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.
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…”
I’ve become interested in the question of hints and clues in old novels after reading Lady MacLairn, which has some subtle clues about Big Family Secrets. Did other writers deploy their hints as subtly as Jane Austen, who placed a lot of clues in Emma about Frank Churchill’s true love interest? What about the clues in A Summer at Weymouth? Did the readers of Jane Austen’s time say to themselves, “A-ha! I betcha that George Arrandale is the son of Princess Roseatenissa and an English officer. And, they must have been legally married. So, no doubt, the princess converted to Christianity, and she managed to hide her pregnancy thanks to the help of one faithful servant, and then she died. In other words, any objection you could possibly raise against George Arrandale as a prospective husband for an English girl, has been answered."
Well, if that’s what they guessed, they were right. Another hint comes when George Arrandale tells Stella's uncle and guardian, Admiral Fitzalbion, that the Earl (his own guardian) had forbidden him to court Stella. He can court any other English girl, that is, but not Stella.
Once Mr. Russell and the Earl of Charlewood receive word that Rajah Abdallah has died, the Earl of Charlewood is free to reveal the Big Secret: George is really the son of Colonel Henry Fitzalbion, “to whom [the princess] was married, for whom she became a Christian, and with whom, had heaven spared her, she would have come to England.” The Earl kept George's parentage a secret to protect George (now Henry Fitzalbion) from the curse of his grandfather “the Rajah… being a faithful and strict believer in Mahomet."
Biracial--but half-English, and of royal blood on his mother’s side, George/Henry inherits his late father's baronetcy and is recognized as the nephew and “undoubted heir” of his uncle Admiral Fitzalbion. He is the older half-brother of the heroine Stella, so we had a little incest frisson there. He marries Lady Charlotte Charlewood. The tenants rejoice.
As I mentioned, A Summer at Weymouth was written to cash in on the popularity of A Winter in London. Young has used Thomas Skinner Surr’s formula for a “season” novel, meaning that we have:
- discussions of current events and social issues of the day that are unrelated to the plot. In Weymouth, this is usually Stella and her war-hero uncle. They talk about female modesty in dress, libel laws, and the importance of the British Navy. They both give spirited speeches against the practise of impressment.
- lengthy descriptions of the dresses worn by the female characters and the decorations for parties and balls. One can imagine females of the middling and lower ranks soaking up these details with avidity.
- characters who are thinly disguised satirical portraits of real members of the aristocracy. I suspect that Sir Pic-nic Haut-ton is based on some real person, but I don’t know who. There is also a Duchess of B_____. As well, "types" are satirized, such as the lounging dandy, the over-rouged old lady, the scantily-clad young miss.
Stella Fitzalbion, our main heroine, meets with no tribulations or dangers. She is rich, noble, beautiful, and accomplished. In the course of the three volumes, she attends a masquerade ball without being abducted, she enjoys London society and the company of her friends, and the worse thing that happens to her is an alarm when her childhood friend Edward Elmsberry fights a duel and nearly dies, an event which precipitates his confession of his love for her and her decision to accept him as her husband.
Any singular and romantic incidents happen to the other secondary characters. Dermot O'Roon is afraid to tell his father he's married to a poor curate's daughter back on the family estates in Ireland. Anne Stuart must survive being orphaned, preyed upon by the licentious General Lawless, cheated of all her belongings and her money, and owning only the mourning clothes on her back, sitting bereft on the shoreline at Southampton, before she fortunately bumps into her long-lost uncle Mr. Russell.
The authoress ruthlessly kills off superfluous characters, especially women, to create the requisite number of heiresses looking for husbands, confirmed old bachelors in search of somebody to leave their money to, and orphans in need of rich uncles. Yes, it is odd how confidently some people assert that “women couldn’t inherit” in Jane Austen’s day, when most of the females in this book control their own fortunes, and the heroine is a countess in her own right, because her late mother was "the Earl of Grassmere's only child," thus her mother was also countess in her own right. Plus we have two ambitious social climbers with enormous fortunes. This is not to say that independent heiresses were thick on the ground in Austen's time, but the fact that they exist in the pages of a novel set in high life means they weren't entirely unknown in real life.
In short, A Summer at Weymouth is a voyeuristic fantasy that both lampoons and revels in the excesses of the titled classes. It received no reviews when it first came out.
We learn Stella’s backstory in the first few pages through some trite dialogue, the kind where characters tell each other things they already know very well: “The untimely deaths of your dear parents, in your early infancy, left you to my guardianship, and never had an uncle a more dutiful niece…” “Cruel war!” [responds Stella] it deprived me of a father before I saw the light! It deprived me of a mother soon after my birth, because the fatal stroke that slew her Henry gave a mortal wound to her poor heart!”
Compare this to how Austen fills us in on the story while at the same time leaving the characters to reveal their personalities. Here is one speech from Mr. Weston, speaking affectionately of his son and insultingly of his wealthy sister-in-law: "'She is an odd woman!—But I never allow myself to speak ill of her, on Frank’s account; for I do believe her to be very fond of him. I used to think she was not capable of being fond of any body, except herself: but she has always been kind to him (in her way—allowing for little whims and caprices, and expecting every thing to be as she likes). And it is no small credit, in my opinion, to him, that he should excite such an affection; for, though I would not say it to any body else, she has no more heart than a stone to people in general; and the devil of a temper.'”
About the authoress:
Mary Julia Young was a hard-working author who wrote in several genres. Her busy publishing career extended from approximately 1790 (or earlier) to 1810. Scholar Nicola Lloyd says “dates of Mary Julia Young's birth and death are not known and very little information about her family and upbringing remains.” Young, like so many impoverished authors before her, applied to the Royal Literary Fund (RLF). In her 1808 application, Young mentions that she is the sole remaining member of “two large families” having "survived six brothers and sisters and twenty five cousins." She does not mention a husband. The Fund directors relieved her distress with a donation of fifteen pounds.
Lloyd’s examination of Young’s novels reveals that she had an “acute awareness of literary fashion.”
Stella delights her uncle Admiral Fitzalbion with a rendition of ""Peaceful slumb'ring on the ocean" from Stephen Storace's opera The Pirates.
An earlier novel, The East Indian, is not about a person of color. The main character is a blue-eyed daughter of an Indian "Nabob," or wealthy English merchant. The East Indian is a gothic novel with a Scooby-doo plotline, again showing how adept Young was at adapting her style to the tropes and plot points of multiple genres. Incidentally, the incest tease was often used in Gothic novels and in some sentimental novels as well. According to British women poets of the Romantic era : an anthology, The East Indian includes "a Jewish moneylender with a heart of gold," which would be another striking example of Miss Young's progressive attitudes at a time when Jews were either execrated or the butt of bigoted humor.
Mary Julia Young also wrote poetry and plays. Perhaps at the behest of her publisher, she frequently described herself as a relative of the poet Edward Young (1683-1765), author of the poem "Night Thoughts," a poem much better-known back then than today. Perhaps "Night Thoughts," a meditation on grief, was eclipsed by Tennyson's 'In Memoriam." At any rate, I'm sure Miss Young would have been even more specific about her connection to the poet if he'd been her grandfather or great-uncle, but she can only describe herself as a relation. Edward Young appears to have been the only surviving son of his father, the Rev. Edward Young (1641-1705) Edward Young the poet had only one son, Frederick Young (1732-1781), who appears to have died without issue, so any connection to the poet is a collateral one going further back in the family tree. She says that Edward Young the poet stood as godfather to her own brother Edward, but what little information we have did not help me find a record for a "Mary Julia Young," probably born between 1750 and 1765.
Young is listed in Dale Spender's influential anthology, Mothers of the novel: 100 good women writers before Jane Austen, but Spender's bestowal of "good" on each of her 100 women writers appears to arise more out of feminist solidarity than critical examination. The Orlando database of Women Writers says of Young: "Though capable of intelligent and interesting work, she was obviously turning out pot-boilers late in her career."
We can say, however, that Young was a professional working woman, a true pioneer for a woman of her time and social class, and in George Annandale, she created a sympathetic biracial character who was not killed off or otherwise marginalized in her story.
A discussion of Mary Julia Young's gothic novels can be found here at the archived Corinne project. Yet another "season" novel, A Winter in Bath, is reviewed here.
Lloyd, Nicola. "Mary Julia Young: (PDF) A Biographical and Bibliographical Study." Romantic Textualities. 18 (2008)
Feldman, Paula R. "Mary Julia Young." British women poets of the Romantic era: an anthology. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997, pp. 844-845
Spender, Dale. Mothers of the novel: 100 good women writers before Jane Austen. London/NY:Pandora, 1986
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