- Friendless, orphaned girl is thrown upon an uncaring world. Her backstory involves a lot of bad luck and death.
- She is beautiful, accomplished, devout, and virtuous.
- She fends off unwanted male attention, up to and including assault.
- She is pressured to accept an unwanted suitor, or is accused of trying to ensnare a man.
- She turns down a marriage proposal from a suitor who is much beneath her in education, intelligence, or social standing.
- Despite her perilous or lowly condition, she refuses to marry for money, or give her hand without her heart.
- Other women are jealous and behave spitefully towards her.
- She gets into trouble with the law although she is completely innocent.
- She has to move from place to place when her situation becomes untenable.
- A happy coincidental reunion restores her to her family or to her familial rights.
- She marries the man she loves.
CMP#172 The History of Charlotte Summers, the Fortunate Parish Girl (1749)
I read somewhere (but can’t track down the quote) that Charlotte Summers is an uber novel of its type: go through the plot of Charlotte Summers and you can find the themes and tropes which preoccupied British literature for the next century. In fact, this type of novel was thoroughly satirized by the writer Robert Charles Maturin in an article for the British Critic. This plot seems to have predominated in the latter half of the 17th century:
CMP#168 A Modern Incident in Domestic Life (1803) by Isabella Kelly
When I finished Volume One of A Modern Incident, I was half-way through the novel and I still had absolutely no idea what was going on. No idea. So far we just had:
Page after page of characters stammering out incoherent remarks (dashes and dots in the original):
And holy snapping turtles, this had some lurid stuff; at least, lurid compared to the decorous voice of Jane Austen. This has several same-sex teases, and an incest tease, and a ghost-who-turns-out-to-be not a ghost, adultery and seduction, along with forged letters and other skullduggery. Get your smelling salts out for this one.
CMP# 166 Book Review: The Wife and the Lover (1813), (not to mention the idiotic husband)
The Wife and the Lover is not about a wife who has an affair, as I first surmised. “Lover” in this case refers to a unrequited love, or chivalric love. We first meet the darn-near-perfect hero, Sir Edward Harcourt, talking with his guardian and mentor, Lord Fanshaw. Fanshaw warns Sir Edward, who has recently inherited his baronetcy, to think twice before marrying the beautiful and accomplished Cecilia Fitzallard. Lord Fanshaw does not object to the fact that Cecilia does not come from a distinguished family, or have a large fortune; the problem is that she is rather too full of herself, and apt to take offence where none was intended.
Sir Edward, however, is head-over-heels for Cecilia.
Lord Fanshaw’s own wife Horatia accidentally proves that the lord had a point; when Horatia makes some joking remarks about Cecilia, which are carried back to her by a character helpfully named Tabitha Wormwood, Cecilia is incensed. She demands that Sir Edward cut off ties to the Fanshaws immediately and forever.
Our hero can’t do it; he owes the Fanshaws, especially Lord Fanshaw, “both gratitude and esteem." Cecilia, accusing him of not loving her enough, breaks off the engagement. Sir Edward leaves his affairs in the hands of his steward and goes abroad to heal his broken heart.
Cecilia has many other admirers, including a visiting German count who is a renowned soldier back in the German principality of *****. Count Falkenstein had an “unfavorable opinion” of “women in general, nor could he forbear to express his disapprobation of the freedom which the English ladies, both before and after marriage, enjoyed.”
A little foreshadowing here: we are told that the count is honorable, brave, handsome, and noble, but he expects unquestioning obedience from a wife. After he and Cecelia are married, he writes to his relatives back in Germany to assure them that she is not like the other outspoken English ladies: “My lovely bride has a just conception of the gentle duties of her sex, and adores that nice sense of honor which cannot tolerate the levity too prevalent in a country where the fair sex enjoy almost unlimited liberty,”
So, are we setting up for a story where the heroine realizes, too late, that she threw away a wonderful man and rashly married a tyrant? You might think so. You might assume that the narrator is going to take Cecilia’s side in what follows.
CMP#164 Book Review: A Summer at Weymouth (1808)
A Summer at Weymouth is a novel written in imitation of the immensely popular A Winter in London by Thomas Skinner Surr (1806), which I reviewed here. The novel touches on many of the preoccupations of the day, but first we have to talk about the fact that a love-rival for the heroine is biracial and nobody has an issue with this. “[A]lthough his dark complexion discovered him to be on one side the son of an Indian, the regular beauty of his features, the sensible expression of his fine dark eyes, and the symmetry of his graceful form adorned by the most polished manners rendered him the admiration of all who beheld him.” He is “skilled in the Persian, Arabian, and Indostan music, and sung the songs of those languages with great expression.” He also dances divinely. Our main heroine, Stella Fitzalbion, knew him from boyhood and has a crush on him.
George is the adopted ward of the Earl of Charlewood and was raised along with the Earl’s own children. He returned to India at 18 to fill a "lucrative and honorable post" and acquired a “considerable fortune.” He “knows only that [his parents] died when he was an infant, but has never heard who they were.”
Hmmm… a man of color, of unknown parentage, accepted into society? What is the answer to the mystery which clings about him?
Young George happens to meet Mr. Russell, an older merchant returned from India, who is struck by George’s strong resemblance to the Rajah Abdalla. Mr. Russell goes on to mention that many years ago, a fire broke out at the Rajah’s palace, and the women of the palace, “all ran out terrified, wives and children, among a regiment of European soldiers” who had come to help fight the fire.
Mr. Russell goes on to add that months later, Abdallah mourned “the death of a favourite daughter, [the Princess Roseatenissa] who was to have married his brother’s son; which marriage had been delayed on account of her ill health, occasioned by her extreme terror on the morning of the fire. That young lady was, they said, a perfect beauty, and very accomplished…”
About the author:
I blog about my research into Jane Austen and her world, plus a few other interests. Welcome! My earlier posts (prior to June 2017) are about my time as a teacher of ESL in China (just click on "China" in the menu below). More about me here.
© Lona Manning 2023