Anna Maria Bennett,
The Beggar Girl and her Benefactors
London: Lane, 1797
By Helen Plimmer, May 1998
This is the story about girl called Rosa who is found begging on the street and rescued and protected by a character called Colonel Buhanun. Under the care of the Colonel, Rosa grows into a well accomplished young girl. The Colonel, however, must return to India, during which time he is killed in battle. There does not seem to be a will and consequently Rosa is left without any money or family. It is necessary for her to undertake some form of employment and she therefore resolves to become a teacher in the school she herself grew up in.
This continues until Major Buhanun arrives trying to uncover details of the Colonel. Upon meeting Rosa, he insists that she comes to live with him and his family in the country in Scotland. Rosa is happy here until Major Buhanun falls ill and dies. After this, she is treated badly by his wife and resolves to return to London.
Here she is confronted with all forms of trials and bad experiences. While here she meets a woman named Mrs Garnet whom she later suspects to be her mother. This woman falls ill and Rosa is forced to remain with her until her health returns. During this time she meets and is assisted by a gentleman of the name Horace Montreville who we later discover is a young man who went to India with Colonel Buhanun. All this time, Rosa is under a false identity to prevent any unwanted trouble from other characters due to knowing her true origins or parents.
Horace Montreville falls in love with her and asks her to marry him. She is aware that she is unable to accept due to her state of illegitimacy and incompatibility to his class. She therefore decides to run away. She goes to the city again and comes across Lady Gauntlet who appears to have her best interests at heart. Rosa allows this lady to recommend her to Mrs Woudbe as a female companion. Here she must contend with her temperamental mood swings and suffer the pains of female employment. During this time a misunderstanding arises concerning Montreville and she loses all respect for him.
A party of people including Rosa are invited to stay with Lady Gauntlet at her house. It is here that Rosa discovers Lady Gauntlet is at risk of losing her fortune and also that she presents a threat to her. She runs away again and eventually comes across her old school friend Elinor who has been returned to her supposed mother, Lady Denningcourt. She stays here and soon becomes very close to the family. Elinor, who has been acting very strangely, disappears and is later discovered to have eloped with Jackey Croak, the son of John Croak and supposed step brother of Elinor.
The novel ends with Horace returning and explaining the misunderstanding and the Colonel who was previously presumed dead returning. The nurse who had been present when Rosa was born identifies her as the daughter of Lady Denningcourt through a gunpowder mark on her. Mrs Garnet turns out not to be the mother of Rosa but of Elinor. To increase the confusion and incredibility of the situation, it turns out that many years earlier, Lady Denningcourt was married to the Colonel and as a result of this, Rosa is their daughter. Therefore, whereas Rosa begins the story poor and begging, she ends up with both parents and wealthy, and also about to marry Horace Montreville. She has succeeded the ideal of social convention.