George Vyell

Another fascinating character is Sir Harry’s son, George Vyell, the sole heir to Carwithiel. He is introduced to the reader in Chapter VI ‘A Cock Fight’ as a handsome and relaxed gentleman’s son. Although he is quite willing to fight Taffy at the instigation of Squire Moyle, he does it without rancour and immediately afterwards forms a close friendship with his proposed opponent. The short following chapter is devoted to George, establishing him as an important secondary actor. The scene is the parsonage, where George, Honoria and Taffy meet for Latin lessons given by Mr. Raymond. Sir Harry is too lazy to give lessons himself, although he is more erudite than the vicar. Of the three pupils George is the least academic, being denigrated for his ‘uncommon slowness’. George’s real interests are boxing and fishing; thus Chapter X ‘A Happy Day’ shows him at his best, angling in the river and recounting a version of the Lyonesse myth. Yet he prefers the tales of Taffy, with their ‘hints and echoes’ of other stories. The chapter is a study of adolescent friendship between three quite distinct types. The emotion is light and fleeting, the occupations absorbing yet inconsequential. This chapter is one of the most attractive in the book. Its basis is realism, free from satire, moralising or the bizarre.

Voltaire does not appear to be an author with whom Q had more than a professional interest, yet there is a certain similarity between ‘A Happy Day’ and certain sections of Candide (1758): the exploration of spontaneous and uncorrupted characters against a backdrop of unspoilt nature. The youngsters are not sentimentalised as pure and virtuous, nor darkened by original sin, but explore their natural potentialities within a humanist paradigm. The threat from religious fanaticism and hedonism, or the destructive power of nature is always there, yet it is held at bay. Unlike Taffy George is untouched by religion. His temptation lies in the follies of his sophisticated father: follies he lacks his father’s intellect to navigate.

Sir Harry is all too aware of his son’s weaknesses. One evening Vyell arrives at Nannizabuloe church bemoaning his boy’s profligacy. Apparently George had refused Oxford, partly through limitations of intellect and partly through wildness. Frequently he fails to return home at night. Next we hear in Chapter XX that on the basis of present loneliness and past happiness Honoria is removing to Carwithiel to marry George. This relationship between the steady and devout Honoria and the wild and profligate George seems quite incongruous. But not so much as the sudden transformation of George from the Latin illiterate in Samuel Raymond’s study, to the continental tourist with French and Italian at his easy command. Honoria’s honeymoon letter to Taffy, irrespective of any over-writing on the part of the young wife, presents George as a suddenly mature and cultured husband. The later chapters where George is shown to be a liar with an illegitimate son, reconnects the reader with the earlier individual. As with Sir Harry, so with George, there is something noble in the tragedy.