A Sensation Novel (In Three Volumes)
By W.S. Gilbert

Volume 1: A crazy room on Bankside, overlooking the Thames
Volume 2: The top of the Round Tower, Windsor Castle
Volume 3: The interior of a hut on the coast of Barbary

Time: 1871

Synopsis of the Plot

The Author has just finished writing the first volume of a three-volume "sensation" novel, and is stuck on how to begin the second. He summons the Spirit of Romance to help him.

The Spirit tells him that the stock characters of sensational fiction, whom he has lent to the Author, have the power of coming to life at the end of volumes one and two, and just before the final chapter of volume three.

The Author flees in terror.

One by one the characters appear: Lady Rockalda, the yellow-haired panther; Sir Ruthven Glenaloon, the wicked baronet; Herbert, the mild Sunday School teacher; Alice Grey, the virtuous young governess and last (always last), Gripper, the detective.

Freed from the constraints of the novel they act, for the most part, in a contradictory fashion to how they are depicted in the novel. Alice and Herbert, lovers in the novel, hate the sight of each other outside it. She loves Sir Ruthven, who persecutes her in the novel, whilst Herbert loves Rockalda, who, in Volume One of the story, tries to murder him.

The plot of the novel grows ever more complex and convoluted, with little regard for credibility or cause and effect. When the characters assemble for the last time, however, just before the final chapter of Volume Three (in which herbert and Alice are to marry), Sir Ruthven fails to appear; the Author has killed him off.

The other characters angrily summon the Author and persuade him to alter the last chapter, allowing Herbert to marry Rockalda, Alice to marry a resurrected Sir Ruthven (reincarnated as Tom Sittybank, the bus conductor), and Gripper to avoid "an appalling fate"!

Acknowledgements and thanks:

Dr Jane Stedman, from whose book "Gilbert before Sullivan" we obtained the text of the play;

Mr John Cannon, for the pictures taken from the music covers of the original 1871 score, and for providing us with the music to "Oh, Agony! And Oh, Despair! (The Tyrannical Bridegroom)".