|Quartet 1976, Art: Romain Slocombe|
In 1976, Michael Moorcock's new novel
The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth
returned readers to the idiosyncratic meta-verse of Jerry Cornelius. Aimed
squarely at the "mature fiction" reader, the Cornelius books generally have a
more sharply-edged, socio-historical approach than that found in
Moorcock's "genre" fantasy and science fiction novels (such as those featuring
Elric and Hawkmoon). In other words, the Cornelius books tend to fit better on
a shelf next to William Burroughs' work rather than one featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs' (although Moorock is well-read on both Burroughs).
The core Cornelius books are found in the "Cornelius Quartet" ("The Cornelius Chronicles"), which is comprised of four novels: The Final Programme, A Cure For Cancer, The English Assassin and The Condition of Muzak. Other Cornelius novels are comprised of collected short stories (The Nature of the Catastrophe), or could be considered "side trips" to the main Cornelius Quartet.
The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth
Century falls into the latter category, although it's fractured narrative structure
(framed by an over-arching romance of sorts) allows each chapter to almost
function as independent myth-vignettes. Published after
The English Assassin (and before The Condition of Muzak), it's
style continues on from the previous novel's. As in the other Cornelius books,
Adventures is a narrative which skips through an alt-contemporary world
of "sex, drugs and rock and roll", fitted out with a healthy dash of whimsy,
humor, defiance and outlandishness.
|Mayflower, 1980, Art: Melvyn Grant|
Adventures opens with the temporal aviatrix-agent Una Persson enjoying a quiet interlude with Jerry Cornelius' sister-lover, Catherine. After a brief dalliance with a traveling salesman named William Bannerman, the ladies head off into the time stream looking for adventure (or at least, a relief from boredom).
Most of the remaining chapters of the book are episodic vignettes describing Una and Catherine's separate exploits throughout the 20th Century. Because the two heroines are physically apart from each other in this section, the chapters alternate between Catherine and Una's exploits. Catherine's adventures usually involve her sexual and romantic experiences on the "homefront" (England), while Una's describe her efforts as a soldier of fortune (a temporal "activist") as she tries to nudge history towards her utopian political ideals. Many characters from the Cornelius saga appear, most notably the brusquely-delightful Mrs Cornelius, the agent provocateur/dilettante Jerry Cornelius, his twisted brother Frank, the agreeable Prinz Lobkowitz and the hedonistic Greek agent Koutrouboussis.
In the finale, Una and Catherine are reunited, after which they have a satisfying afternoon at Derry and Tom's roof garden, spying on a few other Cornelius side characters like Miss Brunner and Bishop Beesley (who don't otherwise make it into the novel).
|Dial Press 1979, Art: Jim Starlin|
As with The English Assassin, the fast-changing narrative premise of each chapter in the "Adventures" portion (going from decade to decade and country to country) is sometimes jarring, and the reader is actively engaged in the reading experience while trying to figure out the historical background to each vignette (especially Una's adventures, which frequently revolve around military conflicts and their bleak aftermaths). The middle section of the book also includes explicit accounts of Catherine's exploration of BDSM sex culture (recreational flagellation) - as well as an amusing episode describing Jerry's reaction to his sister's new fetish. This material may shock younger readers, but it's not boring, that's for sure. For fans of the Cornelius series, these adventures further flesh out the characters of Catherine and Una, illustrating how each can be a victim in one instance and an oppressor in another. Much of their exploits seem to comment on "control" and the ambiguous, interchangeable nature of hierarchical power roles.
Next: The Condition of Muzak
Introduction: The Author explains that this novel is a “fiction” assembled from various notes passed on to him from Mrs Persson’s “unpublished memoirs”. He also notes that, although the method by which Mrs Persson is able to travel to different planes and time periods is still a mystery to him, he has realized that such travel usually involves a temporary loss of memory (or identity) - probably an effect which prevents drastic damage to the timelines (and counters the Morphail Effect (see Dancers at the End of Time), which tends to hurl the time-traveller back to the future from which he/she came from).
Part One: Depression Days: Taking It Easy
- In 1933, Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius enjoy each other’s company at a riverside bungalow in Pennsylvania, recuperating from their most recent adventures in 1975 (presumably those described in The English Assassin). Eventually, a young traveller named William Bannerman comes across their bungalow. Bannerman's naive nature arouses the jaded ladies’ interest, who then treat Bannerman to a nice dinner and half-heartedly flirt with him. The next morning, the ladies take leave of the still-sleeping Bannerman and head out into the river on their motorboat. Una then activates a mysterious chronometer device created by Catherine’s brother Jerry, setting its heading for 1917.
- In St Petersburg, Una Persson tries to help start a women’s revolution against Leon Trotsky. The revolution fails and Una is exiled from Russia by Trotsky himself.
- Mrs Cornelius and her daughter Catherine are brought in to the offices of the Ministry and meet Major Nye. Nye explains that they are looking for Mrs Cornelius’ husband, who sometimes goes by the name "Frederick Brown". Mrs Cornelius, eager only for an opportunity for money, tells Nye that she has not seen her husband for many years.
- Una joins a lecturer named “Frederick Brown” in Paris and they head towards New York on the SS Queen Victoria. Pirates attack and Una is forced to join the entourage of the Cuban Revolutionary Council leader Petroff, an ex-comrade to Brown’s Communists.
- While working for her Aunt Edna’s flower shop, Catherine comes to the attention of the rich merchant Koutrouboussis. She engages in an intimate threesome with Koutrouboussis and his Asian maid.
- After overthrowing the Vatican in Rome, Una considers another country for revolutionary action. Prince Lobkowitz visits and informs her that “Brown” has killed himself in America out of a sense of failure. Una learns that Jerry Cornelius plans to intercept her in Madrid.
- In Oxford, Catherine spends the day flirting with a wealthy Asian student named Ahmed. The day goes awkwardly but Catherine meets Ahmed’s father and makes a nice impression on him (although he remains a bit standoffish).
- In 1933 Germany during a battle, Una runs across Jerry Cornelius in a tank. They theorize on Frank Cornelius and Petroff’s possible roles in the current conflict. Jerry offers Una a lift in his tank.
- Mrs. Cornelius asks Catherine about her new female friend Rebecca Ash (Aserinsky). Later, Cathy has an intimate afternoon at Rebecca’s apartment. However, she is disappointed to learn that her new lover will soon be off to join the war effort.
- Una materializes in war-torn Oxford with only a vague sense of mission. She comes across the ex-teacher Mr. Chapman and his partner Eunice Moon. After discussing the pros and cons of revolution, Chapman presents the prize they have been safeguarding to Una: a young Queen (Elizabeth?) whom Una is to deliver to London.
- Jerry and Catherine watch the Queen's Coronation with their mother at her flat in Blenheim Crescent. After Mrs. Cornelius and Sammy head out to the pub, Cathy tries to get Jerry interested in some BDSM play. It goes a bit awkwardly.
- Una visits Frank who has become a crowd-inflaming, cross-burning country preacher. She tells him that his fate and that of other like them (time-travelers) will soon be resolved in a “disintegration” related to the Conjunction of the Million Spheres.
- Catherine spends her evening hanging out a Central London club where Jerry and Shakey Mo Collier’s band (The Blues Ensemble) are performing. She soaks in the fascinating “backstage rock groupie” atmosphere and becomes intrigued by a guitarist named Paul from the Moochers.
- After a revolution in London, Captain Una Persson and Major Nye chat amongst the ruins and discuss the possibility of optimism in a restless, unjust world.
- Catherine brings Mrs Cornelius to a rock stadium show featuring Emerald City, in which Cathy’s latest lover, a guitarist named Jack plays. Amongst the revelry of the backstage atmosphere (including press, Hells Angels members, drug dealers, and groupies), Jack presents Cathy with a girl from Amsterdam named Marijka.
- In the aftermath of a Celtic Liberation Front firebombing of 1973, Captain Una Persson rendezvous with a soldier named Craven. They discuss the boredom of war and then become somewhat romantic. Una realizes that uniforms turn her on.
- Cathy spends her days floating amongst burned out, drugged-out rock star lovers with whom she mostly has arguments and bad sex with.
- At Tintagel Bay, Captain Persson and Craven are sighted by a Jerry Cornelius from his yacht, the Teddy Bear. Jerry brings them aboard and tells Una to relax and enjoy a holiday as they shift to a new time stream.
- Amidst the ruins after a battle, Catherine has a brief BDSM fling with a Greek art collector named Constant, but soon departs the country (and the timestream) seeking other interests.
- At the beginning of a new century, Russia successfully takes control of the globe. In Sweden, Craven is executed after an escape attempt. Una, sick and disillusioned from all of her military-political efforts, boards an airship intending to holiday in St. Petersburg. Her airship is shot down in a forest by Catherine Cornelius and her All-Girl Guerillas. Una is angry with Cathy and tells her that the late timing of her entry into “activism” is a bit off, now that everyone is getting out (Jerry, Frank, Nye…). With the war over, they decide to take a holiday together.
- In 1939, Cathy takes Una to the newly-opened Derry and Toms rooftop garden where they spot (and quietly gossip on) Miss Brunner, Bishop Beesley and Mitzi. Catherine casually mentions that Jerry has recently returned from China. Mr. Koutrouboussis meets them and offers Una an acting role, but she is reluctant to take one on so quickly after her recent exploits. They return home to Cathy's apartment where Mrs. Cornelius comes out to greet them.
The Cornelius Chronicles, Vol III, Avon 1987
(including The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century)