A Review: The Martian by George Du Maurier

May 5, 2009

A Review:

The Novels Of George Du Maurier

Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, The Martian

Part III

The Martian

Review by R.E. Prindle

There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see

I hope that she turns out to be

Someone who’ll watch over me.

-Ella Fitzgerald

Contents:

Part I:  Introduction

Part II:  Review of Trilby

Part III:  Review Of The Martian

Part IV:  Review of Peter Ibbetson

      If Trilby was a premontion of his death, in the Martian Du Maurier puts his intellecual affairs in order for his long journey into the night.  In the novel he even advises us that he has convinced himself that there is life after death.  On the completion of  The Martian Du Maurier died of a heart attack.  The novel appeared posthumously.

     I have read that Trilby was meant as a neo-Gothic novel as the Gothic was enjoying a revival at the time.  If Trilby was neo-Gothic then The Martian is associated with the Spiritualist revival of the moment.  Du Maurier even does a mini dissertation on table turning and rapping, two prominent manifestations of Spiritualism.

   At the same time a Martian craze was in progress.  ERBzine a while back ran a list of early Martian novels so the topic was under discussion.  H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds was published at about the same time as The Martian so Burroughs in 1911 was in the genre, possibly he had been thinking of a Martian novel for a few years.  At least it was the first notion that popped into his head.  With Du Maurier then we have an interplanatary spiritualistic love story for love story it is.  A spectucular one.

     The notion is that a female Martian was expelled from Mars coming to Earth in a meteor shower a hundred years previously.  Must have landed at Wold Newton.  During that time she had inhabited thousands of bodies in search of the ideal situation.  She settled on Barty Josselin’s family who were especially attractive and English.  She inhabited Barty from an early age.  When inhabited Barty had an unerring ability to tell the North.  No matter how many times he was spun around or disoriented he could always point to due North.  Later in the novel we learn that because of peculiar magnetic influences stronger on Mars than on Earth Martia the Martian was oriented to the North.  Thus when she was inhabiting Barty he could unerringly feel due North, if she left him for a while he lost the ability.  For most of the book we have no idea how he could feel North but it is explained at last.  Very clever explanation too.

     Martia falls in love with Barty, planning his life for him as he is to be a great success.   I’m looking for that kind of angel.  But that’s in the second half of the novel while Du Maurier has to get us from here to there.  In each of the novels he has long preambles covering half the book in which he carefully builds up character.  Everything then falls neatly into place.

     Now, as I said in the introduction, the novel is ostensibly a biography of Barty as told by his friend Robert Maurice, illustrated by the real life Du Maurier at Maruice’s request and also edited by him.  This gives Du Maurier triple distance as a writer allowing him I should think to say things it might have been difficult to say otherwise.  Even then the distance is frequently breached and one has the feeling that Du Maurier is actually Barty, Bob and himself.  Talk about table turnings and rappings.  Burroughs come close to this feel and complexity in The Eternal Lover.  In that novel he also gives himself a role as well as his character Tarzan.  Quite similar to the Martian.

     The spate of novels Burroughs produced from 1911 to the first quarter of 1914 must all have been in his mind in embryo before he wrote A Princess Of Mars hence all his readings from childhood to early manhood are reflected.  It was only when he switched from talented amateur to professional writer in mid-1914 that he had to search for his plots and stories thus taking in more current literary sources as well.

     Whereas in Trilby Du Maurier concentrated on the decade from 1860 to 1870 plus a year or two in this novel he lovingly recreates his school years in Paris during the 1840s before taking Barty up through the years until his death.  As a projection of himself Barty is an idealized Du Maurier who does many things Du Maurier did and didn’t.

     Barty is 6’4″ and impossibly handsome and winning neither of which would describe Du Maurier.  Barty has a wonderful singing voice but too thin for grand opera although he tries as did Du Maurier.  Barty had the perfect voice for intimate occasions in which he was invariably successful.  Du Maurier also was fond of the musical occasion and, perhaps, in this current age of electronic amplification both could have been successful recording stars a la Gordon Lightfoot or Jesse Colin Young.

     Like Du Maurier Barty, while not a great artist,  enjoys some success an an illustrator before becoming a wildly successful author.  Mostly he knocks around from hand to mouth living off his looks and manners.  Women just love him.

     As with Du Maurier Barty develops a detached retina in his left eye leaving him blind in that eye.  Much discussion of eyes and doctors.  Always entertainingly done.  Thus in search of a good doctor Barty is directed to a Dr. Hasenclever in Dusseldorf which finally congeals the story and get it moving toward its end.

     Re-enter Martia, or actually enter Martia.  She just shows up out of the blue.  Here we get real Spiritualistic.  Barty had begun to despair about his eyes.  He despaired to the point of organizing his suicide which he would have done if Martia hadn’t intervened.  She puts Barty to sleep.  When he wakes his poison is gone, quite disappeared, and in its place a long letter from Martia explaining the situation in his own hand.  Spooky what?

     In the letter Martia advises him that he is not to think of suicide as she has big plans for him and he is destined to move mountains.  Apparently an oculist of some note she gives him expert medical advice then directing him to Dusseldorf and Dr. Hasenclever.  Being rather promiscuous in inhabiting bodies she may have passed a one nighter in Hasenclever.  I’m only speculating.

      It seems that all of England is having optical problems all converging on Dusseldorf and the fabled Dr. Hasenclever at one time.  Thus Barty is brought together with his destined wife, Leah.

     Barty and Bob Maurice were both attracted to Leah when she was fourteen.  Attractive as a young girl she has developed into the premier beauty of the world.  She has rejected all suitors including the narrator, Bob, who lives his life as a bachelor as a result.  Leah has had her eye on Barty all along.

     At this point it might be best to give Martia’s history.  Du Maurier’s account is interesting so at the risk of offending I’ll give a very lengthy quotation of seven pages.  As few readers of this review will read The Martian I don’t think it will hurt.

     That Barty’s version of his relations with “The Martian” is absolutely sincere is impossible to doubt.  He was quite unconscious of the genesis of every book he ever wrote.  His first hint of every one of them was the elaborately worked out suggestion he found by his bedside in the morning- written by himself in his sleep during the preceding night, with his eyes wide open, while more often than not his wife anxiously watched him at his unconscious work, careful not to wake or disturb him in any way.

     Roughly epitomized Martia’s story was this:

     For an immense time she had gone through countless incarnations, from the lowest form to the highest, in the cold and dreary planet we call Mars, the outermost of the four inhabited worlds of our system, where the sun seems no bigger than an orange, and which but for its moist, thin, rich atmosphere and peculiar magnetic conditions that differ from ours, would be too cold above ground for human or animal or vegetable life.  As it is, it is only inhabited now in the neighborhood of tis equator’ and even there during its long winter it is colder and more desolate than Cape Horn or Spitzbergen- except that the shallow, fresh-water sea does not freeze except for a few months at either pole.

     All these incarnations were forgotten by her but the last; nothing remained of them all but a vague consciusness that they had once been, until their culmination in what would be in Mars the equivalent of a woman on our earth.

     Man in Mars is, it appears, a very different being from what he is here.  he is amphibious and descends from no monkey, but from a small animal that seems to be something between our seal and our sea-lion.

     According to Martia, his beauty is to that of the seal as that of Theseus or Antinous to that of an orang-outang.  His five senses are extraordinarily acute, even the sense of touch in his webbed fingers and toes; and in addition to these he possesses a sixth, that comes from his keen and unintermittent sense of the magnetic current, which is far stronger in Mars than on the earth, and far more complicated and more thoroughly understood.

     When any object is too delicate and minute to be examined by the sense of touch and sight, the Martian shuts he eyes and puts it against the pit of his stomach, and knows all about it, even its inside.

     In the absolute dark, or with his eyes shut, and when he stops his ears, he is more intensely conscious of what immediately surrounds him than at any other time, except that all colour-perception ceases;  conscious not only of material objects, but of what is passing in his fellow-Martian’s mind- and this for an area of many hundreds of cubic yards.

     In the course of its evolution this extraordinary faculty- which exists on earth in a rudimentary state, but only among some birds and fish and insects and in the lower forms of animal life- has developed the Martian mind in a direction very different from ours, since no inner life apart from the rest, no privacy, no concealment is possible except at a distance involving absolute isolation; not even thought is free; yet in some incomprehensible way there is, as a matter of fact, a really greater freedom of thought than is conceivable among ourselves; absolute liberty in absolute obedience to law; a paradox beyond our comprehension.

     Their habits are simple as those we attribute to cave-dwellers during the prehistoric periods of the earth’s existence.  But their moral sense is so far in advance of ours that we haven’t even a terminology by which to express it.

     In comparison, the highest and best of us are monsters of iniquity and egoism, cruelty and corruption; and our planet is (a very heaven for warmth and brilliancy and beauty, in spite of earthquakes and cyclones and tornadoes) a very hell through the creatures that people it- a shambles, a place of torture, a grotesque and impure pandemonium.

     These exemplary Martians wear no clothes but the exquisite fur with which nature has endowed them, and which constitutes a part of their immense beauty, according to Martia.

     They feed exclusively on edible moss and roots and submarine seaweed, which they know how to grow and prepare and preserve.  Except for heavy-winged bat-like birds, and big fish, which they have domesticated and use for their own purposes in an incredible manner (incarnating a portion of themselves and their consciousness at will in their bodies), they have cleared Mars of all useless and harmful and mutually destructive forms of animal life.  A sorry fauna, the Martian- even at its best- and a flora beneath contempt, compared to ours.

     They are great engineers and excavators, great irrigators, great workers in delicate metal, stone, marble, and precious gems (there is no wood to speak of), great sculptors and decorators of the beautiful caves, so fancifully and so intricately connected, in which they live, and which have taken thousands of years to design and excavate and ventilate and adorn, and which they warm and light up at will in a beautiful manner by means of the tremendous magnetic current.

     This richly party-colored light is part of their mental and moral life in a way it is not in us to apprehend, and has its exact equivalent in sound- and vice versa.

     They have no language of words, and do not need it, since they can only be isolated in thought from each other at a distance greater than that which any vocal sound can traverse; but their organs of voice and hearing are far more complex and perfect than ours, and their atmosphere infinitely more conductive of phonal vibrations.

     It seems that everything which can be apprehended by the eye or hand is capable of absolute sonorous  translation; light, colour, texture, shape in its three dimensions, weight and density.  The phonal expression and comprehension of all these are acquired by the Martian baby almost as soon as it knows how to swim or dive, or move upright and erect on dry land or beneath it; and the mechanical translation of such expression, by means of wind and wire and sounding texture and curved surface of extraordinary elaboration, is the principal business of Martian life- an art by which all the combined past experience and future aspirations of the race receive the fullest utterance.  Here again personal magnetism plays an enormous part.

     And it is by means of this long and patiently evolved and highly trained faculty that the race is still developing towards perfection with constant strain and effort- although the planet is far advanced in its decadence, and within measurable distance of its unfitness for life of any kind.

     All is so evenly and harmoniously balanced, whether above ground or beneath, that existence is full of joy in spite of the tremendous strain of life, in spite also of a dreariness of outlook on barren nature, which is not to be matched by the most inhospitable regions of the earth; and death is looked upon as the crowning  joy of all, although life is prolonged by all means in their power.

     For when the life of the body ceases, and the body itself is burned and its ashes scattered to the winds and waves, the infinitesimal, imponderable and indestructible something we call the soul is known to lose itself in a sunbeam and make for the sun, with all its memories about it, that it may then receive further development, fitting it for other systems altogether beyond conception; and the longer it has lived in Mars the better for its eternal life in the future.

     But it often, on its journey sunwards, gets tangled in other beams, and finds its way to some intermediate planet- Mercury, Venus, or the Earth; and putting on flesh and blood and bone once more, and losing for a space all its knowledge of its own past, it has to undergo another mortal incarnation- a new personal experience, beginning with its new birth; a dream and a forgetting, till it awakens again after the pangs of dissolution, and finds itself a step further on the way to freedom.

     Martia, it seems, came to our earth in a shower of shooting-stars a hundred years ago.  She had not lived her full measure of years on Mars; she had elected to be suppressed, through some unfitness, physical or mental or moral, which rendered it expedient that she should become a mother of Martians, for they are very particular about that sort of thing in Mars; we shall have to be so here some day, or else we shall degenerate and become extinct; or even worse!

     Many Martian souls come to our planet in this way, it seems, and hasten to incarnate themselves in as promising unborn but just begotten men and women as they find, that they may the sooner be free to hie them sunwards, with all their collected memories.

     According to Martia, most of the best and finest of our race have souls that have lived forgotten lives in Mars.  But Martia was in no hurry; she was full of intelligent curiosity, and for ten years she went up and down the earth, revelling in the open air, lodging herself in the brains and bodies of birds, beasts, and fishes, insects, and animals of all kinds- like a hermit crab in a shell that belongs to another- but without the slightest inconvience to the legitimate owners, who were always quite unconscious of her presence, although she made what use she could of what wits they had.

     Thus she had a heavenly time on this sunlit earth of ours- now a worm, now a porpoise, now a sea-gull or a dragon-fly, now some fleet footed, keen-eyed quadruped that did not live by slaying, for she had a horror of bloodshed.

     She could only go where these creatures chose to take her, since she had no power to control their actions in the slightest degree; but she saw, heard, smelled and touched and tasted with their organs of sense, and was as conscious of their animal life as they were themselves.  Her description of this phase of her earthly career is full of extraordinary interest, and sometimes extremely funny- though quite unconsciously so, no doubt.  For instance, she tells how happy she once was when she inhabited a small brown Pomeranian dog called “Schanpfel,” in Cologne, and belonging to a Jewish family who dealt in old clothes near the Cathedral; and how she loved and looked up to them- how she revelled in fried fish and the smell of it- and in all the stinks in every street of the famous city- all except one, that arose from Herr Johann Maria Farina’s renowned emporium in the Julichs Platz, which so offended the canine nostrils that she had to give up inhabiting that small Pomeranian dog for ever, &c.

     Then she took to man, and inhabited man and woman, and especially child, in all parts of the globe for many years; and finally, for the last fifty or sixty years or so, she settled herself exclusively among the best and healthiest English she could find.

     One can find many threads leading to current science fiction ideas as developed through the intervening years.  Mental telepathy is a virtual human fixation.  Having once given up the notion of God, man turned to the idea of visitations from outer space to replace that religious impulse.  Thus Martia from Mars.  There were many notions there to enter Burroughs mind and set him thinking.

     Du Maurier enters a thought on Eugenics which was dear to his heart.  He always  has beautiful and intelligent marrying the same so that the genes (although genes were not yet known) would be transmitted to the offspring.

     He also has the soul making for the sun with all its memories intact.  Memories are very important to Du Maurier who records impressions of sight, sounds and smells as when Martia inhabited the little dog.

     Martia wanted Barty to marry a Julia Royce who was the second most beautiful woman in the world after Leah and one of the richest but Barty defied Martia preferring his long time love Leah Gibson who had shown up in Dusselforf with her mother, friends and rest of England.

     Martia leaves Barty in a huff.  He and Leah return to England Martialess where he leads a determined life as an illustrator along the lines of that of Du Maurier   Martia finally takes pity on him returning to be his collaborator and muse as the pair launch a spectacular literary career, I suppose not unlike that of Du Maurier.  If Martia has a sister send her my way.  I’m paying attention to those meteor showers now.

     Martia advises him to keep his pad and pencil bedside so that when she inhabits him he will be able to write.  So Barty writes two hours a night, setting up outlines and plans which he elaborates during the day.  I would like such a muse to watch over me as I imagine every writer would.  Barty’s books astonish the world changing the course of history.  His masterwork is called Sardonyx.

     Eventually Martia tires of this, wishing to be incarnated and get on with her journey from Mars to the Sun with Barty in tow.

     That Du Maurier has his own death in mind and The Martian is a book about death, we have this quote:

     He (Barty) has robbed Death of nearly all its terrors; even for the young it is no longer the grisly phantom it once was for ourselves, but rather of an aspect mellow and benign; for to the most skeptical he (and only he)  has restored that absolute conviction of an indestructible germ of Immortality within us, born of remembrance made perfect and complete after dissolution; he alone has built the golden bridge in the middle of which science and faith can shake hands over at least one common possibilty- nay, one common certainty for  those who have read him aright.   (That might possibly be you and me, I think he means.)

     There is no longer despair in bereavement- all bereavement is but a half parting; there is no real parting except for those who survive, and the longest earthly life is but a span.  Whatever future may be, the past will be ours forever, and that means our punishment and our reward and reunion with those we loved.  It is a happy phrase, that which closes the career of Sardonyx.  It has become as universal as the Lord’s Prayer!

     One guesses that science had destroyed any hope of immortality for the educated person.  Of all human desires the hope of immortality is the strongest hence the fear of losing it is the strongest fear.  Thus Barty (and Martia) came up with a scientifically tenable hope of escaping death that satisfied the religious need.  It’s a pity that Du Maurier didn’t quote Barty in extenso so that we might learn what the solution was.

     Having solved that problem from there we go to Martia’s announcement to Barty that she is going to be his next child.  Martia is born to die an early death as she is anxious to complete the journey to the center of the sun.  Given the content of Peter Ibbetson and Trilby one begins to question Du Maurier’s own sanity.  These books are really convincingly written; one wonders how wobbly the guy really was.  Either he was a master writer or he really half believed this stuff.

     Martia writes a letter to Barty explaining her intentions to be reincarnated.  This is all actually written by Barty in his own handwriting which his wife and intimates, like Bob Maurice, his biographer, know.  they have doubts about Barty’s sanity but when a guy is churning out books after book changing the world for the better what is one to say?

     “MY BELOVED BARTY,- The time has come at last when I must bid you farewell.

      “I have outstayed my proper welcome on earth, as a disembodied conscience by just a hundred years, and my desire for reincarnatin has become an imperious passion not to be resisted.

     “It is more than a desire- it is a duty as well, a duty far too long deferred.

     “Barty, I am going to be your next child.  I can conceive no greater earthly felicity than to be a child of yours and Leah’s.  I should have been one long before, but that you and I have had so much to do together for this beautiful earth- a great debt to pay; you, for being as you are; I , for having known you.

     “Barty, you have no conception what you are to me, and always have been.

     “I am to you but a name, a vague idea, a mysterious inspiration; sometimes a questionable guide, I fear.  You don’t even believe all I have told you about myself- you think it all a somnambulistic invention of your own; and so does your wife, and so does your friend.

     “Oh that I could connect myself in your mind with the shape I wore when I was last a living thing! No shape on earth, not either yours or Leah’s or that of any child yet born to you both, is more beautiful to the eye that has learned how to see than the fashion of the lost face and body of mine.

     Etc.

I don’t know what any readers I may have think of these quotes but these three novels are either the work of a genius or a nut cake.  I read with one eyebrow raised in a state of astonishment.  Du Maurier is daring.  Perhaps it is just as well he died as he finished this, what wonders  what he would come up with next.

Martia is born a girl.  She is named Marty.  Singularly delicate as a spindle.  As a young girl Martia falls from a tree injuring her spine.  The result is physical degeneration.  Within a few years she is dead.  As she died Barty died with her.

This poses an interesting reflection.  Father and daughter are united in death then married in the after life.  I suppose there is many a father and daughter so close that they would like to marry but society and time prevent such unions.  Indeed, such marriages could but go sour amid the stresses of life.  Nevertheless in a shocking development Barty has not only solved the problem of immoratality but marriage between daughters and fathers.  Threw me for a loop when I realized what had happened.

One supposes the pair reached the sun turning into sunbeams that have lighted the Earth continuing on toward Betelguese.

The closing line is:  Barty Josselin is no more.

Prophetic of George Du Maurier’s own death shortly.

Thus Du Maurier closed out a singularly influential life.  It was perhaps just as well that he died when he did.  He was only sixty-two but in another ten or fifteen years the world he knew, loved and reprsented would be swept away forever.  He would have had no place in the new order.  As with all of us the past retains a hold while the swift moving earth slips from beneath our feet.

It is amusing to think Du Maurier was reincarnated in the career of Edgar Rice Burroughs who penned his own A Princess Of Mars in 1911.  One can’t say for sure that Martia and Dejah Thoris are related but I rather think that Du Maurier’s The Martian is a literary antecendent that formed part of ERB’s vision of Mars.

Like Du Maurier he was able to incorporate a multitude of literary worlds within his own.

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