British Fiction, 18001829

ANON. Varieties in Woman (1819)

Contemporary Reviews

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 91 (Mar 1820): 321–22.

The author of this novel has taken a very easy method of forming a hero. He has used the finest words in the dictionary, and has composed a very pretty description of all that is amiable and intelligent, which is every now and then reiterated: but he has forgotten the necessity of putting him in any situations in which the qualities so fluently delineated are called into action. If the hero, however, has these deficiencies in his active character, they are [321/322] amply compensated by the masquerade appearance of the doubly-faced heroine; who is most heavy-eyed and most interesting,—most silent and most talkative,—most common-place and most imaginative, —the most forbidding and the most fascinating;—and who possesses such a command over her countenance, that by a slight variation in the disposition of her hair she is able to remain in the society of the above discriminating gentleman for several months, without his discovering that she is the identical person who was an inmate of his own family, and from whom he has been separated little more than half a year. So much for the probability of this novel; to which, indeed, may be added the delectable incident of a lover arriving, ‘the deuce knows whence,’ but just in the precise moment of time to mix his dying breath with that of his mistress. As to the morality of the book, the indulgence of love in the above couple, after the gentleman has married another lady, ‘for filthy lucre,’ is not a favourable example: but its consistency is apparent, when it is known that this lady had first drawn the attentions of the gentleman towards her at an Italian masquerade in the character of Aspasia:—a delicate assumption of the talents and attractions of the courtezan of Athens. With regard to the taste of the author, it is marked by his constructing his ladies to speak Latin as glibly as their mother-tongue; and, as for his liberality of sentiment and accuracy of observation, we may take the following speech as a specimen, put seriously into the mouth of the hero, and merely the reverberation of the opinions of other persons of rank in the company, who would appropriate all the genius of the country to themselves.

‘If commerce be necessary to the literary eminence of a nation, it is, perhaps, unfavourable to its literary ascendancy. Wealth contests, and often obtains, that place in general society which ought to be consecrated to talents. The pursuers of the lower branches of commerce, generally denominated traders and manufacturers, are the petty torments of all the unfortunate people of genius and literature that can, by any means, be degraded to the sphere of their observation.’

Still, we must not conclude without rendering justice to this author and his book. It has some pretensions to popularity; and, with respect to style and language, it is much superior to the commonalty of productions in this branch of writing.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 16s. Boards. Publisher: Baldwin & Co.

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