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Project: Project Gutenberg: Guy Livingstone

December 22, 2009

[Project:  Project Gutenberg–where I’m reading and reviewing public-domain fiction from Project Gutenberg from A to Z]

The countdown to winter holidays has commenced–Wednesday is my last day at work till the New Year!  I’ve got a sweater cast on and ready to go–Interweave Knits’ Nora’s Sweater–and plenty of audiobooks at my command.  The Christmas Eve festivities are planned, and then the long week of lounging.  But I haven’t forgotten my commitment to the trashy novels of the past!

Guy Livingstone, by George A. Lawrence (1868), is basically the mid-nineteenth century Less Than Zero.  Our hero, Guy Livingstone, is a hard-drinking, hard-riding, hard-fighting fellow who falls in love with a very good girl, is tempted by a very bad girl, and ends up losing everything.  His story is narrated by a chronically-ill (possibly tubercular)  hero-worshipping schoolfellow–a bit as if Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were told by Cameron.   (While composing this, I said to the family, “You know what movie I hate?”  And from every room in the house, they chorused, “Ferris Bueller?”  I do.  I hate that movie.  I hate the ethos of it, the sexism, the exalting of assholery.  I hate the eponymous self-satisfied little sociopath.  And I hate the memory of the hundreds of freshman composition review essays about it on which I was forced to comment in the 1980s.  (But not as much as Red Dawn, I must admit.))

There’s an unconscionable amount of Greek in Guy Livingstone–perhaps because it commences as a boarding school novel, not unlike Tom Brown’s Schooldays.  Unlike that highly-moral volume, however, in GL we are treated to an intimate view of Victorian dissipation, as practiced in public school, University, and the Guards.  Guy boxes, hunts, smokes, drinks, and womanizes unrelentingly.  There are some gestures in the direction of a plot, mainly concerning the battle between the wicked woman with whom he amuses himself and the good woman to whom he is engaged.  The good girl loses, of course, and dies an agonizing death, taking with her Guy’s guilt and remorse.  Later there’s a stalker who murders someone, but by then I’d pretty much lost interest in the whole affair, and was just waiting for Guy to get religion and die.  But he didn’t!  Well, a horse fell on him, and then he died, but he never did convert.

Like Less Than Zero, this novel was hailed as a work of extraordinary topicality and keenly-observed reportage when it was published, and also like Less Than Zero, it’s pretty much unreadable now.  Still, for the lover of Victoriana, it’s probably worth skimming.  And it’s certainly worn better than the works of Bret Easton Ellis.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mrparallel permalink
    December 24, 2009 10:08 pm

    Is there an autobiographical conceit at work in the shared initials of author and protagonist?

    I also haaaaaaate Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s charmless and boring and stupid and I cannot fathom its popularity. There are lots of crap movies whose popularity I *can* understand, but FBDO is like watching an unpleasant color of paint refuse to dry.

  2. melyndahuskey permalink*
    December 25, 2009 8:13 pm

    Good call on the Mary Sue–I’m sure you’re right.

    A contemporary reviewer who enjoyed the novel without endorsing it wrote, “If we are to have theology, let a man give his whole heart and soul to it. If we are to have a rattling novel about dogs, horses, boxing, gambling, and Byronic ferocity, perhaps it might be as well to leave Christianity alone. Merely to bow to it in passing, is a sort of insolence.”

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