Olive, and The Half-Caste

Olive, and The Half-Caste

Olive, and The Half-Caste

Olive, and The Half-Caste

Synopsis

'Sybilla considered beauty as all in all. And this child - her child and Angus's, would be a deformity on the face of the earth, a shame to its parents, a dishonour to its race.' First published in 1850, Olive traces its eponymous heroine's progress from her ill-starred birth to maturity as a painter and wife. The crippled child of parents who are disgusted by her physical 'imperfection', a curvature of the spine, Olive struggles to take her place in the world as artist and woman. Published three years after Jane Eyre, Olive's swift fictional response to Charlotte Bront¿'s novel raises questions of family, race and nation. This edition also includes 'The Half-Caste', a story that confronts questions of miscegenation and racial prejudice in Victorian Britain.

Excerpt

'Puir wee lassie, ye hae a waesome welcome to a waesome* warldt!'

Such was the first greeting ever received by my heroine, Olive Rothesay. However, she would be then entitled neither a heroine, nor even 'Olive Rothesay', being a small nameless concretion of humanity, in colour and consistency strongly resembling the 'red earth', whence was taken the father of all nations. No foreshadowing of the coming life brightened her purple, pinched-up, withered face, which, as in all newborn children, bore such a ridiculous likeness to extreme old age. No tone of the all-expressive human voice thrilled through the unconscious wail that was her first utterance, and in her wide-open meaningless eyes had never dawned the beautiful human soul. There she lay, as you and I, reader, with all our compeers, lay once -- a helpless lump of breathing flesh, faintly stirred by animal life, and scarce at all by that inner life which we call spirit. And, if we, every one, were thus to look back, half in compassion, half in humiliation, at our infantile likeness -- may it not be that in the world to come some who in this world bore an outward image, poor, mean, and degraded, will cast a glance of equal pity on their wellremembered olden selves, now transfigured into beautiful immortality.

I seem to be wandering from my Olive Rothesay; but the time to come will show the contrary.

Poor little spirit! newly come to earth, who knows whether that 'waesome welcome' may not be a prophecy? The old nurse seemed almost to dread this, even while she uttered it, for with the superstition from which not an 'auld wife' in Scotland is altogether free, she changed the dolorous croon into a 'God guide us!' and, pressing the babe to her aged breast, bestowed a hearty blessing on her nursling of the second generation -- the child of him who was at once her master and her foster-son.

'An' wae's the day that he's sae far awa', and canna do't himsel, my bonnie bairn! It's ill coming into the warld without a father's blessing.'

Perhaps the good soul's clasp was the tenderer, and her warm heart throbbed the warmer to the new-born child, for a passing remembrance of her own two fatherless babes, who now slept -- as close together, as when, 'twin-laddies', they had nestled in one mother's bosom -- slept beneath the wide Atlantic which marks the sea-boy's grave.

Nevertheless, the memory was now grown so dim with years, that it vanished the moment the infant waked and began to cry. Rocking to and fro, the nurse tuned her cracked voice to a long-forgotten lullaby --

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