I read The Duped Guardian as part of my research for my backgrounder series about Mansfield Park as a possible allusion to Lord Mansfield and the Somerset case. Click here for more about how I explored the possible connection. This 1785 book contained a mention of "Mr. Mansfield," but I discovered it referred to a different lawyer named Mansfield, so I did not include this novel in my list of novels which mention Lord Mansfield. Here is my book review anyway.
Mrs. Cartwright orchestrates a story in which perils arise, and problems are resolved in a graceful and orderly fashion, like people dancing a minuet. Although there is drama, there is no great feeling of despair or tension, and this might be because the heroine, Harriot Pelham is intelligent and resourceful. She and her sidekick friend Lady Laura Antrim don't lose their heads or faint in a crisis, but rise to the occasion with female solidarity. There is a secondary heroine, Clara Aubry, a Harriet-Smith or Catherine Morland-like picture of ignorance, only fifteen years old, of whom one character says: “innocence, when it is accompanied by a naïve goodness of heart, has charms irresistible.” Given Clara's imbecility, Harriot needs an intelligent friend and confidante to write her letters to (since this is an epistolary novel), which is where Lady Laura comes in. She's the saucy sidekick of the story. They both look out for Clara.
Harriot‘s guardian is her brother-in-law, Mr. Hoyle, with whom she lives, along with her older sister Caroline. Let’s plunge into the action: Thanks to a carelessly dropped letter, Harriot discovers that Mr. Hoyle is conspiring with a female panderer to abduct her, take her to a secluded mansion, rape her, and then stick her in a convent when he’s tired of her. Then he'll take her inheritance. She is determined to avoid distressing Caroline by revealing that her husband is a monster, so when she’s caught weeping, she pretends that she’s been crying over the pages of a tragedy. This brings a gentle rebuke from Caroline about indulging in “fictitious misery,” a reference to the common trope that novel-reading was harmful.
After the initial horrible shock, Harriot pulls herself together...