In the first place, these are great stories in the way that Elizabethan street tunes are great tunes, and for the same reason; this is from handbooks for professional street storytellers who ate or didn't on the attractiveness of their stories. The pacing is great; stuff always happens.
There is the occasional ghost or fairy, with a few glimpses into rich life, but mostly the stories are realist and moralizing. I suppose there are some truths evident in any age:
...the unfortunate concubine and Cui Ning were tortured until they broke down and agreed that they had been tempted by the money and killed Liu...
(which they hadn't)
Anyone who thought twice could see that injustice had been done; but the city magistrate was a fool who, in his impatience to close the case, did not stop to think that anybody will confess under torture.
(Now we get to less universal, though universally comforting, beliefs)
And when a man commits injustice, either he or his descendants will suffer; for the wronged ghosts will not rest till they are avenged.
(and realize that the condemnation isn't as universal as all that)
Thus a judge must not condemn people as the whim takes him, nor torture prisoners as he pleases: justice and wisdom are required.
(Some truths are, though)
For the dead can never come to life again, and the broken can never again be made whole.
Another theme skew to ours is the total acceptance of women's being sold into slavery, combined with a narrative rule that you have to respect their intelligence and emotions or Bad Things will happen to you.
Find in a Library: Lazy Dragon
A headlong novel about Ardelia, so lovely that any handsome man who sees her loves her, even if he's hunting down her last lover for having abandoned his sister Elvira¹. (She is inconstant tp every love, even to a holy Vow.) Her final fatal folly is to tell two rivals to get her over the same convent wall at the same quarter-hour; they meet, they duel, all three die calling for mercy, Elvira is left weeping:
This alarmed the Rest of the Sisters, who rising, caus'd the Bell to be rung out, as upon dangerous Occasions it used to be; which rais'd the Neighbourhood, who came time enough to remove the dead Bodies of the two Rivals, and of the late fallen Angel Ardelia. The injur'd and neglected Elvira, whose Piety designed quite contrary Effects, was immediately seiz'd with a violent Fever; which, as it was violent, did not last long: for she dy'd within four and twenty Hours, with all the happy Symptoms of a departing Saint.
Behn is known as 'the first English woman to earn her living by her pen', and really this is no compliment to English reading tastes - slower text production might have higher quality; but no, there are classical pop romances that are just as awful.'s works are none so galumphing. I was thinking of blaming it on technology; Behn's readers paid less per word;
¹ "Elvira" has turned up before - in Behn, but from a historical source - as the scorn'd Spanish maiden. When did it get into US pop discourse? Is the Gothick Elvira a direct descendant?
Scar. The Lunary Physicians, Sir, call it Urinam Vulcani, it calybeates every ones Excrements more or less according to the Gradus of the natural Calor.--To my Knowledge, Sir, a Smith of a very fiery Constitution is grown very opulent by drinking these Waters.
Doct. How, Sir, grown rich by drinking the Waters, and to your Knowledge?
Scar. The Devil's in my Tongue. To my Knowledge, Sir; for what a Man of Honour relates, I may safely affirm.
Doct. Excuse me, Seignior-- [Puts off his Hat again gravely.
Scar. For, Sir, conceive me how he grew rich! since he drank those Waters he never buys any Iron, but hammers it out of Stercus Proprius.
Ah, Restoration humor.
From an DP -play (The Lucky Chance, or maybe The Town Fopp) currently being polished at
Bel. For what, said they, was he hang'd? Ral. Why, e'en for High Treason, Sir, he killed one of their Kings. Gay. Holland's a Commonwealth, and is not rul'd by Kings. Ral. Not by one, Sir, but by a great many; this was a Cheesemonger--they fell out over a Bottle of Brandy, went to Snicker Snee; Mr. Bellmour cut his Throat, and was hang'd for't, that's all, Sir.
Embarassment of Riches has examples of the disdain aristocrats had for the (wildly successful) Holland of the 17th. c; and here's another.'s
Much like Swift, somewhat raunchier.