Survey of Critical Response to the Works of
By Lindsey Karen Holland
William S. Ward provides this list of reviews received by Palmer's novels in his Literary Reviews of British Periodicals, 1798-1820:
Palmer, Alicia Tyndal.
The Husband and the Lover, An Historical and Moral Romance (published anonymously) 1809.
British Critic - 34 (July 1809): 74.
The Critical Review - s3, 9 (Feb. 1810): 161-168.
The European Magazine - s6 (July, Sept - Oct. 1809): 3, 9-43, 201-205, 279-283
The Gentleman's Magazine - 81 (Mar. 1811): 260.
The Monthly Mirror - ns, 6 (Aug. 1809): 99 (in archival material).
The Monthly Review - ns, v60 (Sept. 1809): 95.
The Satirist - 8 (Jan. 1811): 100-101 (in archival material).
The Daughters of Isenberg, A Bavarian Romance, 1810.
The British Critic - 36 (Sept. 1810): 303-304.
The Critical Review - s3, 21 (Oct. 1810): 153-160 (in archival material).
The Monthly Mirror - ns, 8 (Oct. 1810): 285-286.
The Monthly Review - ns, 63 (Sept. 1810): 102-103.
The Quarterly Review - 4 (Aug. 1810): 61-67.
The Sons of Altringham, 1811.
The Critical Review - s4, 1 (May 1812): 537-544 (in archival material).
Palmer's first novel, The Husband and the Lover, was generally well received by critics, though some did doubt the novel's ability to mix romance with history in a way that would not render the novel a farce. The Gentleman's Magazine stated that the novel was rendered 'extremely complex by the number of persons introduced'. However, in a novel of this length and complexity, it is difficult for the author to concentrate on a few main characters. They also stated that it includes 'a long period of time' and that 'incidents mock probability'. These are fair statements. After reading the novel, you do get the feeling that the author is dragging time out and making the incidents fit into this improbable time scale. However, The Gentleman's Magazine did commend Palmer on her descriptive abilities, stating that her 'descriptions are not devoid of merit'. I believe she has taken history and woven into it a story in which her descriptive abilities are able to shine through. The characters of the novel are another point on which The Gentleman's Magazine wished to comment. The publication stated that, 'some characters excite a considerable degree of sympathy'.
The Critical Review also chose to concentrate most of its comments concerning The Husband and the Lover on the characters. They state that the 'story of Sidney Stanhope and her daughter is interesting'. They also state that the characters in general are 'not ill executed characters,' specifically referring to the Baroness de Bonneville, Sapieha and the Marquis de Briscacier. The Critical Review also chooses to comment on the main axis of the text, the relationship between the romance and the history; they state of the text, 'it is interspersed with historical facts, some of which, to novel-readers, will be thought tedious'. They also comment on the morality of the publication. The title of the novel, An Historical and Moral Romance, seems to have been singled out for examination by this publication: 'nor can we pass any eulogy on the moral tendencies of the present publication. With young minds, the perusal is more likely to be productive of mischief than of benefit'. I think this comment rests on the result of the Marquis de Briscacier forgiving Sabina for her adultery and accepting her son as his own. In the period when the novel was written, this was an extremely taboo subject and was behaviour that was frowned upon by society. Young minds were, indeed, influenced by reading novels, and to have a publication that not only expressed adultery as a viable topic to write on, but then sought to 'forgive' the action, was seen to be sending out a corrupt message to the readers.
A different approach to the moral aspects of the novel was taken up by The Monthly Mirror. This publication states that 'Our commendation of this work is the more full and deserved, in consequence of the excellence of its precepts and the purity of its morals'.
This is a differing opinion to that held by The Critical Review. This opinion may be held as different in consequence of the extreme suffering, both mentally and physically, that Sabina encounters, as a result of her adultery. They may have recognised that, although the novel is tackling this difficult issue, it does make the heroine suffer for her behaviour. Indeed she does suffer, with the expiry of her life. The Monthly Mirror may perceive this as a deliberate literary ploy by Palmer, to enable the readers to recognise where the character has fallen, and what are the consequences, in this case, death.
The Monthly Mirror also highlights the use of romance and history within the novel. They 'disapprove of the mixture of truth and fiction'. Yet they believe that Palmer has 'taken care to avoid unnecessary violations of the veracity of history'. While deeming the history within the novel to be a disapproving factor of its success, The Monthly Mirror celebrates the author's relation to the reader of the history of Sobieski; they state that 'the story rises in our estimation by its animated relation of the conquests of John Sobieski'. Again, later in the review, they state their pleasure in reading the historical parts of the novel; they are 'pleased with the last two volumes, they show considerable promise of future merit'. The general consensus seems to be that they disapprove of the use of the history, yet delight in the reading of it.
The European Magazine believes that the historical parts of the novel outshine the story that was put together by Palmer: 'The historical and philosophical traits are properly introduced as a relief to the languid parts of the story'.
However, from all the periodicals that reviewed The Husband and the Lover, The British Critic looked upon the novel the most favourably of all, saying that 'from these materials a story is formed, full of ingenious contrivance, and interesting events'.
The Daughters of Isenberg, like The Husband and the Lover, has come under a multitude of criticism from different quarters. The two main reviews that I was able to look at concerning this novel were from The Quarterly Review and The Critical Review. The former periodical states that the novel would have 'escaped our notice,' if not for a certain circumstance. They state, 'the daughters of Isenberg, not withstanding their multifarious beauties, would have escaped our notice altogether, but for a particular circumstance. The author, it seems, found Bath too circumscribed for her benevolence and therefore transmitted several sums of money to London, to be laid out for charitable purposes'. The rest of the review conducted by The Quarterly Review carries on in much the same damning tone. The periodical seems to build up the positive aspects that they wish to point out, then doubly damn the text in the next sentence: 'she spells somewhat more correctly than Miss Owenson, whom she at once imitates and ridicules, and she appears to know the meaning of most of her words. She has also a pretty taste for literature, and translates, with very commendable accuracy'. In the next instance they state, 'With all this, we cannot conscientiously encourage the fair author to proceed in her present course of study, we see in it little prospect of profit, and less of reputation'.
The Quarterly Review does, however, seem to show a little interest in her work. They commend her for 'introducing more characters' than in her previous novel, but they also state, 'in some cases she manifests a degree of humility which might almost be spared'.
The Critical Review takes a different view of the novel than the former periodical did. They state of The Daughters of Isenberg, 'we think [this] far superior to her former work in the diversity of character, in the conduct of the story, and in the general execution. Nor have we quite so much history blended with the fiction'. However, they do have misgivings about certain characters being introduced:
she has not been so judicious as in her former production. In that she rejected the admission of the marvellous; in this she has had recourse to the backneyed and nauseating introduction of figures in complete armour; obstruding their persons when their company is by no means wanted, and when it cannot contribute to the interest of the piece.
Because I was able to find so few reviews on this novel, I could not get a broad consensus of opinion. We have only two reviews to rely on to enable us to gain a definite opinion of the text.
The Sons of Altringham was only reviewed in one periodical, The Critical Review. In this, the novel receives nothing but praise. Yet it leads me to believe, sceptical as I am, that the main reasons for the excellent and positive review are the circumstances in which the novel was written, and for whom. The following is a lengthy passage from the review, commending Palmer for her profound generosity, and her most notable literary abilities:
'The emoluments arising from the sale of this novel, are to be appropriated to support and clothe a poor deaf and dumb boy, who is a candidate for admission into the asylum for the instruction of persons labouring under this heavy affliction. Miss Palmer informs us that she has watched over this child with much care and solitude, and that she does not find him subject to those bursts of passion, to which many deaf and dumb people are liable; but that, on the contrary, the youth evinces great quickness of intellect, and much sweetness of disposition. We have little doubt that Miss Palmer's present novel will meet with all the approbation, to which it is justly entitled, from its merits as well as from the benevolent motive of the publication.
The plan of the present novel is somewhat different from the generality of works of this kind: for it is so arranged that each volume contains a different tale, but one tale is so connected with the other, that, as we peruse the three volumes, they form a whole and regular history.
To those readers, who would be alarmed at the idea of labouring through three good sized volumes to get at the happy finale, this plan must appear peculiarly pleasant and accommodating; for, when the hours wear heavily away, it is only by taking up Miss Palmer's Sons of Altringham, it signifies not which volume, whether the third, the second, or the first, and you find an agreeable story cut and dried to the hand, or to the head, it matters not which'.