British Fiction, 18001829

BLAIR, Mrs Alexander. Domestic Scenes. A Novel (1820)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, n.s. 21 (May 1820): 237–38.

We must say that the assumed title of the author of this amusing and interesting work, is by no means analogous to the style and manner of her writing; and we scruple not to give it as our sincere opinion, that the novel before us is exactly what a modern novel ought to be—a straightforward interesting history of families connected with the story, and with each other; in relating of which, and in the various incidents that mark their lives, curiosity, interest, and amusement are kept up from beginning to end.

The whole of the Villars’ family form a group of admirable characters, from the respectable heads of it, and the noble, constant, and generous-minded Sophia and Emily, to the truly original aunt Katty, a character perfectly new, yet true to nature, and never was a better portrait drew of a French soubrette than that of Mademoiselle Victoire.

The interesting Sir Edward Arundel, the being only worthy the generous-minded Sophia, prepares us, in spite of the constancy of the young widow, for the denouement; and the marplot aunt Katty is, it seems, as penetrating as any of us on that head, though she often embarrasses her amiable niece: the little Agatha, however, developes [sic] the secret of these two charming characters better than Katty.

The elegant and accomplished Lady Sabina is, indeed, a finished character of modern life; the scenes of which are so well drawn, as leave it beyond all doubt that the entertaining Lady Humdrum is often a guest at fashionable parties. We imagined, on first perusing this work, that it proceeded from the elegant pen of the fair author of Zeal and Experience; nor are we, by any means, convinced that it did not.

In speaking of the characters of this pleasing work, we must not forget the enthusiastic and romantic Helen; and however her's may be highly coloured, it militates no more against nature than others in the work; and the moral of it affords, in inculcating the requisite care in forming the minds of youthful females, is excellent: the conduct of Lord Cranmore towards her is truly noble, and meets its just reward.

Where the scenes are continually varying, and though all connected with the main story, yet, as they succeed each other with rapid change, to give an outline of this novel would far exceed the space we can devote to new publications. Where, also, many speak, according to their character, and fashionable dialogue very often recurs, but few extracts can be selected: the following will, however, we trust, evince the spirit of a work, which we earnestly recommend to the perusal of out fair readers. [237/238]

MODERN APPRECIATION.

‘Sir Marmaduke Ellingford having by this time finished his half-dozen glasses of ice, and seen the apartments nearly empty, now lounged into that occupied by the supper party—a slight inclination of the head marking his polite notice of the lady of the house. “Exquisite Maraschino ice, upon my soul, Duchess,” he said; “who do you employ?”

‘ “My chef de cuisine officiates in the capacity of confiturier as well,” she replied.

‘ “Cherish him, then, as the apple of your eye: he is inappreciable!” ’.

TROUBLES ATTENDING THE VOTARIES OF FASHION.

‘When you have been with me a little longer, you will find out that all is done for fashion in London, and scarce any thing for pleasure: you can hardly conceive how one is harassed with the duties of society, and the penance one has to endure in conformity with the taste of the times.’

EXTRACT OF A LETTER FROM KATTY.

‘Things go on with use here pretty much in the usual way; though I must confess that, what with one thing or another, we are all a good deal out of sorts. My poor brother being confined to his bed with the gout in his feet and knees; but when I see him getting low, I exhort him to be cheerful, and set him the example; for, as I tell him, let what will betide me, he should never find me like that Patience in the play, you know, “sitting moping in green and yellow on the monument:” so that made him laugh and say, in his funny way, “The d—l, Katt, that would be a ticklish seat for your little round person, indeed!” And I was very glad I had thought of any quotation to amuse him, and, I pray God, the disorder may not be getting up into his head and stomach: but, as I tell him, if it should, it is the will of Heaven, and, as such, we must submit to it.

‘Talking of that puts me in mind that we have no supply of flannel in our school; and I saw an advertisement of a cheap shop somewhere in Wapping; so, whenever Mrs. Valacourt takes her airing that way, I should be glad you would make purchase of a piece.’

A MODERN WIFE.

‘Armed at all points for conquest, and assuming the affectation of gaiety and spirits to their utmost extent, her beauty acquired a degree of animation that completely dazzled the beholders, and she effectually captivated the handsomest man in the room: he was a Captain of Dragoons, and his unrestrained admiration quickly satisfied her her [sic] triumph would be complete. She relied upon the celerity with which reports of this kind are circulated, for speedily reaching the ears of the Duke, and of the consequences her vanity left her little doubt.’

HELEN’S TASTE IN READING.

‘She had the Epistle to Abelard, as well as Henry and Emma, by heart. She knew no heroines to compare to them. She had thrown aside Rousseau’s Eloise in extreme indignation, when she found her giving up her lover to her father; she knew nothing of love, who could act so, she said; but, above all, she delighted in the German sentimentalists: in short, the enthusiastic Helen had bewildered her untutored mind in such a labyrinth of nonsense—had rioted in the luxury of indiscriminate novel-reading, till reason was wholly overpowered by imagination.’

Notes: Format: 3 vols 12mo; no price.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 91 (Apr 1820): 441–42.

Though this novel is not devoid of interest, it is disfigured by some obvious improbabilities, and errors or oversights of the writer. Among the former, we must rank the stories of two ladies who conceal their marriages, and consequently involve themselves and their children in disgrace; the one adopting this step as a penance for her faults, the other in compliment to her husband’s views.

In vol. i. p. 68., it appears that Hurstbourne is in Hampshire: yet we have been previously told Mrs. Delmere, in travelling thither from a ship which had arrived in the Downs, was met by her friends at Exeter:—a notable specimen of geographical confusion!—The details of Mrs. Valacourt’s fashionable engagements are also tediously prolix, notwithstanding the assurance in vol. ii. p. 9., that ‘her elegant taste gave peculiar charm to all her to do’s, her parties,’ &c.; and the author’s taste might have been usefully employed in amending such expressions as the following; vol. i. p. 363., ‘Lady Belmont and Laura were to stop in town.’ Vol. ii. p. 159., ‘a little rosy-cheeked cherub slammed the door to again;’ p. 179., ‘if you neglect Lady Sabrina there will be plenty come forward to make her amends;’ p. 194., ‘several, in squeezing past Mrs. Valacourt and her niece, nudged each other;’ p. 241., ‘that is more than you are up to;’ p. 252., ‘a meeting had not taken place of some years;’ p. 225., ‘Emily only stopped long enough:’ in the same volume, p. 67., a Duchess is made to exclaim, ‘Dull work, I trow! make the best on’t;’ and in p. 65., [441/442] Dr. Baillie exchanges names with ‘the unfortunate Miss Bailey.’

It is really astonishing to see what vulgar illiterate stuff is issued from the press in the shape of novels; and puzzling to comprehend how persons so little qualified to wield the pen contrive to form any thing like a plot, and to make it hang together in any shape through two or three volumes.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 1l. 1s. Boards. Publisher: Longman & Co.

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