British Fiction, 18001829

ANON. Adulteress, The (1810)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 3rd ser. 21 (Oct 1810): 217–19.

The title of this tale may lead many a novel-reader to expect something very warm and glowing in the descriptions given of the gallantry of the seducer, or the guilty passion of the adul-[217/218]teress; but we beg leave to inform such readers that the work before us is written with better intentions and higher views. The young unmarried lady, who admires the recital of handsome lovers pouring out their empassioned souls at the feet of the object of their criminal desires will, in this instance, be disappointed, and the wife or dowager whose fancy revels in the vivid representations and fervid details of illicit amours, will doubtless throw down the adulteress with a yawn, and dispatch her Abigail to the library for SOMETHING MORE LIVELY.

The authoress of this work, who subscribes herself an English woman, wishes to set before her country women the crime of adultery in its proper light. She wishes to impress them with the wholesome truth that all deviation from virtue brings with it its own punishment; she shews also the misery which the crimes of a worthless woman may bring upon her innocent and unoffending children.

The substance of this tale is as follows: Sir William Maitland, a baronet of great worth and amiable manners, marries a most beautiful woman, who proves herself the votary of pleasure and dissipation. She neglects the duties of a wife and mother, and plunges into every folly which a woman of fashion thinks necessary to preserve the envied appellation of haut ton. Whilst in the height of her career (and thinking the domestic virtues of her spouse every thing that is stupid) she becomes enamoured of a friend of her husband’s, Lord Mortimer, who is on the eve of marriage with Miss Maitland, Sir William’s sister. She practices her spells and blandishments upon this noble lord; and she succeeds in separating him from Miss Maitland.

At the time she elopes with her paramour, which is in the absence of her husband and his sister, her youngest child, a little girl, is confined by the measles, and as she pretends great affection to this babe, she fabricates a story of its death, and has it conveyed away and put under the care of a nurse. A divorce is procured; Lord Mortimer makes her the reparation which the world thinks necessary, by marrying her, and they leave England for the continent. After a time Lady Mortimer sends for the child whom she had put under the care of a nurse, but in crossing the water from Brighton to Dieppe, the poor nurse breaks a blood vessel, and dies, leaving the little girl who goes by the name of Emily Doraton unprotected and without discovering to those about her where she was going. It so happens that Miss Maitland was a passenger in the same pacquet, and feeling for the forlorn state of the little innocent girl, takes her under her protection. As all her enquiries to learn her history prove fruitless, she brings Emily up with as much care and tenderness as if she were her own daughter, and after residing some years on the continent returns with her to England, where she resides as she always had done, with her brother, Sir William Maitland, who has two sons by his unfortunate marriage. Emily, who grows up a most amiable and engaging young woman, is soon [218/219] addressed by Edward Maitland, Sir William’s eldest son; and as a reciprocal attachment is the consequence of their being domesticated together, the match receives the consent of Sir William, though Emily’s birth still remains a mystery. On the morning of their nuptials, whilst they are preparing to go to church, that the marriage ceremony may be performed, a letter is delivered to Emily to warn her against receiving the hand of Edward Maitland. This letter is followed by a person who desires to see Emily in private; and who discovers herself to be her mother, Lady Mortimer. Lady M. relates how she had stolen Emily from her father’s house, and intended introducing her as her niece. This disclosure of course puts a stop to the marriage, and the temporary distress which it occasions is very naturally described. The authoress wishes to warn the thoughtless young female, who, because she is married thinks she is to do as she pleases, and indulge in all the dissipation of a town-life, at the expense of her husband’s comfort, and too frequently at that of his and her own honour. The end of this story is as may be supposed, that, after some time, these young people, aided by their mutual good sense, exchange the projected relations of man and wife for those of an affectionate brother and sister. They make a fresh choice in the matrimonial way, and are rendered, as they deserve, very happy. If novel readers should not find this performance very lively, interesting, and diversified either in incident or character, they will not meet with any thing to offend in point of delicacy. The authoress deserves our thanks for her good intentions, in endeavouring to represent the destruction, disgrace, and infamy which await a deviation from the principles of rectitude.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 4 vols; price 1l. 1s. Publisher: Sherwood.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 62 (May 1810): 98.

Surely this is a strange subject for a Woman to make the basis and the title of her story: but the work is intended to be moral, and to exemplify the evils which may arise from female misconduct. We rejoice, however, that the cause of virtue has more powerful advocates than this well-meaning writer, and that it is defended in other works besides this feeble production. The story is unfolded only in the last volume, but it is of little use that the catastrophe is concealed when the reader feels no interest in its developement [sic]. The first three volumes are made out by the insertion of circumstances which are too trivial and too insipid to deserve admission, even in the most familiar species of writing. Towards the beginning we have a description of a voyage, and the author is very careful in specifying which individuals of the party are sea-sick, and which are so fortunate as to escape ‘any unpleasant sensations from the usual effects of the motion.’ She next entertains us with Miss Maitland’s reflections when her servants give her warning, together with an account of ‘the effect this untoward circumstance had on her spirits.’ Then follow the fears and orations of Miss Maitland’s household on seeing a ghost, which, we are told, renders ‘Mary the housemaid the very emblem of death;’ and the third volume attains its allotted size by means of Emily’s reflections on her pillow, with a few dialogues, which serve to demonstrate what utter emptiness may be arranged and printed as conversation in a modern novel.

This ‘Englishwoman’ does not seem to be perfectly mistress of her native language, if we may judge from the following specimens of her diction; ‘had not something very dreadful have befallen her,’ ‘no criminal never felt greater joy’—‘Lady Vaversly and her quitted the room,’ &c. &c. The proud and accomplished Lord Vaversly is made to use some expressions which are egregiously vulgar; he tells his wife that she may pay two visits, ‘all under one;’ he terms her lamentations ‘a parcel of stuff;’ and after a visit to the ruins of Herculaneum, he observes ‘that they had had a delightful pleasant day of it.’ In short, as a learned author has observed that ‘some books may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others,’ so we trust that the ennui which we have experienced, and the representation which we have made of this performance, will exempt our friends from fatigue that would be similar to our own.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 4 vols 12mo; price 1l. 1s. Boards. Publisher: Sherwood & Co.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 62 (July 1810): 336.

It would give us pleasure to relieve the wounded feelings of ‘an Englishwoman,’ who is evidently so much hurt by our unfavourable opinion of her novel intitled The Adulteress, in our Number for May: but really we can neither ‘retract’ nor moderate that judgment. If she can perceive no vulgarity in the phrase, ‘he had had a delightful pleasant day of it,’ the fault is not ours; and if she will insist on the eligibility of her title page, by arguing that ‘Vice should be called by its proper name,’ we hope, to adopt a common phrase, that she will ‘take care what she is about.’

Notes: Listed under ‘Correspondence’.

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