As I explored the background on Louis Des Isles, I came across the description of his relationship with Mary Googins as being “Enoch Arden.” I finally went to the computer to look up Enoch Arden, and discovered a twenty-two page poem, which I read.* Then I proceeded to compare Enoch Arden’s story with Louis Des Isle’s life.
Point by point, the stories virtually matched. I wondered if perhaps some people will conclude that I stole the plot in my novel from Lord Alfred Tennyson. But then, that was impossible. After all, Louis’ story occurred during and after the War of 1812. Enoch Arden was published in 1864.
I wonder if Tennyson knew Louis’s story, and used it as a basis for Enoch Arden.
It is said there are only seven story plots—in researching, I cannot place which plot these two stories fit (I am so not a literary studies person…). There are three possibilities.
- Are they TRAGEDIES, where a character, through some flaw or lack of self-understanding, is increasingly drawn into a fatal course of action which leads inexorably to disaster?
- Are they REBIRTHS, where there is a mounting sense of threat as a dark force approaches the hero until it emerges completely, holding the hero in its deadly grip? Only after a time, when it seems that the dark force has triumphed, does the reversal take place. The hero is redeemed, usually through the life-giving power of love. Many fairy tales take this shape…
- Are they a VOYAGE AND RETURN, where the hero or heroine and a few companions travel out of the familiar surroundings into another world completely cut off from the first? While it is at first marvelous, there is a sense of increasing peril. After a dramatic escape, they return to the familiar world where they began.**
There were key differences in the stories of Enoch and Louis.
- Enoch had two childhood friends, Philip Ray and Annie Lee. Louis and Mary didn’t meet until they were older—Louis about 26, and Mary, 16.
It was 1791 when Louis arrived in Mary’s hometown, Trenton (now Lamoine), Maine. A French émigré, he had escaped the French Revolution to become one of the settlers who arrived in the area as part of a another immigrant’s planned French community.*** I suspect that Mary’s head was turned by the handsome Frenchman who sailed into Frenchman Bay. Eventually, the two married and built their family.
- Enoch was a fisherman. Louis delved in various saw mill and shipbuilding endeavors.
After becoming injured and losing his job, Enoch accepted an offer to work as a merchant sailor, set sail, leaving his wife and three children behind.
Louis, probably feeling homesick, impulsively set sail at Boston for France, seeking his lost his inheritance. He left behind his wife and eight children.
- During Enoch’s voyage, his ship wrecked. He spent the next ten years on a desert island. During Louis’ voyage, his ship was captured, he was taken prisoner, and spent the duration of the war in Dartmoor Prison.
- Annie, reduced to poverty, agreed to marry Philip. Mary, whom I suspect was having difficulty raising eight children as a widow, agreed to marry Joseph Swett. They had one child, a son.
Ultimately, both men reconnect with their wives.
- Enoch returns to Annie, but while hidden, watching her, he witnesses their happiness. He sacrifices his happiness in his love for her. They never know of his survival and return.
Upon Louis’s release from prison, he writes to Mary, and upon learning of her new life told her to remain in the relationship, since he was too physically stressed from prison to cross the ocean to Maine.
The phrase Enoch Arden has come to mean a person who truly loves someone better than himself. Perhaps the phrase should be Louis des Isles!
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