The Marquis’s Eye was published in 1904, and I took a look at it because I had read that it satirised Boer War patriotism and Mafficking. It certainly does, but in a gentle way, unlike the harsh verses against concentration camps that Bradby wrote while the war was in progress.
The story revolves around a virtuous young man called Percy Pattle. With ‘an income of two thousand a year, a devoted mother, a sound constitution and a tranquil conscience’, he has only one problem – his regular features are disrupted by his left eye, which is not only of a different colour from the right, but squints in a disconcerting and even alarming manner.
Percy, a placid and unambitious mother’s boy, is at first not too worried about his looks, until he falls in love with beautiful young Bella Chorley. He hears about a brilliant doctor in Paris who can work all sorts of wonders, and despite his puritan distrust of the City of Pleasure, he goes to see Dr. Saint-Simon.
The doctor’s prescription is no less than an eye transplant. An impoverished aristocrat (the Marquis de Camembert, I’m afraid – Bradby’s names are sometimes very unsubtle) is willing to sell his left eye for cash. Saint-Simon tells Percy that the marquis is
‘a young man laike yourself, wiz a health of iron, oh, but of iron; ‘igh life, anti-semite, Nationalist, vat you call Imperialist, spiritual, enfin, all zat is most chic.’
The transplant takes place with the sort of consequences that transplants often produce in fiction, but rarely, I gather, in life. Percy begins to see life through the Marquis’s eye; when he sees a woman he becomes an unprincipled lecher; when he sees a Jew he becomes aggressively rude and even violent.
The comic complications are well done, and the story spirals into its most farcical climax at the presentation of an absurd piece of amateur drama, Pro-Briton and Pro-Boer, whose plot Bradby obviously enjoys describing:
A gallant but impecunious nobleman, who has just been summoned to the front, calls to say farewell to the object of his affections, a lady, young and beautiful, but poor. Too delicate to declare his passion until he has done something to earn the prize, he contents himself with expressing lofty sentiments and departs without telling of his love. No sooner has he left the house than his rival, a Liberal M. P., who has enriched himself by selling military secrets to the enemy, enters to prosecute his suit, dazzles the young girl with the prospect of untold wealth, and tries to sap her sense of loyalty by violent tirades against his country and his flag. At the critical moment the gallant nobleman, who has inadvertently left his sword behind, returns to fetch it, unmasks the pro-Boer in a spirited scene, and calls upon the girl to choose between them; with the result that the M. P. is ignominiously kicked out, and the beautiful maiden falls with a sob into the arms of her titled lover.
The tropes that Bradby is parodying here will re-surface in quite a few popular WW1 stories.
Percy is persuaded to play the part of the M.P., but since the author has grabbed the part of the aristocratic soldier for himself, and happens to be Jewish, the performance becomes utterly chaotic when the Marquis’s eye takes over Percy’s personality.
Bradby is interesting on the difference between British and French anti-Semitism. In Britain he shows it as a snobbish noting of differences which does not preclude social amicability, whereas in France it is vioent and unregulated.
The Marquis’s Eye is hardly great literature, but whiled away a couple of train journeys pleasantly. I shall investigate more of Bradby’s books.