The Laird of Drammochdyle and His Contemporaries, Or, Random Sketches Done in Outline with a Burnt Stick
[These notes were made in 1987:]. First published serially in the Aberdeen Free Press. This is a shorter novel by the author of Johnny Gibb. While the latter was chiefly about church affairs, this work has as its strongest theme the temperance movement, of which the author was a strong proponent. (Temperance is a very misleading word - Alexander was an abolitionist, and so is the novel's hero, insofar as it has a hero, Robert Morris.) He is one of three young men who span, as it were, the moral spectrum. Tom Crabbice, son of a local trade family with upward-seeking pretensions, starts the book as a ne'er-do-well, Morris' exact opposite. But in this book the wicked flourish. Crabbice gets control of himself and his fortunes. He succeeds, however, in corrupting the local Laird's son (later the Laird, of the title) Edward Boyce. Boyce is drawn into drinking sprees with Crabbice and a dissolute lawyer named Lillie, whom, eventually, Boyce is accused of murdering. Although the verdict is rendered as Not Proven, the unfortunate comes to a bad end - his wife dies of grief, he becomes deluded, and eventually ends up in an Asylum. All this, however, though it sounds Dickensian in outline, is not rendered in Dickensian detail. Truly, as the subtitle says, this story consists of "Random Sketches Done in Outline with a Burnt Stick." It's unfortunate, in a way, for I think Alexander has the makings of a powerful moral fable. There is less dialect and more standard English in this tale than in Johnny Gibb - a two-edged sword, for while the dialect passages are the most realistic part of Alexander's work, they can also be the most irritating, because difficult. The modern editor has supplied a fairly useful glossary.