Plot Synopsis of Grandeur and Meanness; or, Domestic Persecution. A Novel by Mary Charlton by Elizabeth Dowen McKie
Grandeur and Meanness follows the story of Helen Devernon as she struggles under the control of her father’s domineering and harsh family, for security and happiness. The novel starts when Helen is a young child, living with her worthy and devoted mother in Switzerland. Although Mr Devernon remains in London his influence over her and Mrs Devernon remains strong.
Mrs Devernon and Helen meet, and soon become firm friends with an ageing couple General and Mrs Irwin. The kindly couple convince the pair to commence an extended trip around Europe with them, and as Mr Devernon reluctantly allows them, they agree. During the following years, the three adults teach and guide Helen – who is already a child of intelligence, sensibility and amiability - morally and academically.
Early in their travels they meet Harry Lindley, a ‘young soldier of fortune’ and a good friend of the Irwins. Harry’s cousin Lady Anne, whom he greatly cares for, has been treated badly by the Devernon family (excluding Helen and her mother), thus making Harry dislike the family. However, he becomes a friend and tutor to Helen, and his refined and noble character soon becomes apparent.
When Helen is sixteen, Mr Devernon demands that Helen returns to England to be introduced into society. Although the Irwins protest, and offer to support Helen and her mother, Mr Devernon is too proud to agree, despite having little regard for his wife and daughter. Once at Mr Devernon’s residence, they are treated with disrespect and contempt. Helen learns that her mother is bound to be subservient to Mr Devernon due to an old agreement.
Helen is introduced into society, but despite her accomplishments and grace her family ridicules and marginalises her. Her spoilt and selfish cousin, Lord Mellidor, shows a marked preference for her which leads to excessive malicious gossip, because Helen is greatly below him in status. Mellidor’s attentions become increasingly distressing to Helen as they are unreciprocated and are seen to reflect on her. The situation causes Mrs Devernon’s already delicate health to decline, and she dies, leaving Helen grief-stricken.
While Helen is being comforted by the Irwins she accidentally overhears the General offering to supply Harry with Helen’s dowry so he can afford to marry her. Although Harry thinks very highly of Helen, he is reluctant to establish further contacts with the Devernons and is too proud to accept the gift. Helen thinks he refuses because he hates her, and is embarrassed and hurt by her secret knowledge.
Due to the continuing – though unfounded - rumours surrounding Helen and Mellidor, the Devernons take Helen from the Irwins and force her to remain out of society until he is securely married. However, by a lucky coincidence she meets her mother’s kind and genuine sister, and her family. She soon comes to love, and be loved by, the Valiner family, despite her father’s disapproval due to their lower social status. Helen is then removed from them to stay with her cousin Caroline Morewood. Her correspondence with the Valiners and the Irwins is also restricted. Here she becomes acquainted with Mr Barronneau, an uninteresting yet amicable and wealthy gentleman. He is strongly attracted to her, and soon proposes to her. Helen intends to refuse him, until Lady Caroline warns her that a rejection would be proof of her ‘unfortunate attachment to another’. Although she is referring to Mellidor (because of the rumours about them), Helen thinks she means Harry Lindley. Mortified that the Irwin’s ‘plan’, and its rejection, might become public knowledge, Helen is coerced into accepting Barronneau’s proposal.
Helen and Mr Barronneau marry, and although Helen is not in love with him, she cares for him and likes him. She is also now allowed to continue her association with the Valiners and her friends. Mr Barronneau greatly admires her, and respects her wishes, except for his refusal to stop gambling. Soon after their marriage, he has an accident whilst horse-jumping as part of a bet. Helen nurses him tirelessly, but he dies. He leaves his fortune to Helen, with strict instructions that her trustees are to be General Irwin and Mr Valiner. Helen is upset at his death, though grateful that he has protected her from her father’s control.
After a while, it becomes apparent to all except Helen that Harry Lindley is deeply in love with her. Although he is still too poor to marry Helen, her fortune makes this unimportant. However, he is afraid that he will appear mercenary if he proposes to her. His Aunt Euphemia wants to see him married before she dies, and so she decides to give him his inheritance money early. She also recognises Helen’s merit, and that (although she is unaware of it) she loves Harry too. Eventually she convinces Harry to forget his pride. When Helen becomes aware of his intentions she is delighted. The couple are soon happily married, much to their friends’ satisfaction.