An Audio-Book Review: Can You say, “Cliffhanger Princess?”

 The Perils of Pauline

By Charles Goddard

Published by LibriVox

A Dramatic Reading by a full cast of readers.


The Book:

Until I stumbled on this gem on the Librivox, I had not realized the Perils of Pauline serials were actually based on a book. Indeed, I think most of my enjoyment of them had come from the fact that my mother’s name was Pauline.

However, as an undergrad at Case Western Reserve University, I once enjoyed a semester worth of Sunday afternoons going to the free movies shown on campus, before each of which one or two episodes of the first Perils of Pauline serial was shown. I was always amused by the fact that no matter where she was in the world, Pauline would inevitably have to run through the woods/jungle and pass the same monkeys, lions, tigers and various other wild animals none or which would ever be found all together in the wild. But it was fun to watch as a short subject.

I don’t remember any of the plot of the series, so I cannot say if they followed the book or were merely inspired by it, the book involves heroine, Pauline Marvin, who, engaged to her step-brother Harry Marvin (Yes, it is legal, I looked that up) has decided that first she wants to have some adventures and see the world because after she gets married she will have to settle down and keep house for her husband…. Yes, I know. It’s very dated that way and the male characters are worse.

Her step father allows her one year of adventure and then she must marry Harry. Harry meanwhile comes off as a passive-aggressive whiner to my more modern sensibilities, frequently asking, ‘Why can’t we just get married already?” But to make sure they do get married, her step-father leaves her inheritance in trust until after they marry. Then a few moments later the step-father dies leaving his morphine-addict servant to act as Pauline’s trustee. The Morphine addict is being blackmailed and the blackmailer has a great plan; bump-off Pauline and keep the cash. However, it has to look like an accident. So the story runs from one attempt on Pauline’s life to another as she travels from place to place.

This story is to Literature what the serials are to Oscar-Winners, but amusing to read if you can remember this all takes place in a world before Women’s Lib. The characters don’t develop so much as change. My first impression was that Pauline was a strong female character in the modern mold and that drippy Harry did not deserve her, but after a few chapters of stalking Pauline (she wants to travel alone and he wants to be with her so he travels in disguise) he somehow develops a hero’s backbone (for no clear reason) and she suddenly loses her third dimension. Throughout the book, Harry’s passive-aggression occasionally reasserts itself and Pauline gets sillier and sillier. The main villain, Owen the secretary seems to continually come up with plots less and less likely to work, except for the final one which should have worked, but he apparently doesn’t know how to hire a killer.

In the end, Pauline has had enough of adventures but still has not married her brother (I still can’t get used to that one) so there was room left for a sequel, although so far as I know, Goddard never wrote one, although he did pen the screen play for The Exploits of Elaine.

However, the story remains fun in its dated, penny-dreadful way. It’s worth reading for the sheer escapism.


The Audiobook:

As advertised this is a dramatic reading featuring a large cast of Librivox’s readers, each one reading the dialogue of one or more characters. Most of them do fairly well, though I was never sure how seriously some of them were in their performances. Some of the silly voices just seemed overdone. The one (or two, rather) reader(s) who did not seem comfortable in their performance were sadly the women who read for Pauline and the narrator. They both started off rather stiffly (possibly due to the author’s use of language and both seemed to loosen up a bit toward the ends of the sections they read. Some of the stiff dialogue was certainly Goddard’s and the period in which he was writing (1910 – some of my sources state 1914, but that is also the date of the first serial of the same name, so they may be confused.)

While it seemed stiff at times, I did enjoy the performances so I think I can recommend this one especially to those who have seen some, if not all of the movies and serials of the same name.


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