Well Pleased With His Appearance

Steamboat Gothic opens with a description of the protagonist, Clyde Batchelor, four paragraphs long, but it is woven into the beginnings of the story so it isn't cumbersome, IMO.  Oddly enough, despite the number of times I've read this novel, and despite my affinity for this character, I don't know what he looks like. At least, I don't know what his face looks like. It is never described.

Keyes pretty much describes everything else about him, though, and the reader -- at least, this one -- sees his face peripherally. It's like the Pleiades -- when you looked at the sky or stars beside them, they shine brightly and you can see them in your extremely near peripheral vision. But look right at them, they dim and fade to near nothing.

And so it is with Clyde Batchelor's face. I've attempted to find a stock photo model, or even a fashion model or actor, who looks like him, but so far, no luck.

I've also attempted to find pictures of the type of clothing that's described in these paragraphs, but the only "congress boots" has come up on Google searches.  If you know anything about post-bellum men's fashion, please weigh in. And if you can link to pictures, so much the better.

The first four paragraphs of Steamboat Gothic:

The day was warm for March, and the stranger, who had been walking for nearly half an hour along the river road, took a fine embroidered handkerchief from the tail pocket of his burgundy-colored frock coat and mopped his face with it. Then he flicked the handkerchief lightly over his tight-fitting mouse-gray trousers and his shining congress boots. He had no mind to reach his destination dripping with sweat or powdered with dust.

He had been reasonably well pleased with his appearance when he had surveyed this, before starting out, in the blurred mirror of his room at the dirty little hostelry with the pretentious name of Grand Hotel Pierre Chanet. To be sure, he had fiddled for some moments with the long bow of his black silk tie before it suited him; but there had been no doubt whatever that the plain gold studs gave the finishing touch of refinement to the starched shirt bosom which the large -- and undeniably flawed -- diamonds, worn for so long, had failed to impart. Lucy had never made any comment on those flawed diamonds, or on the still larger -- and still more imperfect -- one which had formerly adorned the third finger of his left hand. But he had caught her glancing at them several times, and he had noticed the change in her expression when he substituted the gold studs and heavy gold ring whose seal duplicated the one on the charm which dangled from the chain spanning the figured waistcoat.

Well, it had taken him time to learn how to dress like a gentleman, but by slow degrees he had done it; and he could be thankful -- and was -- that he possessed the natural attributes of a fine person to set of his good clothes. If his stomach had not still been as flat as a sixteen-year-old boy's, he could have ill afforded to call attention to it by that gold chain.  The mouse-gray trousers could be worn to good advantage only if they fitted closely over narrow hips and the burgundy broadcloth would have lost its effect if it had not been cut to fit wide shoulders. In addition to the advantages which his figure gave him, his fresh color belied the belief that a man must live an active outdoor life in order to have an appearance of ruddy health, and that no amount of care would have given his reddish-blond hair its burnished look if it had not been abundant and glossy to start with.

He had run a small ivory comb along its low side parting and the wavy locks above his temples before the final adjustmen of a shining gray beaver "stovepipe" and, the last thing before leaving his hotel room, had passed his hand over his cheek and chin below his sideburns. It was less than an hour since he had shaved with a fine Swedish razor, but still he wanted to be sure ... And though the surface was smooth enough to suit him, he had frowned a little at the sight of his hand, as he saw this reflected in the mirror before which he was still standing.  It was blunt-fingered, and the back of it was haired with down, the same color as the locks he had just combed with such care. But it was softer and whiter than the hand of vigorous man ought to be.  It detracted from the fresh ruddiness of his face. He must do something about his hands. Perhaps riding about a plantation would help, getting out into the sun, handling the reins ... Well, the thing to do now was to reach his destination as soon as possible and find out what the prospects were.

(Excerpt reproduced in accordance with the fair-use requirements of
the U.S. Copyright office. http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html)
Image credits: The Pleiades, image by NASA and in the public domain.

Clyde Batchelor -- The Definitive Romance Hero

At least, I think so....

Some time in the early to mid 1970s, I borrowed a book from the library in Monroe, Louisiana entitled Steamboat Gothic, by Frances Parkinson Keyes. My parents had moved to Louisiana from Montgomery, Alabama, and I followed them when school let out for summer.  I borrowed several books, fiction and nonfiction, to learn about their new state.

I read several other of Keyes' Louisiana novels -- Dinner at Antoine's, Crescent Carnival, The River Road, perhaps one or two others, and I enjoyed them all, despite Keyes' propensities for including everything in her stories but the kitchen sink. In fact, that was part of the reason why I read them -- their vivid and arresting portrayal of French (i.e., south) Louisiana culture in which the stories of her fascinating characters were embedded -- a land in the South but like no other part of Dixie, the exotic locale of Creoles and Cajuns and their servants -- which makes them very, very un-PC today.

But Steamboat Gothic proved to be the most memorable. I bought a paperback version with this cover, and read it at least a couple more times in the next few years, but at some point in the mid to late 1980s, I lost my copy.  I never forgot the story, though, and through the years, longed to read it again.

A few days ago, I received a used copy purchased from Amazon.com. It's been most interesting, reading the story again from a writer's viewpoint. I have known since my earliest attempts to write that my style was highly influenced by two authors -- Rex Stout and Frances Parkinson Keyes. Sounds rather odd when you realize that Stout wrote spare, fast-moving and short detective novels starring the famous Nero Wolfe and his equally famous "official gnat," Archie Goodwin -- novels set mostly in New York City that took place over a period of days or weeks --  while Keyes wrote ponderous romantic and cultural dramas that sometimes covered years, decades, generations or, in the case of Steamboat Gothic, the better part of a century. 

Over an indeterminate time period in the near-distant future, I'm going to blog about Steamboat Gothic and its author from a variety of approaches (SPOILER ALERT!), not the least of which is what makes Clyde Batchelor the most magnetic, admirable and unforgettable romance hero I've ever read.

Stay tuned!

The great house at San Francisco Plantation in Garyville, Louisiana,
the inspiration for "Cindy Lou Plantation" in Steamboat Gothic.