Honoria Callastair

Honoria Callastair is one of the most interesting and attractive of Q’s characters. Her virtues and vices relate to the lives of the ordinary reader. There is more substance to her than Taffy, just as Ia outshines Paul Heathcote. It is unfortunate, therefore, that for sections of the novel she disappears from the scene, with her development left inadequately explored. Even so, neither Lizzie Pezzack nor Humility Raymond compare as characters. The dramatic importance of Honoria is shown through her early introduction into the novel, when she accompanies her grandfather to Bodmin. It is also revealed at the other end of the work where she dominates the closing chapter. Even though she is worsted by Humility Raymond before Taffy, she is the most substantial person on stage and the loss lies with Taffy.

Honoria was born in India following the elopement of Moyle’s only daughter, Susannah, with a penniless army officer. Having a Trevanion mother from the Roseland peninsula, she would have been a distant relation to Lord Byron. Following the demise of her parents she returns to Cornwall to be reared at Tredinnis. With the vagaries of her early life and the eccentricities of her grandfather, it is difficult to account for her sensitive and balanced temperament. Q’s tendency to accumulate extraneous detail does not always aid comprehension. If she had turned out like Lizzie Pezzack and Lizzie like Honoria, the reader would have been less mystified.

We first meet Honoria and her grandfather in the town square of Bodmin, although Taffy reports having seen them in church on the previous day. Honoria sports a Leghorn hat of Italian straw, the gift, no doubt, of a smuggler. The smuggler Harry Carter, from Q’s King O’Prussia, was at Leghorn over Christmas 1788. His spiritual condition at the time resembled Moyle’s in Chapter VIII. Echoing Uncle Issey in The Looe Die-hards, Carter and Moyle are ‘unconverted’ men. At Leghorn Carter finds no-one, including the Anglican cleric, able to provide ‘advice consarning my soul’. Moyle hopes to find such from Raymond at Bodmin and is sufficiently impressed to offer him the living. Honoria, innocent of the transactions within the ‘gate-house’, converses with Taffy. During the chapter, Honoria’s touching appearance and enigmatic character are contrasted with her grandfather’s antiquated dress and gruff indifference. While Moyle converses with Samuel Raymond, she is left in the square, dangling her feet from the cannon and verbally out-manouvering Taffy. As she and her grandfather leave Bodmin, Taffy is left with a sense of feminine ambiguity. This quality Q places at the centre of her personality, for it appears present in her relationships with Taffy, George Vyell and Moyle. Maybe Q himself could not finally make up his mind.

In Chapter VI we have a picture of Honoria at home after church, with her portfolio of sketches and surrounded by Italian watercolours. The apartment was originally the drawing-room of her Trevanion grandmother, and from that side of the family she has inherited a certain refinement and artistic sensibility. How it flowered in the fox-hunting, cock-fighting atmosphere of Tredinnis is left unexplained. Honoria is capable of contemplating a priceless statuette, a dead cock or a dismembered fox with the same ‘untroubled eyes’. The masculine outdoor pursuits of Taffy and George are indulged in with carefree innocence, drawing forth some of Q’s finest paragraphs. Yet in Chapter XIII she chides Taffy for not being a gentleman. As a scholar she has better application than George or Taffy, although failing to discern any purpose in education. At home she is beaten and neglected.

Little is revealed of Honoria’s growing maturity during her middle teens. It comes as a surprise, therefore, when after the death of Moyle she enters the Raymond’s parlour exhibiting all the traits of a lady. Her motives are mixed. She wishes to heal the rift between the parsonage and Tredinnis occasioned by her grandfather’s behaviour, in part by offering to subsidise Taffy’s university education. She is also touting in her finery for Taffy himself – to no avail, as Taffy remains indifferent. The result is her growing isolation at Tredinnis. As she is neither shy nor poor and in possession of numerous family connections, it is difficult to comprehend her disinterest in the social attractions of Truro, only a few miles to the south. This self-imposed isolation forces her into the arms of the profligate George Vyell.

Marriage to George, a match inappropriate for both participants, results in the European Tour, yachting at Falmouth and moderate happiness. Then George’s insinuation of Taffy as having fathered Lizzie Pezzack’s son causes Honoria to withdraw the educational maintenance. It is difficult to comprehend how she could have believed this of someone so sexually unawakened as Taffy. How could the uneducated and unwashed Lizzie have succeeded where she herself had failed? Yet the scenes where Honoria appears are vivid. This is particularly true following the death of George. The confrontation with Lizzie in Chapter XXVIII provides her with a nobility equalled only by Ia at the conclusion to Ia. It is equalled by no one else in The Ship of Stars. The closest are Samuel Raymond’s various confrontations, but he always carries an element of stiff aloofness. Honoria’s dignity is carried through into the final chapter of the novel. She still hopes to capture Taffy, only he is unable to respond, preferring instead the undemanding adoration of his mother. Q’s assertion of Honoria as having become the dreamer and Taffy the practical man of affairs rings unconvincingly, while Honoria’s final hysterical outburst is the demeaning of a fine character so as to protect the image of Taffy. In truth, Taffy is no more than an elevated Paul Heathcote. Marriage to Honoria would have disposed of the element of prissiness in his personality, thus making him a more rounded individual. Q’s failure to confront a mature romantic relationship is as inexplicable as it is regrettable, especially as he had been himself married for a number of years.