"HAMMED" A TALE OF THE CRUSADES. ARRANGED FROM THE MEMOIRS OF A WARRIOR-MONK. Francois Le Fere, Frank Stiles Le Fevre.

"HAMMED" A TALE OF THE CRUSADES. ARRANGED FROM THE MEMOIRS OF A WARRIOR-MONK. N.p. [Philadelphia]: [Begravia Press], n.d. [copyright 1908]. Octavo, pp. [1-3] 314 [315-316: blank] [note: last leaf is a blank], original blue-gray pictorial cloth, front panel stamped in black and gold, spine panel stamped in gold. First edition. A remarkable novel, a Gothic extravaganza whose theme is sex in a wide variety of manifestations: rapine, voyeuristic, incestuous, adulterous, pre-marital, polygamous, polyandrous, lesbian, clerical, as well as spoken, written and imagined versions of all these --and those things associated with sex: lust, passion, love, affection, generosity, jealousy and marriage. It is not pornography but a serious novel with an intricate and well-constructed plot; a good feel for the spirit of its medieval setting; a heavy, rhythmic diction; rounded characters; and thematic attitudes that are unusual for its time, if not for this one as well. There are no anatomical close-ups here, nor any of the flouncing diction of Victorian pornography (love weapons and battering rams and copious spending, etc.) The intention is clearly to depict the sexual excitement of the characters rather than to arouse that of the readers. Still, it is evident that any publisher of this book would have been prosecuted for obscenity in the 1920s, not to mention the 1900s, (and with as little just cause as in the case of LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, which it precedes by 20 years). If this threat were not enough to scare off a commercial publisher, then the book's heavy Gothic sensibility would have sealed its doom. The author's writing ability (within the parameters of chosen aims) is not the problem. The book is, in a sense, both a hundred years behind the times and sixty years ahead of them. The story is set in the 14th century, the first half taking place in Palestine, culminating in the battle of Tiberias, which defeated the Christians and returned Jerusalem to the Muslims. We meet four of the story's main characters here. Hammed is a warrior monk of the Order of St. John, awesome both in physical and moral strength and devoted friend of de Harville, a French knight who has a premonition of his own death. If that happens, he implores Hammed to renounce his vows of celibacy and go to France to marry his widow, Henrietta. To that end, de Harville deliberately arouses the passions of both his wife (in letters, singing the praises of the virile Hammed); and of the celibate Hammed, (in speech, painting word-pictures of his wife's voluptuous charms) until he finally wears down the monk's resistance and extracts his promise that he will bed and wed Henrietta (in that order) if de Harville is killed in battle. In Palestine we also meet the 28-year-old Zuleima, one of Saladin's wives, rescued by Hammed from imminent rape by wanton Christian soldiers, but rebuffed by him when she tries to express her gratitude (and rapidly flowering love) to him in sexual terms; and Maurice, the graceful 16-year-old page of de Harville, who is the first of these three men to sleep with Zuleima, de Harville following him in the same night, and Hammed some days later. Zuleima is in love with all of these men, who are chivalrous beyond anything she has experienced in Saladin's tent. She eventually marries Maurice, their mutual attraction fueled by the mother-son tenderness they perceive in the relationship. Zuleima and Hammed, after a brief and torrid mating, discover that they are brother and sister, long-separated, and forbear any further carnal relations (but without shame for what they've already done). In the climactic battle of Part I (which has some very grisly scenes, including one in which parched soldiers drink the blood of the slain), de Harville is wounded and left for dead; Hammed is captured but pardoned in gratitude for his earlier rescue of Zuleima; and Maurice is taken in as Zuleima's page, secretly promising to marry him and convert to Christianity if given the chance. Part II takes us to France, where Henrietta pines for her absent husband, but takes comfort in the arms of her 16-year-old maid Julie, who is madly in love with Henrietta. Hammed appears and he and Henrietta make good their promise to de Harville, beginning a relationship of super-human devotion and intensity, with the voluptuous Henrietta attached to Hammed, as she puts it, like a vine twining about a mighty oak. Complication and crisis ensue when de Harville re-appears, miraculously recovered from his battle wounds. He first tries to kill Hammed in a fit of jealousy, then begs Henrietta to let him be a second husband to her in a ménage a trois. Scorned and humiliated by her and Hammed, he then arranges to have them thrown into a luxurious underground dungeon where they are separated by a close iron grating that lets them see, speak to and touch each other just enough to arouse appetites that can never be satisfied. Henrietta breaks down and swears that she would sleep with Satan himself if he would break down this barrier, an oath overheard by de Harville, who puts himself forward as a substitute for Satan. The consummation is effected, right there in the dungeon, and de Harville is true to his word. Meanwhile Hammed and Henrietta, softened by their own suffering, see the pain they have unjustly inflicted on de Harville, and the three of them achieve a reconciliation and the installation of the harmonious "tri-union" that de Harville had in mind: he as Henrietta's lawful husband and official lover, Hammed as her secret lover -- and the friend of de Harville, who looks on benignly at their bliss. Other crises ensue, however, which lead to a tragic ending for Hammed and Henrietta, the latter poisoned by the Countess of Clermont, who is furious when her sexual advances are scorned by Hammed. He takes revenge on her by killing her accomplice/lover, the villainous Coeur de Fer, then lashing her to his corpse and throwing them into the dungeon. After falling asleep in this position for what seems like several days, the Countess wakes up ravenously hungry and starts to eat the corpse of Coeur de Fer, but vomits because his flesh has begun to rot. She manages to escape, and attacks de Harville, in bed with young Julie on the eve of their wedding (Henrietta had enjoined these two to wed after her death, just as de Harville had enjoined her and Hammed to wed in the event of his). The Countess fails in her attempt on his life but tells de Harville that Julie is her illegitimate daughter, orphaned by her at the de Harville castle when she was 17 after being seduced by her uncle, the Bishop of Clermont, who at that moment is on his way to the castle with an angry mob, prepared to exorcise what the frightened servants of the castle believed to be the ghost of the Countess. She stabs herself with the knife she had intended for de Harville and Henrietta, and, later, with her dying breath nearly strangles the Bishop. De Harville marries Julie despite her clouded origin and they live contentedly afterwards, as do Zuleima and Maurice. The most extraordinary thing about these torrents of sexual pleasure coursing around the six main characters is that they are presented as innocent, wholesome, beautiful, generous, loving and, in fact, holy: an expression of God-like delight in the crowning expression of God's own loving creation. There is no sniggering or titillating. A foil for this banquet of passion is presented by the Countess, Coeur de Fer and the Bishop, whose copulations are coarse, barren, loveless, and dull: the sexual equivalent of hastily gobbled fast food. The novel has perhaps just enough traces of the fantastic (premonitions, secret poisons, mesmerism, a rationalized ghost, blood drinking and flesh eating, as well as a full-blooded Gothic atmosphere) to gain it admission to a fantasy bibliography. It is certainly a great rarity, with only one copy located by OCLC. The writing is almost always competent, often pleasant, and occasionally delightful. As a sub-species of Gothic, it probably has no close relative. And as a historical document in its approach to sexual matters during this period, the book is just as unusual. (Reading note by Robert Eldridge). A rare self-published book that we could not locate in BL or DLC; OCLC locates two copies only. Not in Smith, American Fiction, 1901-1925. Cloth spotted and lightly worn at edges, water-staining to top right corner of last 50 pages or so, not affecting text, a tight, about very good copy. (#149642).

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