Plot Synopsis of Melbourne by Mrs Martin
In picaresque style, Melbourne, in three volumes, is a novel about the hero’s journey through life, from childhood to marriage. Harry Melbourne is an orphan, who by the end of the novel discovers his biological parents who are of a high rank and status. This allows him to marry his true love, Julia Dalrymple.
The first volume is mainly concerned with Melbourne’s childhood and preliminary education at Eton. The volume commences with Melbourne as a child, under the care of Mr and Mrs Edmunds, a local farmer and his wife at the village of Linwood. A local parson, Wilford Searle and his sister take an interest in this intelligent, strong-minded boy and ask the Edmunds about how they came to be his guardians. Four years previously, Martha Gwynned, a friend of Mrs Edmunds and the housekeeper of Emily Meredith, asked the Edmunds to take care of Melbourne immediately after he was born. Martha refused to divulge the actual circumstances relating to this child, but it is hinted that there is some connection between Emily Meredith, a lady of high rank and fortune, and this abandoned child.
Mr and Miss Searle decide to help educate Melbourne in Greek, Latin and moral philosophy. As the years pass by, Melbourne becomes a fine gentleman with ‘every mark of a superior genius’ (Martin, 1798:I.69). There are lengthy discussions between Mr and Miss Searle about whether Melbourne should continue his education at home or at school. One day, as Melbourne is out helping Mr Edmunds in the fields, he comes across the Macartney family. It is at this point that he meets his future love Julia. She is the cousin of George, Edmund and Matilda Macartney, who are three spoilt, upper class children of the generous, warm-hearted Mr Macartney.
Mr Macartney is impressed with Melbourne’s character, and offers to send him to Eton with his sons. The offer is accepted and Melbourne leaves Linwood. At Eton, he meets Lord George Montague who is to become his closest and dearest friend throughout the novel. At the end of this volume, Melbourne is about to embark on his university education at Cambridge.
The second volume begins at Cambridge, with Melbourne and George planning to go travelling around Europe in the holidays. Before they embark on this trip, a surprise meeting is arranged between Melbourne and Julia, who he hasn’t seen since he was a child. Melbourne realises that he is in love with her, but he discovers that so too is his friend, George. The two friends go travelling together but Melbourne keeps his feelings for Julia secret, as he is convinced she returns George’s love. Further complications arise when George’s parents arrange a marriage between Lady Susan Dermer and their son.
When Melbourne and George return to England, George discovers that his love for Julia is unrequited, so reluctantly marries Lady Susan. With the help of Melbourne, George realises that he does in fact love Susan and not Julia.
Melbourne returns to the Macartney household to find that Mr Macartney has died. His spiteful children tell Melbourne that they will not carry on funding his education at Cambridge, like their father had been helped prior to his death. Therefore, Melbourne leaves university and decides to visit Julia, who is staying with her aunt. However, he gets lost on the way and meets a gentleman called Davenport. They become friends and Davenport tells Melbourne of how he has been denounced by false accusations and lost his inheritance. A close friend disowned him and he also lost the love of his life, Arabella, his friend’s sister. Melbourne and Davenport keep in contact via letter, and by chance Melbourne meets the friend in Davenport’s story – Colonel Fortescue and his sister, Arabella. Melbourne attempts to reconcile them, but finds difficulties in trying to convince the Colonel of Davenport’s innocence.
Meanwhile, George Montague has donated money to Mr Searle enabling him to send Melbourne back to Cambridge to pursue his theological career. At university, Melbourne falls into a bad crowd and consequently takes up drinking, loutish behaviour and borrowing money. However, he does make a good friend, Howard Melbourne, (who does not turn out to be any relation).
In the third and final volume, it is revealed that Howard is married to a woman called Maria. However, the marriage is kept secret because Maria is a ‘public singer’, which may hinder Howard’s progression in his pursuit for a theological career. The equilibrium is disrupted when Aubrey De Verre, a university colleague, kidnaps Maria out of jealously. Melbourne and Howard go to London to chase after the rogue, but their carriage collides with another and Howard breaks his leg. However, Melbourne continues in the pursuit and eventually finds Lord Aubrey De Verre, who denies all knowledge of Maria’s disappearance. It is soon revealed that Aubrey De Verre did kidnap Maria, but she escaped. Melbourne seeks her out and helps to reunite the married couple.
Meanwhile, Melbourne has also succeeded in reuniting Davenport, Colonel Fortesque and Arabella, who are eternally grateful to him. He tells Julia how he feels about her and his love is returned. They plan to marry when Julia turns eighteen. However, just prior to this event, her father returns from the West Indies and insists she marry his affluent friend, Mr Ireby. Julia protests but her father keeps her prisoner until the marriage is arranged. However, Mr Ireby falls ill and dies, leaving Julia free to marry Melbourne.
It is also discovered that Mr and Mrs Montague are in fact Melbourne’s parents, with whom he is happily reunited. The novel ends with the happy marriage of Melbourne and Julia.