if you are miserable, you’re not supposed to show it. I remember my mother when my step father was dying.  But England (and I say England studiedly) is changing.

The first section is Campbell arriving at Schloss Altenau and we have the dressing of the carriage, the snow, the icy river, the medieval charm of Hamelin and hints at the history. This is all dressed. There are some oblique references to people (the baroness) who chop things up to put them together and those who chop things up and leave others to do the repairs. This must be a foreshadowing of Mayne, who is mentioned as having put an iron collar on Lulie and being reluctant to take it off again.

Campbell believes Nannie and Lulie are sisters. He believes that he is rather special at discovering Lulie’s beauty which to others (he reckons) will not be as obvious. It turns out that Lulie is truly stunning and this is a sign that Campbell is so out of touch with real feelings and taste despite him being this novelist who talks endlessly about real love when he doesn’t seem capable of recognising it when it slaps him in the face.

At one point, he is going on about the delicacies of love and how she has made herself the joke of the servants’s hall when she perspicaciously points out that it is not her love for him that is the joke, but his reception of her love for him. Bang on, sister.

Maine talks about Lulie being a new kind of adventuress, the pioneer of an army that will come out of the west and destroy the existing scheme of things. Of course at the time this was written the British Empire was nearing its peak and had not yet received its death blow in the First World War (though it was to linger on through into the 1960s). However, those who knew could sense the way the wind was blowing and see the growing power of the USA. One imagines that someone like Mayne would not be happy that his culture was about to be eclipsed. But this isn’t overt and there is nothing overtly anti-American about the story, just sniping here and there.

One can’t help but think that Mayne is making bullets for Campbell to fire in some private war or his own, whether as an ageing man bitter that he is no longer the subject of attention of beautiful young women, or an ageing Brit jealous at the rise of American power and money.

In the last scene she suggests she get her pistols. “We couldn’t hurt anything here, could we?”  I mean really! But Campbell seems almost won round by her until she talks of love again and he callously tells her to kill herself to prove her love for him. He only says this in a sulk after she’s proved herself a better shot. He taunts her to kill herself. And she does.

In fact his final speech on how polluted she should feel because she doesn’t match his silly ideas about what a young woman should be and feel and do is brutal and cruel and simply dreadful. He should be ashamed of himself for the rest of his life.

Campbell, is a prig, a cad, a poor shot and a fool too.

But Lulie has guns. I am not sure the British had such gun control in those days. I will need to look it up, but this might be another deliberately included detail as a commentary on the American love of guns.

It turns out the first British gun control was in 1824 as part of the Vagrancy Laws. We didn’t want tramps having guns it seems.

I think it is a nice touch that Ella D’Arcy finishes the tale with the competing views of Nannie Dodge versus Mayne and we actually don’t get a resolution to what really was going on. Me, I prefer to believe it was love. But then I’m an old softie.

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