Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Rash Vow by Tamám Shud

The 1948 Somerton Man mystery, also known as the Tamám Shud mystery, got me interested in many diverse topics, including cryptography, DNA, 1940s Australia and anything with those two intriguing words. "Tamám Shud" were the closing words in the famous poetical work, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam and mean "finished" or "ended". The 12th century work has been popular in the West since 1860, with numerous worldwide Omar Khayyam clubs.

The Rubáiyát has inspired much in popular culture, includes titling works by Nevil Shute, Agatha Christie, Stephen King and others. I should not have been surprised when last year I found that Tamám Shud was used as a nom-de-plume for the author of an 1894 book, A Rash Vow.

Initially I was frustrated because A Rash Vow seemed to have disappeared without trace after publication. Never reprinted, held only by a couple of copyright libraries and with only two very short reviews, it looked to be unobtainable. However, recently the British Library has created a Digital Printed Books project, making over 60,000 out of copyright 18th and 19th century books available free online. Including A Rash Vow

The plot revolves around a young lady who makes a rash vow, to aid a stranger on a train smuggle the corpse of his wife back to England, so that she can be buried at home. The girl is called Rue, though she doesn't rue her vow in the end.

Now, to be honest, there's a good reason it was published pseudonymously, cost only one shilling and was never reprinted. Whilst the contemporary reviews describe it as "charmingly told" and "readable enough", it's a romance with a gruesome premise which would not meet the standards of modern writing and "twee" and "prosaic" would be better adjectives.

However, it does bear some weak coincidental similarities with the Somerton Man case:
  • It starts an unusual mystery which leads to a romance
  • There is a body, at first thought to be drugged unconscious, but actually dead
  • Foxgloves feature repeatedly, the source of Digitalis (which probably didn't kill the Somerton Man)
  • An Australian connection, with some characters living there
Recommended? No. But it does show the ubiquitous influence the Rubáiyát had on the culture of previous generations, and closes another chapter in the Tamám Shud mystery.

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