British Fiction, 18001829

OPIE, Amelia Alderson. Adeline Mowbray (1805)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 3rd ser. 4 (Feb 1805): 219–21.

We opened with great pleasure a new novel from the entertaining pen of Mrs. Opie, a lady whose uncommon talents do honour to her sex and country. She displayed, in her pathetic tale of ‘the Father and Daughter,’ a power of working upon the passions we think unrivalled (perhaps with the single exception of Mrs. Inchbald,) by any writer of the present day. Nor has she failed to affect her readers with many heart-rending scenes in the work before us.

The story of ‘the Mother and Daughter’ may be comprised in few words. The former imbibes and supports in theory the principles of the new code of morality; the latter carries them into practice, and becomes the mistress of one of the authors who broached them to the world. Upon this her mother, inconsistently, but naturally, renounces her; and by the death of her lover she is driven to seek support in the exercise of those accomplishments her education had bestowed upon her. But her course of virtuous industry is interrupted by the scandalous reports of those who remembered her in her former vicious situation; and she is awakened to a sense of her misguided conduct. She is in consequence married; but her husband using her ill, after much misery she is restored to her mother, and dies contented.

But this scanty outline Mrs. Opie has most ably filled up with a variety of characters and incidents, well conceived, and adroitly introduced. She keeps up the attention of her readers to the end. The moral of her work is declared in the following passage: (Vol. iii. P. 13.)

The example of Adeline is held up ‘as a warning to all young people; for her story inculcates most powerfully how vain, are personal graces, talents, sweetness of temper, and even active benevolence, to ensure respectability, and confer happiness, without a strict regard to the long established rules for conduct, and a continuance in those paths of virtue and decorum which the wisdom of ages has pointed out to every one.’

But we cannot avoid remarking that the effect of this moral does not seem to have been consulted, when the state in which Adeline and Glenmurray lived was represented as perfectly happy, as far as their happiness rested in themselves; but the instant that Adeline marries, she becomes miserable from the conduct of her husband. Rightly considered, this reflects nothing upon the marriage state; but what we have to object to are the fascinating colours thrown over the erroneous virtues of Adeline and Glenmur-[219/220]ray ‘making’ (as the benevolent quaker observes, Vol. ii. page 109) ‘vice more dangerous by giving it an air of respectability.’

We have to remark a few inaccuracies in Mrs. Opie’s style; solely from a regard to her reputation as a writer, for we doubt not her good sense will profit by our hints. ‘Gulping down sobs and sighs’ is an expression that occurs too often throughout the three volumes; ‘a fine moral tact’ we cannot help thinking a silly and affected phrase; ‘it was the dark hour’ means nothing but ‘it was dark;’ and why should ‘the maternal feeling’ be substituted for the feelings of a mother?

The interesting interview between the mother of Adeline and the benevolent quaker, in which the latter gives the former tidings of her daughter, is successfully imitated from the scene between Lady Randolph and the Stranger, in the play of Douglas.

But the description of the death of Adeline may bear a comparison with that of Richardson’s Clarissa, or Rousseau’s Heloise. Her last letter to her mother, where she bequeaths her infant daughter to her care, must move every reader to tears who can melt at the recital of unmerited distress; and that to colonel Mordaunt, recanting her false principles, and strongly contending in favour of marriage for the sake of the children and their education, is an honourable proof of Mrs. Opie’s powers of argument in the defence of the good old cause.

We shall conclude our observations on the present work, with an extract from the second volume, page 116, which we conceive to be a very beautiful specimen of Mrs. Opie’s eloquent and interesting flow of language. Mrs. Pemberton (the benevolent quaker) thus addresses Adeline; whom she had heard of in her days of innocence, and now met with in disgrace.

‘ “And art thou,” she cried “Adeline Mowbray? art thou that courteous, blooming, blessed being, (for every tongue that I heard name thee blessed thee) whom I saw only three years ago bounding over thy native hills, all grace, and joy, and innocence?” Adeline tried to speak, but her voice failed her. “Art thou she,” continued Mrs. Pemberton, “whom I saw leaning from the window of her mother’s mansion, and inquiring with the countenance of a pitying angel concerning the health of a wan labourer who limped past the door?” Adeline hid her face with her hands. Mrs. Pemberton went on in a lower tone of voice. “I came with some company to see thy mother’s grounds; and to hear the nightingales in her groves; but” (here Mrs. Pemberton’s voice faltered) “I have seen a sight far beyond that of the proudest mansion, said I to those who asked me of thy mother’s seat; I have heard what was sweeter to my ear than the voice of the nightingale; I have seen a blooming girl, nursed in idleness and prosperity, yet active in the discharge of every Christian duty; and I have heard her speak in the soothing accents of kindness and of pity, while her name was followed by blessings, and parents prayed to have a child like her. Oh! lost, unhappy girl! Such was Adeline Mowbray: and often, very often, has thy graceful image recurred to my remembrance; but [220/221] how art thou changed! Where is the open eye of happiness? where is the bloom that spoke a heart at peace with itself? I repeat it, and I repeat it with agony, Father of mercies! is this thy Adeline Mowbray?” ’

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 3s. 6d. [sic]

Flowers of Literature (1805): 416.

This is the most interesting of any of the productions of the beautiful and accomplished author; it inculcates the most important moral truths, and excites admiration by the elegance and simplicity of its style.

Notes: 2nd edn. Format: 3 vols; price 12s. Publisher: Longman & Co. This title is also mentioned in an introductory section on ‘Novelists’ in Flowers of Literature for 1805: ‘Mrs. OPIE, whose beautiful poems have excited general admiration, has gained additional credit by her novel called Adeline Mowbray; or, the Mother and Daughter. It inculcates principles which cannot fail to make the most striking impression on an inexperienced mind, and prevent those errors of the affections into which youth is ever liable to fall’ (p. lxi). Also mentioned in a biographical article on ‘Mrs. Opie’ in Flowers of Literature for 1807: ‘[...] We do not remember that any of her productions were published in the name of Alderson. In the year 1801, she gave to the world The Father and Daughter, consisting of a [11/12] single volume. This first production possesses considerable interest, and is justly admired for the artless simplicity of its language [...] Encouraged by the reception of her former effusions, Mrs. Opie, in the early part of the year 1805, produced a tale in three volumes, entitled Adeline Mowbray; or the Mother and Daughter. // The laudable object of this work was to check the progress of the New Philosophy which pervaded the world, and to shake the virtue of many individuals. The heroine of the piece is nurtured in the baneful system, and by reducing the vain theories to practice, proves at once, their evil and their fallacy. She falls a sacrifice to her delusive principles, and expiates, by a repentant death, a life of error. // In this admirable work, Mrs. Opie has evinced powers worthy of the sentiments which excited and adorned her labour. It is worthy the perusal of every class of a civilized nation, and is an excellent present for a parent to his child. The work was well received, and soon passed through its first dition [sic] (pp. 11–12).

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 51 (Nov 1806): 320–21.

These volumes are, both in their design and execution, so superior to those which we usually encounter under the title of novels, that we can safely recommend them to the perusal of our readers. We wish, nevertheless, to hint to Mrs. Opie, that her work would be improved by a more strict attention to the propriety of some of her expressions, which at times are affected, and at others inelegant: but we forbear to point out instances, under the persuasion that our caution is already sufficient to a writer who possesses so much good sense.

It is the intention of this work to portray the lamentable consequences, which would result from an adoption of some lax principles [320/321] relative to a rejection of matrimonial forms, which have been inculcated by certain modern writers.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 13s. 6d. Boards. Publisher: Longman & Co.

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