Clutching My Pearls is dedicated to countering post-modern interpretations of Jane Austen with research that examines her novels in their historical and literary context. I also read and review the forgotten novels of the Georgian and Regency era and compare and contrast them with Austen's. Click here for the first post in the series. Click here for my six critical questions for scholars.
This is how Mrs. E.G. Bayfield opens her novel The Splendour of Adversity, a domestic novel and it’s why I picked it to read. I wanted to see another example of a domestic novel, set in a country village, like Jane Austen's Emma. Austen's novel is famous; this one, published two years earlier, is forgotten, but they both represent a conscious move away from melodramatic "sentimental" novels with their abductions, forged wills, and mislaid foundlings, in favour of situations that were, as Austen would say, “probable” and close to real life.
Splendour opens with a chat around a whist-table in a quiet village, as some local widows and spinsters talk over the late rector of their village and the arrival of the new one. His name is not "Knightly," as one lady had announced, but Knightwell. And it turns out that Jane Colyer, a quiet spinster who has been living in Hazlebury for a few years, already knows him.
We then flash back to the reason why Knightwell and Jane were unable to marry. Rev. Knightwell was on the point of proposing, but his brother died and he had to take care of his widow and four children, so he couldn't afford to begin a family of his own. Now that he's moved to Hazlebury, Mr. Knightwell and Miss Colyer reunite as friends “and thus did the estimable pair emulate and encourage one another in the exercise of superior virtue.” She helps educate the children, especially the oldest girl, Albinia. Their mother the widow is “destitute of any internal resources," unlike Mrs. Elton in Emma, who is blessed with them. The Widow Knightwell wants to enjoy the social life at some seaside resort instead of living quietly at the rectory. If I tell you she rouges her cheeks (!) then I've told you everything you need to know about the artful hussy...