Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson

Written in 1877, the Suicide Club is really a collection of 3 short stories, featuring The Young Man with the Cream Tarts, the Physician and the Saratoga Trunk and the Adventure of the Hansom Cabs. The main players of the story are really only portrayed as the protagonists in the Cream Tarts.

In the Young Man with the Cream Tarts, Prince Florizel of Bohemia and Colonel Geraldine go around London having a jolly good time. They go in disguise probably so their respectable reputation aren't affected (a Colonel would be from the gentry or upper-middle classes), calling themselves Mr Godall and Major Hammersmith. While on their wild time, they encounter a young man  offering them a dish of cream tarts. They accept on condition he dines with them. The young man reveals that he has wasted his money and is a member of the suicide Club. Florizel and Geraldine are curious and attend the Club's meeting. There are a number of young man, bored with life, methinks and hence they join.

The most sinister part of the Club is that they draw lots as to who is supposed to die that week. But that's not all. The victim does not die by his own hand, but by another member's. The 2 adventurers are outraged and wish to stop the President from his vile deeds. There are a few funny snippets, a nod to the Victorian era's issues. One man wishes to die because Darwin said that we are descended from apes. Not long after that, a Mr Malthus introduces the new members to the club rules. I find that most ironic, because Darwin was inspired by Malthus, who wrote that population grows exponentially, and this leads to worldwide starvation. Malthus was keen on late marriage so that people wouldn't over-populate the place, which was really a sound idea.Well, Darwinian natural selection is competition which leads to death, and you see the connection? Each victim is selected for his own death. Of course I might be over-reading but it is still humorous, nevertheless. Shortly afterwards Malthus dies in an "accident".

Florizel and Geraldine must recourse to a duel to kill the President, and select Geraldine's young brother to eliminate him.

And then we go on to the next 2 stories which involve their attempts to seek justice. Overall, a fairly diverting read, not profound, but typical of the late Victorian and early Edwardian short adventure stories you see in Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton among others. There is an elegant charm in them you don't see now in thrillers, and the heroes were perfect gentleman. Nowadays it is the thing to have moody, unkind, antisocial heroes (not realistically portrayed either). I recommend reading this on a light mind on a calm Sunday afternoon.

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