Thursday, May 8, 2008

Charles Stevens

“Ildica’s lacerated shoulder bled so freely that both her own and Flavia's fairer skin were sprinkled with crimson rain….”

In the seventies Charles Stevens was in great demand as a publisher, editor and writer. He turned to historical fiction with tales of Dark Age Britain; of Cromwell’s time; of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the war of the Spanish Armada. He began manufacturing brutal penny dreadful historical serials for the Gentleman’s Journal, Boys of England, Boys Herald, the Sons of Brittania, the Young Briton &c., &c., &c.

He was particularly enamoured of the period of the Roman Invasion of Britain. He wrote Caractus, The Champion of the Arena, Caradoc the Briton, Spartacus; or, The Revolt of the Gladiators, The Master of the Lion, Nicias the Spartan, The Roman Standard Bearer, and The Sentinel of Pompeii.

Old Boy's Book Collector Henry Steele once said ; “It was these tales that stimulated my love of history and certainly impressed many dates of important events on my mind, which the ordinary school tuition would have failed to do.”

The Roman Standard Bearer, sub-titled A Tale of Britain’s First Invasion, begins in Rome where two of the gladiators, a Briton, Glaucus, and a Roman, Claudius, form a warm friendship in the arena. The story then follows their adventures in Britain where Caesar’s legions are startled by the sight of naked Britons with “stalwart bodies and sturdy limbs, which were tattooed with quaint devices of birds, beasts, reptiles, trees and flowers, from chest to ankle.”

Stevens heroes were no longer boys, they were bloodthirsty men with facial hair, and though the women were sold as slaves and sacrificed to the bloody gods they were the hard-boiled equal of the men in the arena ;

“Then the beautiful blonde suddenly shot out a lightning blow straight from her round dimpled shoulder, which the brunette avoided by quickly sinking on her knee and letting it pass over her head; but in an instant she was back on her feet again, and ere her antagonist could recover her guard, her steel-plated cestus came crashing down on her exposed chest.

The dull thud of the iron on the soft flesh could be heard in every part of the vast theatre.The stricken girl gave a short quick gasp, and the blood momentarily left her cheeks, as she reeled backwards a yard or more, but still maintained her footing.

Then she rallied and sprang forward to renew the contest, avoiding two blows by rapid movements of her agile body; she caught another on her round right arm, and disregarding the pain, she passed her opponent’s guard and rained a fierce stroke on her beautiful shoulder that cut through to the bone.

Then, with their naked, glowing busts pressed tightly against each other, and their white rounded arms encircling each other’s bodies in no gentle or loving grip, they wrestled for the mastery. To and fro they reeled panting with excitement and anger but in every twist and turn showing some new line of beauty in their undulating swaying forms, so exquisitely modeled and of such rare symmetry.

Sometimes Ildica would, with a hand pressed against each of her adversary’s white shoulders, thrust her body back until ‘twas hard to imagine that it could bend further without snapping the spine asunder, and then her strength would give way, and their chests would come together with a dull thud, and Flavia would quickly throw a milk-white exquisitely modelled leg, bare to the hip, around the darker-skinned, but equally well-proportioned limb of the Lady Ildica, and tighten the coil till every little blue vein would show through the creamy skin, in a vain attempt to hurl her on the sand.

Ildica’s lacerated shoulder bled so freely that both her own and Flavia's fairer skin were sprinkled with crimson rain, and the blonde’s lovely chest already showed ten leaden-coloured bruises made by Ildica’s cestus, but yet neither thought of confessing herself vanquished and they continued to clutch each other’s yielding frames tighter and tighter until each seemed to feel two hearts beating in her body, and their rounded bosoms seemed bursting with the compression.”

When virginal Stella is about to be sacrificed by the Arch-druid in a huge wicker-man, and awaits her fate as a prisoner in a cage in the Den of Maniacs, Stevens paints the scene in purple-bruised prose :

“Naked beauty shrinking from a blow or from contact with anything that is vile or unclean, is sure to be graceful in the extreme, for an elegant pose is somehow, by mere accident, certain to be obtained in such a case, and so it was with Stella.

Her beauteous form, so perfect in its natural outlines, gleamed like a marble statue in the red murky light, and her rounded limbs, creamy skin, snowy neck, and heaving bosoms made her resemble a veritable goddess.

A woman’s beauty will seldom excite pity, however, in another female breast, and so the three harpies before named sprang at the fair Amazon simultaneously and endeavoured to clutch some portion of her delicate frame.Two of them were promptly felled to the floor by Cassibelan, who was happily chained sufficiently close to his sister to be able to render her some assistance, but the third, advancing from quite an opposite direction extended to the full length of her chain and fastened her teeth in Stella’s dimpled back.

The poor girl uttered a cry of pain and sprang in an opposite direction, but only to bring herself within reach of another crouching female form, who seized a white leg and bit deep into her quivering thigh, causing the red blood to spout forth.In vain Stella strove to tear herself away while the length of Cassibelan’s chain would not permit of his rendering any aid in this case.

Her assailant rendered mad by thirst and hunger, clung to her beautiful limb until her hooked nails were buried deep in the broad hip, and sucked a way at her rich young blood as though it had been the most delicious nectar of Olympus.

The Amazon writhed, and trembled, and shrieked ; her flesh actually quivered with the agony she was enduring, but with her little fists she rained blow after blow upon the head of her cannibal assailant, and at length thereby forced her to desist.

The woman with a gasp of satisfaction and relief, relaxed her terrible clutch with teeth and nails, and sank back dreamily back as though in a happy sleep, while Stella, painfully dragging away her injured limb, sunk fainting upon the foul and blood-stained floor of the den.”

It was thrilling serials such as this that caused Henry Steele in 1934 to burst out in praise and poetry about the Sentinel of Pompeii and it’s author, Charley Stevens;

This yarn though it was meant for lads,
Still holds them now that they are dads,
This tale of old boy’s journal fame,
Was given alack ! No author’s name,
I think, however, the story throughout,
Was by Charles Stevens without doubt,
Years ago, a novel written,
Was by that classic writer, Lytton,
Stevens doubtless was inspired,
By this and his ambition fired,
So he wrote “The Sentinel” there and then,
A noble story from an able pen.