Gender-related issues that have current resonance…
Of the quartet of principal protagonists in “Love in Pernicketty Town”, Reston Rigg is a mesmeric evangelist who dominates and controls women; Adrian Ross, the first-hand narrator of the bulk of Crockett’s story, is incorrigibly flirtatious; Persilla Potter, (“maid-of-all-work” at Dr. Cassells’ School House) has her own male harem; and Hester Vane (the evangelist’s “First Soloist”) is a tragic victim of male-dominance.
Crockett straightaway captures the appeal of the alliteratively named Reston Rigg through colourfully well-chosen detail. Like a modern movie mogul, the evangelist arrives in Longtown in his “gold and pale blue motor car”. Crockett’s portrayal of Rigg’s megalomania and narcissism is convincing and compelling. Much later, Crockett sums up Rigg nicely in the latter’s own words: “I have not preached Jesus Christ but Reston Rigg”. Rigg is one of Crockett’s evilest villains. The evangelist uses the gospel to cloak an abhorrent predilection for teenage girls, making pregnant two of the three featured in the novel.
Crockett represents Adrian Ross’s behaviour amusingly. But to what extent is Adrian’s flirting unacceptable by contemporary standards? Rigg bends women to his will by the power of his personality. Adrian similarly employs flattery and kissing. Adrian outrageously flatters Miss Sheba Saunders, his landlady, in order to persuade her to plead his cause to the Longtown “Pernicketties”. When she agrees he showers her with kisses. If nothing more, Crockett’s Adrian is a convincing portrayal; but of what? A heterosexual male? A philanderer? A Casanova? A ladies’ man? By Adrian’s own admission he falls in love with all three of the Cassell girls “very promptly and on first sight”. Ostensibly, his nightly visits to the School House are to gain information about Jan or June Cassell but, from the moment he encounters Persilla, Adrian is enamored of her, flatters her subtlety and pays for her “allegiance” with kisses. He is immediately struck by Hester’s unworldly beauty (“a weary angel”), later finds her “a woman bitter, contemptuous, mordant in satire, ready for all adventures...” and ends up sharing confidences with her.
Crockett’s Persilla Potter is a marvelously well-realised comic creation. We never laugh at Persilla (or her views on men). We laugh with her. She is a mirror image of Rigg. She dominates McVeagh (the night policeman), Ebenezer Watson and half a dozen other male suitors (including Adrian), revelling in the thought that “RSVP” on her “At Home” cards stands for “Return soon – visit Persilla” (and, as she tells Adrian, “that is just what they do”). Adrian reports that “to male sight she was only a little crisp-haired, red cheeked, flashing-eyed thing”. What Crockett achieves is to convey the “piquancy of [Persilla’s] personality and the ever-fresh wash of her ideas” – Adrian’s own words before Persilla packs him off into “the practicable cupboard” (just in time to avoid the uninvited Ebenezer).
Crockett’s portrayal of Hester as a victim of male dominance is psychological realistic and uncannily contemporary. Hester’s story, as told to Adrian, is familiar enough. She was a naïve 16 year-old who succumbed to a controlling male. Hester is intelligent enough to realise what is happening to her. Yet she feels she can’t escape as that will negatively affect the man who previously dominated her. Hester’s flaw is that she continues to believe there is “good in him, deep under, where only god’s eye can see”. Hester’s tragedy is that, ultimately, her belief proves fatuous.
“Love in Pernicketty Town” is a remarkable novel.
Crockett anticipates many current gender-related issues – male dominance and control; the acceptability of aspects of male behaviour towards women and the respective roles of men and women. How would we react to Adrian and Persilla if Crockett had switched their gender?
“Love in Pernicketty Town” has those “big”, powerfully written and highly atmospherically cinematic-like scenes that Crockett writes so well. The revivalist meetings in Reston Riggs’ marquee are terrifically created. As a novel it has two weaknesses. Crockett doesn’t sufficiently develop the “persnickettiness’ of the Longtown inhabitants to bring them, and this trait of theirs, to life. Crockett rushes the novel’s end and mismanages the denouement. The result is clumsily melodramatic – not satisfyingly dramatic.
Reviewed by Stewart Robertson
LOVE IN PERNICKETTY TOWN
This book published in 1911 is one of Crockett's later books and the plot takes place around that time, evidenced by one of the characters turning up in a car which turns out in the story ro be a Mercedes. I took quite a shine to this book.
The story takes place in a town called Longtown portrayed in the book as being in Scotland (Longtown is actually in England). Crockett has in the past been good at adjusting the geography of Scotland, in the book, Longtown is the principal town of 'Cheviotshire', the Cheviot hills run from north Northumberland into the south east of Scotland. In chapter 4 “Cheviotshire is bounded on the north by the River Drum. On the east it extends to the spumy tides of the Glaswegian Firth, a jutting estuary of which cuts it nearly in two. To the south a spur of the green Cheviots bars the horizon, and the county is named after them”. This would appear to turn Scotland upside down. For the first five chapters the reader considers Longtown to be in mid country near the Cheviot hills.
Chapter 6 sudenly makes the mid country location a nonsense “We were making for Dutchmans point a promentory which looked right out to the tiny spark of the Solway Reef Lighthouse” - “The smooth waters of the Dutchmans Lake spread away to the south
– salt waters edge”. Chapter 10 reference to “the Isle wood”. Chapter 20 reference to Dutchmans Lake being tidal – Isle peninsula – harbour. Chapter 22 reference to harbour – fishing boats and nets. This now points to Longtown being Kirkcudbright which has St Mary's Isle (a promentory), Manxmans Lake (shallow tidal lake), harbour, fishing boats and nets. The big difference is that Kirkcudbright does not have “a population of twenty thousand” and is many miles from the Cheviots.
Now to the story – the principal character is Adrian Ross the classics master at Longtown High School young and recently qualified, as to background there is reference to him playing as a boy in Cotton Street, Cairn Edward (Castle Douglas), he lodges with a Sheba Saunders, a mine of local information and gossip. The headmaster of the school is Dr Erasmus Cassells a head in the air academic with three teenage daughters June, January (known as Jan) and May, there is no mother, June becomes the love interest of Adrian. The cook/servant of the Headmasters house is Persilla Potter quite a fan of the young men in the town. There is going to be a visit from an evangelist, the forerunner, Saul Adam, comes to setup and prepare for the arrival of Reston Rigg the mesmeric evangelist preacher who tours the country and is financed by “Lady Benthorn of Bournmouth the banker's rich widow” Rigg's object is to rescue the souls of sinners. Reston Rigg duly arrives complete with chaufeured blue and gold car, caravan, huge tent and a choir led by principal singer and soloist Hester Vane. The forerunner marches at the head of the procession blowing a silver gilt horn. The procession ended up at a piece of land owned by wealthy auctioneer Tim Jimson and his wife Sarah, it was Sarah who had given permission much to her husband's disgust.
Adrian Ross had become a member of the clerical club, the members of which were all the local churches ministers, they indulged in discussion and arguments, unfortunately they give rise to some rather tedious parts of the book.
The first meeting of Reston Rigg's group takes place and as usual with such meetings of mesmeric evangelists, those who have been suitably moved by his words are invited to a “semicircular altar-rail, with a broad step in front of it – a glorified 'penitents
bench' – and both the rail and the raised step were covered with red cloth”. Reston Rigg said that anyone who came forward and knelt before him at the 'penitents bench' would have come forward because “my eyes shall meet theirs, and they shall read the command 'Obey or perish!' They will obey”. First forward is Saul Adam the forerunner who explains how much of a sinner he had been and how he had been saved by Reston Rigg. Several other people came forward and knelt down including Sarah Jimson, as he was about to close, Jan Cassels ran forward and knelt down. Adrian Ross, who was accompanying the three girls and had a suspicion that Reston Rigg had been looking at the girls, also ran forward, not to participate but to rescue and pull away Jan Cassels who said that she would forever hate him for taking her away; she had been totally mesmerised by Reston Rigg and only wished to be with him and join his entourage, she does not shake off this obsession and this causes future troubles.
The book continues with some very exciting plots which I am not going to comment on as it would spoil it for another reader suffice it to say that the book ends with death, sorrow and joy. This book by Crockett has a title which is its worst possible advertisement for the book.
Reviewed by Kailyard
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