Rural Life and Revolution in the Novels of Elizabeth Le Noir
Le Noir’s two novels Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier offer two idyllic portrayals of rural life, in England and France respectively. Both novels are centred around a country village. The villages are picturesque and harmonious, with only minor mishaps disrupting the lives of the villagers. The novels offer to some degree a form of realism, but have a fairytale illusion to them. From the start the reader intuitively knows there will be a happy ending. The village is seen as completely separate from city life, a self sufficient community, containing a lively society of people. In fact the period in which these novels are set was one of change and unrest. Le Noir was writing in a time of revolution for the countryside. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was a time of great instability for those living in the country, and Le Noir would have been aware of the conflict that was rife in these areas. The settled and contented atmospheres of the villages in Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier do not reflect the turbulence of the time. The economy was changing, urban areas were expanding rapidly, and as a result wealth and power were leaving the countryside. The growth of the rural population meant that poverty was a growing problem. The industrial revolution had begun, and established beliefs and social structures were being challenged for the first time, by radical and more inclusive movements. Revolution in France had also prompted fear amongst the landed classes of revolt from the lower classes.
By using the village as her main focal point Le Noir is commenting upon society at that time. Was village life at this time the rural idyll that these two novels depict it as, or are the novels the author's way of keeping alive old values in a time of unrest and revolution? The fact that the novels really are too good to be true seems to imply the latter, and this essay will be looking at how society is portrayed in both Village Anecdotes and Clara de Montfier and asking what values Le Noir is seeking to preserve from society, and how. It will also be looking at what the novels say about change and revolution.
Le Noir's Portrayal of Society in the Rural Village
Village Anecdotes introduces the reader to many aspects of rural life, and on the surface seems to be a straightforward narrative of Sophia Willars' experiences while she is temporarily separated from her husband, who is away at sea. The fact that the novel is a collection of anecdotes, hence the title, conveys the idea that the central character Sophia will remain detached, commenting objectively on events around her. Sophia may set out with this intention, but from very early on we realise that this goes against the whole concept of the rural community. It is a place where everyone knows, and wants to know what everyone else is doing. This sense of intimacy is portrayed as part of the charm of the two villages in these novels. Le Noir's depiction is in agreement with these words from the opening paragraphs of Mitford's Our Village:
Of all the situations for a constant residence, that appears to me the most delightful is a little village far in the country; . . . a little world of our own, close-packed and insulated like ants in an ant hill, where we know everyone, are known to everyone, interested in everyone, and authorised to hope that everyone feels an interest in us. (Mitford, (1824),1951, 3)
Sophia, like her young protégé Harriet Peterson, is intrigued by the mysterious Mr. Ewer, and speculation about his background forms a substantial part of the novel. Sophia cannot help but be drawn into the lives of all who live around her.
Le Noir succeeds in portraying the intimacy of a rural village, and the reader can see the advantages and disadvantages of such a set up. In Clara De Montfier the reader sees clearly the benefits to living within a close-knit rural community. Both the characters of Louisot and Du Hamel are drawn away from their lives of crime, they receive forgiveness and help from the villagers of Montfier. They become reformed characters. The forgiveness that the Baron and Clara show to Louisot, after his part in the banditti's attack on their carriage, demonstrates the goodness of their characters. Clara's words to him on his confession to her are, "Whatever may have been your errors, so deep a sense of them, will surely atone to Heaven- should I , who have so much need of mercy dare to shew less?- You have my pity, my prayers, and my most sincere forgiveness." (Le Noir, 1808, v3 14)
The exemplary behaviour of the Baron and his family sets an example to the whole of his estate. We see an ideal portrayal of how a hierarchical system works within a rural village. The villagers are strongly influenced by those in a superior position, for example the Baron and the Curé. They all work hard, behave well, and demonstrate a great capacity for forgiveness. Louisot's father welcomes him back to the village with 'Welcome our prodigal!…We have killed for thee the fatted calf, my boy; and all our neighbours are coming to partake.' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 40) In true village style everyone comes to hear of Louisot's story, his adventures being 'speedily made the subject of a ballad, which needed not smooth versification of fine music to become popular in the village.' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 43) The village of Montfier is portrayed almost as an extended family, with the Baron acting as the patriarchal figure.
The village set up is used to fulfil the functions of a family. Harriet in Village Anecdotes is orphaned and as a result comes to live with her uncle at Shortlands. Sophia becomes Harriet's adoptive mother, 'I proposed to her to adopt her for my daughter, provided she would be very dutiful . . . ' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 32), but also her friend, 'I have found a companion after my own heart.' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 39) The village serves to fill the loneliness in Harriet's life. Sophia becomes her guardian, and gives to Harriet the motherly care that she is in need of. She also advises her throughout her introduction into society, and provides the voice of caution, when it is clear that Harriet is falling in love with Mr. Ewer. The Petersons, especially Mrs. Peterson and her two daughters, act as a catalyst for Harriet's transition into adulthood. The many dinners and the balls that these women obsess about provide Harriet with the means of meeting and getting to know Mr. Ewer. She comes to Shortlands a timid young girl and leaves there happily married to Mr. Ewer.
The fact that the author makes sure that Harriet has such a companion shows that such guidance is necessary in society at this time. Clara in Clara De Montfier finds this guidance and companionship with Madame d'Avremont. We see that young women are just as vulnerable in rural communities as in the towns and cities. An experienced female companion is portrayed as necessary for the two young girls in these novels. Both Sophia and Madame d'Avremont advise their young friends to act with caution when choosing a man for courtship. Sophia writes to her husband Edward of her worries concerning Harriet and Mr. Ewer:
Advise me, Edward, in my dreams, advise me, that this dear amiable child, of my adoption, be not the victim of an unfortunate partiality. If Harriet is unhappy, Sophia will be so too. Come to our mutual relief, my Edward; come and convince this little innocent, that there are men more amiable than this dangerous Ewer. (Le Noir, 1804, v1 91)
Madame d'Avremont also warns Clara that men are not always as virtuous as they might seem:
It (virtue) is a disguise easy to assume; an artful man may wear it as a cloak to the very worst designs; and an innocent woman as a hoodwink to her own virtue. -What Lady of delicacy but would be shocked with the avowed pretensions of a seducer, while a flimsy veil of sentiment, conceals from her the danger she incurs, till sometimes she falls a victim to it? (Le Noir, 1804, v3 97)
More directly she tells Clara 'Whatever your affliction, my dear Clara, never trust a man.' (Le Noir,1808, v3 114) We see here the contrast to the family element of the rural community. While in some ways the village serves to protect individuals, it also leaves them open to deception, like anywhere else. The village while being portrayed as an idyll, cannot shield , and would not want to shield, the young from the harsh but important lessons of life. We see here that the aspect of courtship is regarded as a dangerous game, with both Sophia and Madame d'Avremont both trying to protect their friends from hurt and deception.
It is not just the women who are portrayed as the victims in this society. The author gives us an indication that women and men are equally vulnerable in the hunt for an advantageous match. On describing the charms of the Peterson daughters Sophia comments that 'from what I have said you will allow that they have charms, and that our pastoral beaux are exposed to some danger.' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 18) While adding humour, this comment serves to portray a more balanced picture, showing that men are not always the villain.
The friendship between Sophia and Harriet is central to the novel, and seems to say a lot about the way society conducts itself in this rural village. It is notable that the friendships of both Sophia and Harriet, and Clara and Madame d'Avremont are both extremely close friendships, but both are friendships with an age gap. The combination of the young, innocent girl and the older, more experienced woman is promoted as a successful partnership. Both friendships are mutually satisfying. Harriet provides Sophia with the companionship that she is in such desperate need of, Sophia provides Harriet also with much needed companionship, but in addition provides moral guidance at a time when she seems especially vulnerable. These friendships provide a contrast to the companionship shared between Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith, in the village of Highbury, in Jane Austen's Emma. Both characters are young girls, but ironically their equality in age does not lead to a more successful friendship, quite the opposite in fact, with Mr. Knightley being amongst those who shows unease at their influence on each other. Through the female friendships in Le Noir's two novels, the value of experience is promoted, and both Harriet and Clara benefit from their close friendships with an older woman, and not from a friendship with one of their peers.
Through these friendships the reader can also see the restrictions placed on young women in society. The novels may depict a rural idyll, but Le Noir does not allow this idyll to give the women any more freedoms than they would have in the town. Le Noir is not going to be subversive but adheres to what was expected of her female characters at the time of her writing. As Ellen Moers comments, women were ' . . . isolated in their own homes, chaperoned in travel, painfully restricted in friendship . . . '. (Moers, 1978, 43) The reader can see that while the friendships between Sophia and Harriet, and Clara and Madame d'Avremont bring a lot of pleasure to those concerned, they are very much typical of that period. The older women supervise and provide guidance to those less experienced.
It is through the eyes of Sophia that the reader has to judge this rural community. At times, she seems to be rather disapproving of the attention devoted by the daughters of the Petersons to impressing the local gentlemen, especially the 'red coats'. Her partiality for Harriet seems to stem from the fact that she does not enjoy the pursuits of the two Peterson daughters, whom she regards as rather vain. Harriet shies away from their pursuits of fashion and men, preferring walks with Sophia in the countryside. Harriet also finds that the ball is not all that she thought it would be. She meets with disappointment at not finding anyone worthy of attention or comparable to the worthy Mr. Ewer. Sophia comments:
Such men as Mr. Ewer, my dear, do not make a figure at public places: his accomplishments are not of the nature that excite attention at a ball; a noisy, empty, rattling coxcomb, would have ten times the notice and the chance. (Le Noir, 1804, v1 89)
Here she implies that any man worthy of attention and courtship will not be found at a ball. Sophia seems to disapprove of the values promoted by events such as the ball. The reader gets the impression that she came to the countryside to distance herself from these kind of activities, only to find that the countryside follows many of the same pursuits as the town. Placing herself in a location such as Shortlands, in a rural village, shows that she wanted solitude and a peaceful lifestyle. By commenting on the fashions of the Peterson daughters she also reveals an opinion on village life and her expectations of what it should be like.
I thought, my Edward, that at a farm-house, in a remote village, one hundred and fifty miles from the capital, I should at least, have had the liberty to have been as unfashionable as I chose: but luxury treads on the heels of wealth, and has penetrated even here. (Le Noir, 1804, v1 34)
From this comment on fashion the reader can see how the urban lifestyle of the towns is starting to influence rural life more and more. E.W. Bovill emphasises this point by discussing country life in the late eighteenth century:
The flow of population, power and wealth is still towards the ever-growing urban areas, which spilling over into the surrounding countryside, are eating more and more deeply into rural England, and imposing on a bewildered countryside their urban ideas, and the townsman's concepts of what is good for man. (Bovill, 1963, 1)
The reader can see that Sophia is not at all accepting of the changes coming about in the village, though the Peterson family seem to be embracing it. She relishes the solitude that a rural village can provide.
The Peterson family have taken on board the urban tendencies discussed by Bovill. A visit proposed by Harriet to visit a local pregnant women left destitute by her husband is declined by the two Peterson daughters, 'They were very sorry; but they had so much to do to get their dresses in readiness for the ball on Thursday; having besides so many engagements: it was quite out of the question.' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 63) The contrast demonstrated by the dutiful Harriet and the frivolous daughters of the Petersons is striking, and there to emphasise that the effects of a move away from traditional rural pursuits will be to the detriment of good Christian duties. A picture of someone as in need as a pregnant women, herself and her children both hungry, presents a distressing picture, especially when the reader sees that the daughters are immune to her plight, placing their own needs first. The author by using this example is asking us to judge the values of these girls quite harshly, and the reader will undoubtedly do so when faced with the contrasting goodness of Harriet and Sophia.
The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was the age of the great estate, as talked about by Mingay in English Landed Society of the Eighteenth Century. It was the eighteenth century that saw the last of the old society. Hierarchical structures in the nineteenth century would be attacked by 'the forces of industrialism, and democracy' and the 'new urbanized, machine dominated, class structure.' (Mingay, 1964, 14) In these two novels the old society is still very much in place. Throughout the novel the Peterson family live in fear of the death of the Lord of the Manor, and what the consequences of his successor will be. Sophia tells us that 'they would have reason to regret their loss: they have all been growing rich, for many years, upon the same rents, established for a century, while the price of their produce has doubled.' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 85) They have also had the wood and all the game entirely at their disposal. It is interesting that Le Noir chooses to convey the point of view of the Lord of the Manor here, and does not choose to make the Petersons victims of a greedy and unfeeling landlord. Instead she concentrates on how the Petersons are taking advantage of their landlord, and benefiting from the carelessness of their master.
The fact that the great house is empty is a detail mentioned by Sophia early on in the novel, as she describes the village and its surroundings, she says that ' . . . nobody but servants (are) at the great house. The owner is a bachelor and hardly ever resides there.' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 9) By leaving the mansion house empty the reader is given an accurate reflection of the times. 'A great urban population was being created.' (Bovill, 1963, 62) Many country squires left their estates for long periods to spend their wealth in London. It would seem that this squire's punishment for neglecting his tenants is his loss of rents, and being taken advantage of by the tenants. The reader cannot condemn the Petersons for their actions, they have only benefited from the neglect of their landlord, and have not done anything actively wrong.
When looking by contrast at the Baron in Clara De Montfier we see the rewards he reaps by managing his estate in a fair and caring way. We are told at the beginning of the novel of the many measures he took to bring success to the neglected village of Montfier. The Baron was dedicated to "forming plans for the improvements of his lands, and the well-being of his tenants and dependants." (Le Noir, 1808, v1 4) The narrator goes on to say how his hard work has seen Montfier restored to a picturesque and idyllic farming village, self-sufficient in its produce. The Baron sees his position as one of duty, and as a result is respected and liked by all his tenants. We see him taking personal interest in all of his villagers. Early on in the novel we are told how he socialises with his tenants: "He would sometimes join the rustic assembly; bring his children and his violin; and spend a couple of hours, sometimes in instructing, sometimes in exhilarating its delighted members." (Le Noir, 1808, v1 22) He cares about those less privileged, and is always willing to help those in need.
In the village of Montfier we are given an example of how a village should be run. There can be an establishment of hierarchy without abuse or resentment. The Baron despite his advantageous position treats his subjects as equals, and in turn they treat him with respect. Throughout most of Village Anecdotes we have an example of a village being run badly by the owner of the estate; later when it comes to light that Mr. Ewer is the successor to the squire the reader is left in no doubt that the village will now be run fairly, and compassionately. The charitable acts of Mr. Ewer to those in need throughout the novel ensure this. Sophia's comments on Mr. Ewer's qualities as squire of the estate also convinces the reader of this, 'for however attentive Mr. Ewer is to soften the cries of distress, he knows how to distinguish them from the clamours of envy and discontent.' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 299) By bringing happiness and stability to the two villages in these novels, through the Baron of Montfier and Mr. Ewer, the author seems to be reinforcing the traditional structure of rule, and stating that it is this system that works best. The two villages are at their best and work in harmony when they have a strong figurehead ruling over them. There is no danger of revolt from the lower classes in these villages. Both these men have social supremacy. She shows that she is against the forthcoming revolution that was sweeping through the countryside at that time. The authority of the landed classes was being challenged. Local rule meant that villagers had someone to look up to, and if the owner of the estate was doing a good job they had someone to help them in times of need.
Traditional rule was under threat, and Poovey writing on the life of Jane Austen makes this point:
Austen....lived through and wrote about the crisis of values that dominated late eighteenth and early nineteenth English society. ...The period between 1775 and 1817, the years of Austen's life, was punctuated by the challenges to the traditional hierarchy of English class society, and as consequence, to conventional social roles and responsibilities. (Poovey, 1984, 172, 180)
It seems that Le Noir might also have been writing about this "crisis of values". She does not write about the challenges to the traditional hierarchy directly, but in both Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier this structure is emphasised as the key to happiness for all the inhabitants of the village, thus indicating that Le Noir was a keen advocate of the traditional structures. By presenting such idyllic and picturesque settings she is in some way promoting such a system. Life in both these villages is undeniably good for its inhabitants, and the feudal system portrayed cannot be criticised. Le Noir is representing rural life as she would like it, and by doing so seems to indicate that she is against the changes coming into play at this time.
The fact that Le Noir does not allow the village of Montfier to survive is significant. It seems to indicate that Le Noir was aware of the great change that was imminent in the rural counties. By showing us the idyllic rural lifestyle that all the inhabitants of Montfier enjoy, and then destroying this picture, she emphasises the great loss that the French revolution brought about.
The descendants of this goodly stock were still residing at Montfier at the breaking out of the memorable revolution. They were far too loyal and too pious not to be involved in its calamitous effects. In vain were their mountains and seclusion; the fiery sword of persecution drove them unoffending from this second Eden, and pursued them to every shelter. (Le Noir, 1808, v3 374)
The Revolution destroys the tranquillity and harmony that existed in Montfier, the violence that it represented is reflected in the images used by Le Noir here in her description. It represents change with bad effects, effects so bad that the Baron and his family leave the country, and come to England. It is interesting that the Montfier family come to England where change, though not so violent, is also underway. The hierarchical structure of the countryside was under threat, and change was inevitable. By placing the Montfiers in England it seems that the author holds greater hope for the English rural counties in resisting change than those in France.
The fairytale world in Le Noir's novels
While these novels are accurate in their perceptions of rural high class society, they are at the same time very far removed from real life. Living conditions for the lower classes were extremely bad, work was harsh, and landlords charged high rents and often neglected the welfare of their tenants. Le Noir's novels do not contain any of these harsh realities of life, thus indicating that it was not her sole aim to give an accurate picture of rural life. The only example of any poverty in Village Anecdotes is the distressed pregnant woman, but the actions of Sophia and Harriet soon rectify her situation: 'We gave our mite to this distressed mother, . . . We engaged to supply her loss of linen, and that she should want for nothing during her confinement; and left her quite restored to hope and chearfulness.' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 55) There is no sense of the huge and complex problem of poverty amongst the lower classes. The problem here is easily put right. There is no discontent or resentment from the poor in either of the villages in these novels. They are all portrayed as happy with their lot.
The strong moral stance taken in both novels takes the reader away from the realism created by Le Noir's accurate depiction of village life. It has a strong part to play in ensuring that the novels have a happy ending. We know the characters will be rewarded for their actions. It also serves to highlight an extreme promotion of traditional rural life. Living a dutiful Christian life is advocated in both novels; Sophia gives the moral guidance in Village Anecdotes and it is the Baron that does so in Clara De Montfier, not only for his daughter but for the rest of the villagers. Clara De Montfier is the less subtle of the two novels in regard to this aim. Throughout this novel there are examples of preaching, and many instances of the characters acting in a Christian way, the themes of forgiveness and repentance being extremely prominent. The treatment of Du Hamel, once captain of the banditti, provides a good example of this. The sermon given by the Curé in church prompts a confession and repentance of all his crimes, he vows to "endeavour to atone to God and to society, for the offences he had committed against both." (Le Noir, 1808, v3 318)
Duty also plays a strong part in the novel. Rebellion and self-gratification have no place in these novels. It is Clara's duty to her father that provides the basis for the story, and throughout the novel we are reminded that her exceptional character is due to the good example and values instilled in her by her father. She puts the wishes of her father before her own. When she is requested to go to Paris to stay with her Aunt, and become acquainted with French society, she is adamant that she does not want to take up the invitation. After talking to her father, however, her reply is 'your will is mine; condescend to direct me . . . " (Le Noir, 1808, v2 86) Even her marriage to Forrest is as a result of her father's suggestion, Clara previously exhibiting no inclination for marriage. Clara is in every way a perfect example of the dutiful daughter, so much so that she becomes almost unbelievable.
We see the novel moving away from being an example of realism. Both novels are realist in their portrayal of society and all its conventions and etiquette, but the author combines this aspect with examples of escapism, and make-believe. In real life people are not this virtuous, or this happy. Clara's virtues are emphasised to the extreme, her goodness is such that she is not a believable character, the reader cannot relate to her. "Oh! were our lovely mistress only beautiful, I could have gazed on her forever as on a bright star placed far beyond my sphere, impossible to attain, or to hope for, but such goodness! such condescension!.." (Le Noir, 1808, v1 121) She is regarded and portrayed as one of absolute perfection. She not only stands for the representation of traditional duties, but also fulfils another purpose within the novel. She is also part of the rural fairytale world that Le Noir has created. Clara is to all degrees the fairytale princess, beautiful, caring and virtuous. All the eligible young men in the story fall in love with her. The author has given us characters that take us out of the real world.
The worlds in both Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier do not represent real life. For all the main characters happiness is guaranteed, and the reader finds delight in this. The disastrous marriage of the worthy Chevalier du Plessis becomes one of mutual joy after his wife's illness. We are told that 'His honeymoon was not at the usual time, nor was it of the usual brief duration - it lasted till death.' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 372) Sophia's reunion with her husband also gives the reader pleasure, the note at the end of the novel, "N.B. Mr. Willar's arrived at Southlands this evening . . . " (Le Noir,1804, v3 303) is touching, and we feel pleasure for our heroine. There is similar satisfaction in seeing Harriet and Clara both wedded to good, kind men. The reader knows that in real life such happy endings are rare, but the author uses the romantic rural settings to capture our imaginations. By placing such happy events in a rural setting the reader of the early nineteenth century would have found escapism from the very real change and revolution in the countryside at that time.
In Village Anecdotes we are given a small example of metafiction. Sophia talks of the relief to be found in fiction, of knowing that sad events in novels are not true.
Is it wonderful, or inexcusable, when the real pictures of life are so sad, one should have recourse, for relief, to the fairy pencil of imagination; which at least, renders the prospect agreeable? If a melancholy incident, or a depraved character, in a romance, affects the heart or shocks the judgement, one has the consolation of reflecting that it is not true. (Le Noir, 1804, v1 41)
While this thought consoles Sophia, the belief is rather disconcerting for the reader. The reverse of this means that happy events are also not true. The reader is deliberately being reminded of the fictitious nature of a novel. Taking this train of thought further, this means that the author is drawing our attention to the fact that the very novels that we are reading are ones of fiction. We are reminded that the villages in Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier are realms of make-believe. Is this the author's way of saying that rural life of this kind no longer exists, that the revolution in the countryside has destroyed it, and will ensure that it will not exist again? On her reasons the reader can only speculate, but the deviation from realism to pure make-believe is striking, and makes the reader question the idyllic nature of the two communities portrayed in these two novels.
Places play an important part in both novels. The goodness of Montfier is portrayed as having almost magical qualities, and is contrasted with the evils that exist in Paris. We are asked to judge the merits of the village versus those of the town. The character of Adelaide d'Alphonse, the wife of the Chevalier, is used to demonstrate this idea, and provides another example of the fairytale ending. A selfish, vain, and at times cruel character, she revels in French society in Paris. Her only concerns are for parties, and for all her admirers. Illness provides the catalyst for her character transformation, when her appearance is disfigured through smallpox. The Chevalier moves her to Montfier to recover and it is here that we see her change. 'The little circle was wholly occupied with the Marchioness du Plessis, who became everyday more amiable and more interesting.' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 295) She changes to become a loving mother and dutiful wife, shedding all signs of her previous character. 'She was become a wife, a mother and a Christian.' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 326) It is as though the goodness of Montfier penetrates those who live there. Characters such as the uncaring Viscount d'Avremont seem to be aware of this effect, 'There is something in the air of this place that inspires prudery . . . ' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 328), and his visit to Montfier is brief as a result.
The terms in which all the characters describe Montfier reflect its goodness. Here, in a conversation between Clara and her maid, we are reminded of the contrast with Paris again, and the magical, and transforming qualities of the place are alluded to. 'The air we used to breath there (Montfier), was far too sweet and too salutary, to breed any maggots in the brain; but such as would presently turn to butterflies . . . ' (Le Noir, 1808, v3 134) In Village Anecdotes it is the countryside as a whole that is regarded with this reverence. Sophia has an great love for the outdoors, this beauty is frequently expressed in the poetry that is interspersed throughout the novel:
Dear native Britain, can I e'er forget
Thy fertile pastures, verdant thro' the year?
Thy smiling landscapes must I not regret?
Thy cherished borders ever, ever dear? (Le Noir, 1804, v2 159)
A great love of the countryside and all its beauties runs throughout both novels. The descriptions are nostalgic. It is a land to be "cherished", and it is the feeling of the reader throughout the novels that Le Noir wanted to instill in the reader this love for the country village and its rural surroundings. The goodness portrayed in the rural settings in both Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier is striking, the description throughout both novels is designed to invoke a fondness of the landscapes in the reader. There is a distinct attention to detail in the author's descriptions, and the reader is given a clear picture of the surroundings in which the characters are placed. We are told that Sophia's room 'overlooks the garden, which runs with a gentle slope, and is bounded by woods that cover the hill. From one side there is an opening to the country, whence peeps the village spire, and the chimnies of an old mansion-house, between the trees.' (Le Noir, 1804, v1 8) The author sets the scene, paints us a picture, very like the opening chapter of Mitford's Our Village, we are guided around the setting, introduced to it, the authors want the reader to know and love these settings, and care about their fate. By doing this the reader of the time may well have been inspired to try to preserve the countryside's traditional qualities, and try and prevent its beauty from being spoilt by those unappreciative of it.
The fact that Le Noir chose to set all her novels, not just Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier, within rural settings, seems to demonstrate that rural life, and the countryside was important to her, but also that she had something to say about it. By giving the settings such idyllic qualities, the inhabitants such virtuous qualities, and such strong moral aspects to the novels, she is deliberately deviating from real life, and emphasising a point. All these aspects to her novels stand for the traditional, the countryside as it was before the onset of change. The reader sees the beauty of the countryside before revolution in the rural counties took place. The fields and woods are unspoiled, and we see the characters enjoying nature and their surroundings. The social structure is hierarchical, Mr. Ewer and The Baron of Montfier stand as positive affirmations of this system. They care for their tenants, and devote time and money for the benefit of their communities. Christian values and virtuous behaviour are promoted in both novels, characters such as Sophia and Clara, who live by these values are rewarded.
In a time of revolution and instability in the countryside Le Noir not only depicts society as it was in villages at this time, describing trivial events such as the rural ball, and the reactions of the Peterson daughters to it. We are given a picture of courtship and marriage at this time, and portrayals of how the landed classes of that time lived. In addition to this the novels highlight solid, traditional beliefs. The novels fail to acknowledge the revolution of the time, almost as if by ignoring the events of change they will cease to exist. By omitting the mention of change Le Noir creates a rural idyll in both novels. By looking at the period we know that life was not that blissful. Le Noir is keeping old values alive in a period of instability. The corn debates in 1796 prompted these words from Lord Sheffield, ' . . . the evils I feared are nothing when compared to those which are coming on." (Mingay, 1964, 265) Perhaps this was the opinion of Le Noir. Are these novels Le Noir's way of counteracting the change that was rife in that period? Or perhaps they represent an attempt to force people into seeing the benefits and beauties of a traditional rural village, in an attempt to stem the tide of change? If either of these explanations is true then Le Noir has chosen a very subtle and effective way of challenging revolution without actually mentioning it, whilst also providing the reader with enjoyable and detailed tales of idyllic rural life.
References from the critical essay:
1) Austen, J, (1816), 1996, Emma, London, Penguin Books.
2) Bovill, E, W, 1963, English Country Life 1780-1830, London, Oxford University Press.
-A useful book that focuses on the very period in which Le Noir was writing. It provided detailed historical information that put the period into context. It had useful sections on land reform, and the role of the squire in relation to his country estates.
3) Hunton, M, 1954, History of the town of Reading, London, George. G. Harrap and Co. Ltd.
-Provided general information on the home town of Le Noir. Useful for background information, not really very relevant to the project.
4) Le Noir, E, A, 1804, Village Anecdotes, Reading, A. M. Smart and Co.
5) Le Noir, E, A, 1808, Clara De Montfier, London, Vernor and Hood.
6) Mingay,G, E, 1964, English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
-Another useful book that puts the period of the eighteenth century into context. Contains detailed information on the hierarchical social structure that dominated rural life.
7) Mitford, M, (1824), 1951, Our Village: Sketches of Rural Character and Scenery, London, J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd.
-interesting for its comparison of the portrayal of village life with the works of Le Noir.
8) Moers, E, 1976, Literary Women, London, The Women's Press Limited.
-Provided a good introduction to the history of women's writing, giving insight into the difficulties, and prejudices that women faced in their time of writing.
9) Poovey, M, 1984, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer, London, The University of Chicago Press.
-Provided some useful paragraphs on the historical and social situations of women writers. It brought attention to the fact that Austen, and her contemporaries were writing at a time when values and beliefs were changing. Far from the times influencing these women writers they helped influence history themselves.