A summary of the contemporary critical reception of Marriage and The Inheritance by Susan Edmonstone Ferrier
Cullinan states that Susan Ferrier’s novels ‘attained considerable critical and popular success’ (1984, i). There is evidence of such positive contemporary critical reception in the reviews published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Both Marriage and The Inheritance, published anonymously, received critical acclaim.
Marriage was published in 1818. The review in Blackwood's comments upon the author’s notable skill at writing but nonetheless retains a reserved tone. The reviewer criticises the plot as being, ‘by no means excellent,’ (1818, 287) but later displays his opinion of the subplot as being excellent. (1818, 294) The reviewer clearly admires the writer's skill, but is also cautious of appearing too complimentary on account of the novel obviously being, ‘the work of a female hand.’ (1818, 287) The Blackwood Edinburgh Magazine's review of Marriage is therefore not overtly commendatory, but concludes with the final comment, ‘We trust the fair author will not be long silent - she is in no danger of dishonouring her name.’ (1818, 294) Other contemporary journals that printed critical reviews of Marriage included the Monthly Review, Gentleman’s Magazine, Kaleidoscope and the British Critic. The latter praised Ferrier’s entertaining qualities that were accompanied by ‘piety and good principles.’ (Grant, 1957, 108)
The Inheritance was published in 1824 and sparked reviews in a number of literary publications including La Belle Assemblée, the British Critic, European Magazine, Ladies Monthly Museum, Universal Review and the Literary Gazette. By 1824 the contemporary critical reviews appear to be slightly more sympathetic towards the female novelist. Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine mentions the lasting success of Ferrier’s first novel in addition to its approval of her second. The review is more overt in its admiration of Ferrier’s writing talents, such as her ‘quickness of perception,’ (1824, 659) than was the review of 1818. The review also compares Ferrier’s writing style to that of her female contemporaries suggesting that female novelists were beginning to be more widely accepted. Such parallel writers include Miss Baillie and ‘Miss Austin’. (1824, 659) However the review refrains from presenting any of these authors on a par with their male contemporaries, stating ‘The female writers have shewn themselves just as decidedly and clearly feebler than men.’ (1824, 660) The review comments upon some technical error in the author's style but simultaneously suggests that such faults are not important. In light of such reviews one can make the tentative conclusion that contemporary critical response to Susan Ferrier’s work was becoming increasingly positive.
On a personal level, Susan Ferrier received letters of congratulation after the publication of The Inheritance, when an increasing number of people began to guess the true identity of the author. Ferrier was extremely wary of revealing her authorship as she was unsure of the response that it would evoke, primarily in the cases of her friends and family. Her fears proved to be unfounded because, as rumour indicates, even her father was shocked but proud of his daughter's talents at novel-writing, a vocation that he had previously been against. Ferrier read Marriage to her father and assessed his reaction before finally admitting to her secret vocation as a novelist. (Grant, 1957, 98)
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