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Literature / Wylder's Hand

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Wylder's Hand is an 1864 sensation novel by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

The Brandons and the Wylders are two branches of the same family, who've been rivals for centuries. Thanks to a disputed will, no-one's quite sure which branch currently owns the family estate, but that's not a problem. The two claimants, Mark Wylder and Dorcas Brandon, will marry, and that will resolve the question of the inheritance once and for all. They don't love each other: Mark prefers Dorcas's best friend Rachel Lake, and Dorcas would much rather marry Rachel's ne'er-do-well brother Stanley. But what's that, compared to finally sorting out the question of property?

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Then, a few weeks before the wedding, Mark unexpectedly leaves for London, and doesn't return...

Wylder's Hand contains examples of:

  • Battle Discretion Shot: When Stanley Lake fights a duel, the narrative jumps from him agreeing to meet his opponent, to him being brought back to Brandon Hall, seriously injured.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Mark Wylder thinks no woman can resist him. When he tries flirting with Rachel (while engaged to her best friend!) she shoots him down in flames.
  • Churchgoing Villain: Josiah Larkin, the family lawyer, is certain that he's a very trustworthy and godly man who's doing the best for his clients, even while he's overcharging them for expenses or trying to defraud them of their property for a fraction of its true value.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title has a triple meaning: It could refer to Mark Wylder's hand in marriage, his handwriting, or the body part.
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  • Driving Question: What happened to Mark Wylder?
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
    These frank people are a sore puzzle to gentlemen of Lawyer Larkin's quaint and sagacious turn of mind. They can't believe that anybody ever speaks quite the truth: when they hear it—they don't recognise it, and they wonder what the speaker is driving at. The best method of hiding your opinion or your motives from such men, is to tell it to them.
  • Eye Motifs: Larkin is constantly described as having pink, rat-like eyes, and Stanley Lake as having yellow eyes resembling those of an eagle.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: An odd example. The first-person narrator is Charles de Cresseron, who is present for some scenes; but for most of the book he's not present, and narrates those scenes as an omniscient narrator.
  • Foreshadowing: The revelation of the true nature of the spectral visitation that Charles de Cresseron experiences foreshadows the later explanation of how Mark Wylder was seen by reliable witnesses in a place where he couldn't possibly have been.
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  • Happily Married: The Vicar and his wife.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Dorcas' close friends call her "Dorkie," which reads oddly to modern eyes. There's also one point where Rachel says she expects to become a "queer old maid", though that might still apply to her if read in the modern sense.
  • Mad Oracle: Uncle Lorne, who makes a number of oddly-accurate prophecies despite his normal style of conversation.
  • Marriage of Convenience: The intended marriage between Mark and Dorcas is entirely a business arrangement on both sides.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Any scene where Stanley Lake is moved to strong emotion is likely to have at least one moment where the narrator gracefully declines to report exactly what he said next.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Vicar's young son is only ever referred to as "Fairy", which (it is to be hoped) isn't actually his name.
  • The Reveal: The courtroom scene near the end features a revelation about one of the characters that holds the answer to many of the questions driving the plot, and which the narrator has been carefully avoiding mentioning so that the audience doesn't learn about it before the protagonists do.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Dorcas and Rachel indulge in the kissing and embracing that was common for close female friends of the time.
  • The Scrooge: Larkin lives comfortably enough at home. But when he's undertaking work on a client's behalf, he lives with the utmost frugality — while charging the client top rates for lodgings, food, transport and so on, and pocketing the difference.
  • T-Word Euphemism: Stanley Lake says "d——" and "d——d" a lot.
  • The Vicar: The Reverend William Wylder, Mark's younger brother, is the local vicar, and a humble and pious man with the happiest family life of anyone in the novel.
  • Year X: The only time a specific year is mentioned is in a scene where Larkin is laying out the key dates in the mystery of Mark Wylder's whereabouts. These cover a range from October of one year to March of the following year, preventing a graceful way of using the traditional "18—", so the narrator assigns them to the years 1854 and 1855 while making it clear that these are not the actual years in question. (Elsewhere, he says that over twenty years have passed since the events of the novel, placing them in the 1840s or even earlier.)

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