Do you remember the poem, The Highwayman? It was written in 1909 by Alfred Noyes and I first came across it, like many people, at school. It's a tragic, spooky, sexy narrative about sacrifice and love and death:
And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,A highwayman comes riding—Riding—riding—A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting thereBut the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,Bess, the landlord’s daughter,Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
It's part of a long historical tradition of romanticising violent criminals, who are clearly way cooler and sexier than the rich bastards they prey upon - just ask Robin Hood and Jack Sparrow.
|"Sir, you are so cool it's a privilege to be robbed at gunpoint by you"|
Of course, real highwaymen - like real pirates - wouldn't have been in the least romantic. But don't let that get in the way of the story! Fantasy is, as usual, way better than the truth.
|I mean, c'mon - who wouldn't?|
"Flounce About and Deliver," I say - and this is fabulous in every sense of the word:
Although tastes change over even a few decades - anyone remember Richard O'Sullivan as Dick Turpin in the 1970s TV series?
|Hmm. This was what passed for handsome and dashing in 1978.|
I'm pondering all this because I've just subbed (and had accepted, yay!) a story about Dick Turpin, England's second most famous armed robber. It's involved reading up on the original trial records, and believe me he doesn't come out of it looking good (He was "very much mark'd with the Small Pox" for one thing!). I'm fine with that, because I was writing a horror story, not smut or romance. In fact it's a horrible horrible story and I am quite proud of its vileness :-)
I just think that if I'm ever going to write something naughty about highwaymen, Noyes would be a better place to start looking for inspiration...