Notre-Dame (Victor Hugo, 1831)

A band of gypsies appear in Paris in the fifteenth century. Among them is a very beautiful young girl, Esmeralda. Claude Frollo, archdeacon of Notre Dame Cathedral, falls madly in love with her, as does his adopted son Quasimodo, a hideously deformed hunchback abandoned as a child at the cathedral. When Esmeralda falls in love with Captain Phoebus, Frollo attempts to murder him. Esmeralda is captured and tortured into confessing to the crime. On the way to the gibbet, Quasimodo grabs Esmeralda and rushes her into Notre Dame — a place of sanctuary. Frollo attempts to force himself on her. When she rejects him, he condemns her as a witch and petitions Parlement to violate the sanctuary and carry her to the gallows.

The gypsies, numbering some six thousand, array themselves in military formation and attempt to storm the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. Quasimodo mistakes their intentions and thinks they’re coming to execute her. He prevents their gaining entrance until the King’s army arrives to crush the rebellion. Esmeralda is hanged. Quasimodo, realizing that this is Frollo’s doing, pushes the archdeacon from the tower and to his death. Quasimodo vanishes. He secretly joined Esmeralda’s body in the crypt, where he starved to death holding her.

Inscriptions: “R.C. Penney, 1912” on the front flyleaf.

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Joan of the Sword Hand (S.R. Crockett, 1898)

Joan, Duchess of Hohenstein, was arranged from birth to marry the Prince of Courtland. She secretly visits Courtland dressed as a man to inspect her fiance and finds him much to her liking, and Princess Margret thinks about as highly of “Count von Loen”, bitterly angering Muscovite Prince Wasp, who has claimed Margret as his own. On the wedding day, Joan discovers that the man she had taken for the prince was actually his younger brother. The actual Prince of Courtland is a sniveling old man, commonly called about town Louis the Craven for what the townsfolk see as selling out their Germanic freedoms for the autocratic protection of Russia. Joan flees back to Hohenstein and a Russian-backed battle ensues to capture her.

Their supplies running low, a conspiracy is hatched by the high ministers in Hohenstein. Joan is abducted and taken to a place of safety on the Baltic coast. Meanwhile, Maurice von Lynar, a Danish soldier in Joan’s army who bears a remarkable resemblance to her, puts on her dress and feigns capitulating to the invaders so that they’ll withdraw and Hohenstein can be reinforced. The false Joan is taken to Margret, who she takes for Count von Loen. They are married that day by the castle priest. Discovered, Maurice is sentenced to be torn apart by four wild horses.

Joan, trapped on Isle Rugen, finds that her hostess is Theresa von Lynar — Maurice’s mother. She also finds that Maurice is, in fact, her half-brother, her father having secretly married Theresa after his first wife’s death. At the same time, Conrad — the younger Courtland prince Joan thought she was betrothed to — shipwrecks on the island. He and Joan fall in love, though he is a priest and Joan is already married. “In name only”, Theresa says to both.

Word reaches them of what’s happened in Courtland. Joan, Theresa, Conrad, and the handful of guards they have hasten there. The people of Courtland, who find the spectacle playing out before them abhorrent and un-Christian, hail Conrad as a liberator and the true prince. The Courtland military turn and the Russians retreat from them and the well-armed mob. They rally and intend to invade Courtland with the whole of the Czar’s army and annex it into the empire. Courtland holds off the invasion as long as they can, waiting for reinforcement from Plassenburg. Theresa buys them much-needed time by suicide bombing the Russian encampment, killing both Prince Wasp and Louis.

In the end, the Russians are repelled. Conrad, released from his vows as the new reigning prince of Courtland, marries the widowed Joan. On Princess Joan’s abdication as duchess, Maurice and Margret becoming the new duke and duchess of Hohenstein.

No inscriptions.

Captain Blood (Rafael Sabatini, 1922)

Peter Blood, Irish surgeon, has the misfortune of being caught rendering aid to a man on the wrong side of the Monmouth Rebellion. He had no care at all for the man’s politics and saw only that he was hurt. For this, Blood is condemned to slavery in Barbados. Spanish privateers sack the port city, and in the confusion, he and a group of other slaves steal the Spanish ship and escape, beginning their own lives of gentlemanly piracy. After the Glorious Revolution and the deposition of James II, Blood is once more a free man. More than that, after the valor he shows in his defeat of the French fleet threatening Jamaica, he’s made the governor of that island.

Inscription: a small strip of paper is pasted to the front flyleaf, on which has been typewritten “Harold T. Dunlap”.

Saracinesca (F. Marion Crawford, 1887)

Don Giovanni Saracinesca’s father, Prince Saracinesca, wants him to marry Donna Tullia, a widow who’s rich, beautiful, and popular, if more than a little vulgar. Giovanni, however, is in love with Duchess Corona d’Astrardente. Problem there is that she’s no widow, but the Duke is very old and in declining health. He can’t live a great deal longer, and he doesn’t. After a year of morning, the engagement between Giovanni and Corona is announced. Tullia, incensed at this blow to her vanity, wants to ruin the match. Ugo del Ferice, madly in love with Tullia, offers to give her proof that Giovanni Saracinesca is already married if she will marry him. His documents prove genuine: Giovanni Saracinesca is already married… Giovanni Saracinesca the innkeeper in Aquila, not Giovanni Saracinesca the prince in Rome. A warrant is issued for Del Ferice’s arrest, but Giovanni, at his new wife’s insistence, helps the fugitive flee across the border to safety.

No inscriptions.

By Order of the King (Victor Hugo, 1869)

Gwynplaine is abandoned as a child on the coast of England, left to die in a raging snow storm. However, Gwynplaine not only preservers, he rescues another waif, Dea, a baby who he found still clinging to her mother’s dead and frozen breast. They’re taken in by Ursus, a traveling carnival worker. The children are not unsuited to the carnival side-show: Dea is blind and Gwynplaine has been facially mutilated to give him a perpetual rictus grin.

Fifteen years later, the police arrive at the door and lead Gwynplaine away. Ursus follows and watches as Gwynplaine disappears into the prison. He knows that for those of their class, the only exit from those doors is death. But Gwynplaine isn’t being lead to execution.

In former times, the royal courts of Europe were served by dwarfs, but as that novelty wore off, they called for ever more exotic human curiosities. This demand lead to the formation of the Comprachicos, a band who purchased and surgically transformed children into wonderful and terrible monstrosities. But the age of the court jester is now only a dim memory. Hardquanonne was the last surgeon alive who knew how to create the masca ridens — the Laughing Man.

The ship that abandoned Gwynplaine that winter night was not long afterward caught in a storm. Before sinking, its passengers  made a confession of their crimes and entrusted it to the sea in a bottle. After fifteen years, that bottle has washed ashore. Gwynplaine has been brought to prison to be identified by Hardquanonne, who has been tortured almost to death to extract his part of the conspiracy. After the end of the Civil War and the restoration of monarchy, some aristocrats continued to espouse Cromwellian views. Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie was among them. In exile, not long before his death, he had a son. By order of the king, James II, the child was sold to the last of the Comprachicos and the knowledge of his existence was suppressed. The doomed ship carried those Comprachicos and Gwynplaine is that child.

(By Order of the King, incidentally, is the book’s more usual title in English translation. The original French title L’Homme qui rit might be directly rendered “The Man Who Laughs” and some English editions do use that title, but my copy does not.)

Gwynplaine — or Lord Clancharlie, Baron of Clancharlie and Hunkerville, and Marquis of Corleone — is restored to the peerage. At the House of Lords, a vote is being held over whether to expand Prince George’s already enormous allowance by another ¬£100,000, which all are in favor of. All but Gwynplaine. He delivers an impromptu speech that jumps from topic to topic and with a point that is somewhat confused, owing to it being unprepared, but in short, he accuses his fellow lords of being blind: blind to the sufferings of the poor that this tax will only increase, and blind to the judgment that they will soon face. His harangue is met with laughter and jeers.

That night, Gwynplaine returns home, but Ursus and Dea are gone — exiled from England, believing him dead. Their ship was delayed, however, and they’re still in the harbor. Gwynplaine finds them on board. Ursus appears to have been driven insane from grief. Dea, who was left not only blinded by the snow storm but with a weak heart, hovers near death. At the so unexpected sight of Gwynplaine, her heart gives out. Gwynplaine steps off the side of the ship and disappears into the inky water.

Inscriptions: a plate pasted on the inside front cover reads “Private library of Louie A. Babbitt, Northville, Mich., No. L-3”. On the flyleaf is written “Lou and Flora, from Grandma, 1889”.

Calderon, the Courtier (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1850)

In 17th century Spain, Don Rodrigo Calderon is the favorite courtier of the Infant — a profligate of unparalleled proportions. Calderon is attached to the House of Lerma. A young soldier from the same house, Martin Fonseca, appears in the capitol after several years in Portugal. He’s in love with an orphaned singer, Beatriz Coello, who in his absence entered a convent. He asks Calderon’s help in freeing her so that they may marry. Calderon, though hardly known for compassion, agrees. The Infant, however, also has his eye on the girl. Beatriz is whisked away to the arranged hiding place, but Fonseca isn’t there to meet her — he’s been arrested on trumped up charges. Calderon is to hold her until the Infant arrives, but when he sees her, he realizes she’s his long-lost daughter.

Meanwhile, a conspiracy is at play in the court. With the Grand Inquisitor ‘s death, Calderon’s rivals plan to oust the courtier by installing an Inquisitor sympathetic to their cause. Fonseca is freed and rushes to the house, where Calderon has just fought off the Infant and is attempting to escape with Beatriz, but Fonseca — having been filled with the most damning reports of Calderon — thinks something quite different is happening and pulls his sword on the courtier. Beatriz jumps in front of her father and Fonseca accidentally kills her. Calderon is arrested by the Inquisitor and is tortured and put to death.

Inscriptions: a plate on the inside front cover says it was donated by John Manch to the Manch College of Music, November 23rd, 1926.

In Defiance of the King (Chauncey C. Hotchkiss, 1895)

An historical romance set during the American Revolution. Anthony is a young doctor in Connecticut. He falls in love with Dorothy, who’s the ward of his neighbor Squire Beauchamp. Anthony and his family are patriots while Beauchamp is a loyalist and secretly conspires to deliver Dorothy into the hands of Captain Bromfield of the British army. The fight for Anthony is not only for independence but for his beloved.

The narrative, which is told from Anthony’s perspective, exists on the periphery of history. He interacts and times with real personages and learns second or third hand of greater victories and setbacks, but the world he lives in is fairly small and the war, until the climax, is far away. The only engagement Anthony takes a direct, combatant part in is the Battle of Groton Heights — the last major battle on New England soil.

Inscription: signed Alton G. Johnston on the front flyleaf. I also found two short white hairs caught up between the pages that were likely his. Alton lived in Limerick, Maine. The Maine Register for 1908 reports that he was secretary to the Board of Health.