In Joan Aiken’s Limbo Lodge we meet with a number of individuals who haven’t appeared elsewhere in the Wolves Chronicles. Joan (see, we’re all on first-name terms!) is adept at making these individuals distinctive so that we don’t get too confused as to who’s who on the island of Aratu. Linking it all together is of course Dido Twite, whom we first encountered as an 9-year-old London urchin in Black Hearts in Battersea but who now dresses as a young sailor lad after more than two years at sea.
Here follows a prosopography of the main named characters in the novel, a sort of index raisonné in which I try to account for Joan’s choices for her dramatis personae. Remember, look away now if you don’t want massive plot spoilers revealed!
Here described as a frigate HMS Thrush has also been depicted as a sloop (commonly converted to naval frigates) and, in The Stolen Lake, as a three-masted man-o’-war with stern funnel and the recently-invented steam screw
Dido Twite: born at the beginning of March 1824, Dido is now, in early 1835, nearly 13. She dresses in “long, wide trousers of dark blue duffel, a close-fitting pea-jacket with brass buttons, and a white shirt with a sailor collar. She was tanned as brown as a kipper, and her hair, much the same colour, had been cut close round her head […] for coolness and comfort.” In short, she has become a tomboy, far from the ragged and neglected moppet whom Simon had met in Southwark. Named by her father from a canal barge (Black Hearts in Battersea) Mr Brandywinde referred to her as Miss Pittikin Pattikin in The Stolen Lake. A just tolerated passenger on the Thrush.
Owen Hughes, captain of HMS Thrush: he took over captaincy at Bermuda; in The Whispering Mountain (1968) we learned that he was involved in ‘the China Wars’ — though this clearly wasn’t the First Opium War (1839-1842) — and that his roots are in Pennygaff in Mid Wales; referred to by his crew as “old Mumchance” from his taciturn nature. Here the nature of those China Wars is expanded on: 1834 was the final phase of the China Tea Wars, with the navy called upon to protect merchant ships, mainly tea and spice clippers, beyond Chinese waters.
Mr Windward: First Lieutenant, superintending repairs to Thrush in Amboina; about 35, born 1799 x 1800? Possibly named after the Caribbean Windward Islands.
Mr Frank Multiple, formerly Midshipman, now Second Lieutenant: a “cheerful, fresh-faced young man,” Dido calls him by the familiar ‘Mr Mully’. Unfortunately injured when, as the Siwara is about to dock at Regina in Aratu, a copper charm is dropped on his head from aloft. He spends the next week recuperating in hospital, a former convent in Regina.
Mr Fossil: rank not designated, but needed for repairs to Thrush at Amboina; possibly Master, Midshipman or even Carpenter.
Mr Ludovic Brandywinde, British agent at Tenby in The Stolen Lake, taken on as steward, then died of drinking too much grog in one go — though not before he gave a valuable game-cloth to Dido. Perhaps his surname indicates his favourite tipple.
Mo-pu: ship’s cook of probable Chinese origin, taken on at Easter Island after the death of Mr Brandywinde.
An ancient trading ship (possibly named after a village in northern India) which had “already travelled about three-quarters of a million miles […] since first setting sail from the Port of London;” operates between Amboina and Aratu. Another trader, the Wamena (taken from the name of a locale in Papua New Guinea) is due in Aratu three weeks after the Siwara
Captain Sanderson: irascible Scotsman in charge of the Siwara, short of stature and short of temper. When his ship is seized illegally he travels the length of Aratu to make contact with Dido’s party.
Pepe: sailor who, while on the yardarm trimming a sail “accidentally” drops a copper charm or wedhoe on Mr Multiple’s head, which requires the Second Lieutenant to be operated on in the hospital at Regina.
Talisman van Linde (25): doctor who embarked on Siwara at Amboina. Later revealed as Jane Talisman Kirlingshaw (born 1809 x 1810), niece of Paul Kirlingshaw, daughter of John Kirlingshaw and Erato, and also known by the Indonesian name of Irmala.* Foster daughter of Count van Linde, a traveller on a Dutch trading ship: he became her guardian after picking up the five-year-old following her fall in an earthenware vessel from the southern cliffs of Aratu. Well travelled, she’d trained for some months in Transylvania as well as studying brain surgery in Vienna for six months. With her guardian she often spent winters at European casinos such as Naples and autumns at the spa town of Bad Szomberg near Hanover (perhaps the same as the Black Forest spa town of Schömberg, though this is nowhere near Hanover). It was at Szomberg a year before (1833-4) that the Count was found stabbed to death. Around her neck she wears a medallion on a chain, which perhaps accounts for her European name — though I rather think that Talisman is based on Dutchman Abel Tasman from whom Tasmania is named.
(Note: Jane Talisman Kirlingshaw may well be related to Tinty Grotch, Hanoverian plotter, cellist and greengrocer in Southwark. Dido calls her Aunt Tinty and she is named as the sister-in-law of Dido’s dad, but quite how she fits into the family tree is unclear. It’s possible Tinty’s maiden name is Kirlingshaw as , “like Aunt Tinty”, Talisman wears a medallion similar to a fivepenny piece. As John and Paul Kirlingshaw were involved in the mid-1790s Pimlico Plot to blow up King Charles IV and his brother it’s almost certain there is a family relationship.)
The Lass of Cley
A clinker-built, Bermuda-rigged sloop with an enclosed cabin perched on the cliffs near Limbo Lodge. Named after Cley-next-the-Sea, a former port in Norfolk from where the Kirlingshaws presumably hailed: in the 17th century a landowner attempted to reclaim land from the sea but this caused the port to gradually silt up. Appropriately the Lass of Cley gets its access to the sea from its clifftop, all due to the Ximboë earthquake which causes part of the cliff to break away.
Lass of Cley crew: John King, Jane Talisman Kirlingshaw, Lord Herodsfoot, Professor Tali’aa Limisoë, Dido Twite, Tylo
The ambassador to King James
Lord Herodsfoot: Roving Ambassador to King James III with a commission to look for new games, sought by Captain Owen on orders from London. Originally from Ireland, he is about the same age as Mr Windward, about 35 (therefore born 1799 x 1800), and a friend of Mr Holystone from The Stolen Lake. As the Hon Algernon Carsluith he studied for a doctorate with a thesis on loaded dice. His full name is Algernon Francis Sebastian Fortinbras Carsluith, but Dido just calls him Frankie. He becomes hopelessly enamoured with Talisman but is required back in London to divert the ailing king with the games he has discovered. His title Herodsfoot comes from a Cornish village, originally Nanshiryarth (which translates as ‘the stream of the long enclosure’, nans hir yarth) which over time led eventually to the English name meaning ‘the foot of Heriard/Herod’; Joan may have comes across the name in 1954 when she lived for a year in Cornwall.
Angrians on Aratu
The remnants of a group of colonists of Portuguese origin who invaded Aratu in the early 15th century, Los Outros (“the others”) are largely confined to Regina in the north after the majority were expelled 50 years before the story opens. About ten years later (in the mid-1790s) the Kirlingshaw brothers from Norfolk (John, 20, and Paul, 16) escape from a convict ship en route to New Cornwall (Australia in our world) and establish themselves as key figures among the dispirited Angrians
Manoel Roy (now about 56 years old): Mayor, Harbour Master, Head of Regina Civil Guard; the assumed name of Norfolk-born Paul Kirlingshaw, the surname Roy, from French roi, asserting his claim to kingship on Aratu.* A gambler with a bad run of bad luck, he frequented the casinos and spas of Europe, which is where he met Count van Linde and Talisman. A violent, murderous man, he is responsible for the death of Count Linde and makes attempts on the life of Talisman/Irmala and her father John King. He has become extremely misogynistic due to feeling spurned in love and has established a punitive dress code regime for Angrian women on Aratu.
John King (about 60 years old): known to the forest people as Sovran John but originally John Kirlingshaw from Norfolk — perhaps from the port of Cley — involved with brother Paul in Pimlico Plot in the 1790s to blow up Charles IV of England and subsequently transported; Aratu’s ruler after he and Paul escaped to the island; John has fallen into accidie, the lassitude that affected some medieval rulers, following the death of his wife Erato and disappearance of his five-year-old daughter. (The name Kirlingshaw, you’ll have noticed, is what Lewis Carroll called a portmanteau word — it contains within itself the name ‘King’ which John subsequently took for himself.)
O Medico: drunken old Angrian doctor who died of a snake bite a week before the Siwara docked in Regina. (A case of ‘Physician heal thyself’? Médico is, of course, Portuguese for a physician …)
Modreda Ruiz: Regina woman who is plagued with guilt after accusing her daughter-in-law of being a witch, with fatal consequences; mother of Mario Ruiz; believes at first that Frank Multiple is her son. Her first name seems to be a compound of madre (Portuguese for ‘mother’) and Modred or Mordred, King Arthur’s treacherous nephew (or even son); her Spanish surname means “son of Ruy or Rodrigo” which includes an element meaning ‘ruler’ or ‘king’.
Don Enrique Ereira: husband of Dona Esperanza and father of Luisa and Mateo; owner of Quinquilho Ranch (quinquilho is a member of the poisonous nightshade family). The surname Ereira derives from a placename in southern Portugal but is also known in Brazil, France and Britain.
Esperanza: wife of Don Enrique and mother of Luisa and Mateo. (Her name means ‘hope’, but for daughter Luisa the ranch is where she must ‘abandon all hope’.)
Luisa: married to Kaubre, a poet and a forest dweller, later gives birth to Miria Francisca with Talisman in attendance, and christened by Lord Herodsfoot. Leaves Miria in cave before going to Cliff of Death.
Miria Francisca: infant found by Dido in cave near bridge over the river Kai, christened by Herodsfoot after a Dilendi name and the feminine form of his own name, Francis, in Portuguese.
Mateo Ereira: a Captain of the Guard; together with his father Enrique he murders sister Luisa’s husband.
Isabella: stern housekeeper of Quinquilho Ranch; the name was borne by several queens of Portugal.
Mario Ruiz: son of Modreda; threw his Dilendi wife off harbour wall after she was accused by his mother of being a witch; went mad and retired to a hermitage in the south of Aratu, where he is later encountered by Dido’s party.
Dilendi or forest-dwellers of Aratu
Indigenous peoples of the island to be discussed — along with examples of their language — next post
* Jane Talisman’s name may be in honour of Joan Aiken’s older sister, the novelist Jane Aiken Hodge (1917-2009) and her birth father may be after Joan’s novelist brother John Kempton Aiken (1913-1990). Herodsfoot’s name includes Sebastian, which may owe its inclusion to Joan’s son John Sebastian Brown (born 1949). The novel’s dedication is in “affectionate remembrance of Jean LeRoy” — for Joan it appears that Limbo Lodge is very much a personal document, recording family and friends.