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Corvey ‘Adopt an Author’ |
Emily Clark
The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

Is Virtue Dependent on Appearance in Emily Clark's The Banks of the Douro and The Esquimaux?

Kirsty Ellerker

In the two novels by Emily Clark that I have examined the main theme is virtue. The tales are told from the point of view of the main female characters and it is primarily their status as 'good women' that is proved when they overcome the difficulties that they encounter. In the period when Clark wrote, a person's character and worth was an intrinsic factor in how they were seen by others. How their contemporaries judged a person was more important for a woman than for a man in this patriarchal society. Virtue was prized because young women were required to be chaste and morally good in a patriarchal society. A woman's strength in overcoming moral difficulties and in adhering to the Church's stated virtues of faith, hope and charity, meant she could be called 'a proper lady' (Poovey, 1984). There were chapbooks advising on how to be a good daughter and ultimately a good wife and mother, Joyce Hemlow called it 'the age of courtesy books for women' (Armstrong, 1987, p.61). The novelists of the period tended to focus on relationships, fashion and the home rather than on the traditionally male, and potentially dangerous, arena of politics. Clark's tales are moral, they culminate in the reward of the virtuous heroine with a strong, happy marriage and a large fortune. Maria Edgeworth wrote conduct books and she was a subscriber to Clark's novels, this suggests an empathy with Clark's subject material (Armstrong, 1987, p.65). As wives and mothers, women were the principle guardians of morals therefore it was important that young women of the moneyed class were virtuous. In these novels , women's value as people lies in their appearance far more than it does for men.

In both books the author describes characters' features in detail and those that are weak to temptation or just plain bad always have some defect in their appearance. The flaw might be cleverly disguised with paint and rouge by some but it is there none the less. Female characters are primarily judged on their looks whereas the male characters' wealth and rank is always described when they are first introduced. The virtue of the female characters is dependent on their appearance to a much greater extent than that of the male characters. Through presenting females first by appearance, Clark was subscribing to the male domination of women. Inadvertently or not, she was encouraging women readers to look at other women with a 'male gaze'(Berger, 1972, p.72). There is a link between virtue and appearance in Clark's novels. . In The Esquimeaux, after Rose has met Courtenay for the first time, the reader is reminded of Rose's purity, by Clark, in a verse at the start of the next chapter:

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent. (Byron, Clark, 1819, p.171).

'Tints that glow', or Blushing, is a common feature of romance literature. Colour in the cheek relates to the other organs of the body that were covered up from the male gaze. The act of blushing therefore had sexual connotations and it directly correlated to the manners and nature of young, unmarried women. If a lady blushed in male company then she was innocent and morally upright even though the fact that she was blushing meant that she must have had some knowledge of sexual relations in order for her to be embarrassed. In her essay 'The blush' , Yeazall states that 'the modest woman's blushes customarily figured as the "guard" or "defence" of her virtue' ( Yeazell,1991, p.71). The colour of womens' complexions is of importance in both the novels. Women who are good have a rosy hue on their cheek but fallen women who are not virtuous wear rouge in order to imitate the blush. An article in a fashionable magazine published the year after The Banks of the Douro warned that ' a painted cheek was a threat to the nation's moral superiority: "It is of course little better than a deceit, and on that account alone, very far, from this land of integrity' (Yeazall, 1991, p.74). Contemporary feeling was that a woman lacked the ability to blush because she was no longer virtuous. 'Blushes of ingenuous modesty added to the charm of the interesting Amelrosa' (Clark, 1805, 3, p.333). Virtue is dependent on the appearance of the face of every woman.

Lady Archdale is charitable, she takes in Amelrosa when she is an abandoned babe and brings her up. She is referred to as Amelrosa's 'beloved benefactress' and represents the mother figure that all loving daughters should aspire to be (Clark, 1805, 1, p.97). She is described as 'elegant, beautiful and fascinating, in whatever character she appeared, she charmed all hearts' (Clark, 1805, 1, p. 18). Her physical appearance is as perfect as her personality because her complexion had 'a rich glow on it that the finest paint could not equal' (Clark, 1805, 1, p. 13). She is the woman that all Clark's female readers should aspire to become. Lady Harvey similarly in The Esquimaux has 'a perfect form and face, wonderful natural abilities' and she is 'elegant and accomplished' (Clark, 1819, 1, p.218). Like Lady Archdale, she shelters the heroine, Rose, thus showing charity, one of the theological virtues. Rose thinks 'I am certain I should have been in love with her, if I had been a man' (Clark, 1819, 1, p.220). In all the portraits of this good woman she looks 'the perfection of beauty, with expression and grace' (Clark, 1819, 1, p. 222-223). These mature women are the models of perfection and represent to the reader the ideal of the good woman. Their virtue is evident in their actions, their presence and also their appearance.

The heroines of both novels are from the same mould, their virtue is evident when they are both around fourteen years of age. Amelrosa has 'a cheek of the most delicate bloom' (Clark, 1805,1, p.61). She blushes when Don Fernando smiles at her and again when he kisses her hand (1, pp.90 & 142). Even her would- be murderer is entranced by her beauty and, looking upon her while she sleeps, thinks twice about killing her. When asleep she is 'sweet and tranquil ..(with)…the repose of the innocent' upon her face (2, p.23). Amelrosa is certainly as pleasing in her person as she is to the eye but the reader is reminded of the how tasteless vanity is in a 'good woman': 'The simple elegance of Amelrosa's manners, united with such exquisite beauty, of which she could not be ignorant, yet was devoid of vanity' (2, p.100). To draw attention to the virtuousness of her heroines, Clark uses verse as an epigraph to chapters. For example, chapter 2 begins with two lines of a poem by Falconer:

Her spotless soul, where soft comparison reign'd,

No vice untun'd, no sickening folly stain'd. (Falconer in Clark, 1805, 2, p.45).

When her friend, Minette, is dying, Rose sheds 'tears of virtue and benevolence' and Lord Rossmore, her natural father, is pleased by her 'benevolent interposition in favor [sic.] of her bitterest enemy' (3, pp.208 & 282). Likewise, Amelrosa's virtue is shown when she is charitable to Barbara, a poor old woman who she meets (Clark, 1805, 1, p.50) In case the reader is in any doubt Clark describes Rose as 'a virtuous woman' (Clark, 1819, 1, p.144). She is described as 'a dazzling beauty' with 'a beautiful bloom that tinted her cheek' (Clark, 1819, 1, p.7). Her face beams with 'expressive sweetness and good humour' and 'benevolence is depicted in it (1, pp. 7 & 21). The heroines' faces depict the warmth of their nature and virtue are expressed in their appearance.

The loyal lower orders prove their virtue and are rewarded at the end of the novels. Kamira, the servant in The Esquimaux is described as having Western features even though she is an Indian. Her 'cheek had the colour of a new-blown rose …Her features were very pretty…her mouth was small, her lips red as coral' (Clark, 1819, 1, pp.7-8). She adopts white, Christian values and does not appear to miss her culture. Her willingness to adopt a foreign value system must be related to her European appearance, if she did not look like the God-fearing Christian would English society so readily have accepted her as virtuous and good? Lucy the servant in The Banks of the Douro is 'a modest, pleasing, well-behaved girl who seemed much superior to the station of life which she filled' (Clark, 1805, 2, p.272). Clark concentrates on the virtue of the women of high society and consequently there is little description of the servants' appearance. Conscious of the audience for whom she was writing, Clark did not make moral examples of the servants because her readers were probably middle class women. Their worth is displayed through devotion to their mistresses and therefore virtue is not dependent on appearance for characters of this class.

Jane is different to her older sister, Rose, for she has a violent temper although she does have some good qualities: 'When good- nature influenced (her spirits), her countenance was animated and pleasing'(Clark, 1819, 1, p. 8). Jane's downfall is a consequence of her vanity because she is flattered by Colonel Guilford and marries him without her parent's consent (2, p.77). Of course, after she fails to be a good woman', it is only a matter of time before the now morally corrupted Jane is seen with disreputable types and wearing rouge (3, p.187). Jane suffers because of her weaknesses but is at least saved from further shame through a marriage which takes place at her deathbed. Surrounded by loved ones Jane is allowed a 'good death' because she has seen the error of her ways (Houlbrooke, 1995, p.202). Jane serves as a warning to young ladies of the bad that will come of them if they stray from the correct path. Minette, in The Banks of the Douro, is a similar character to Jane, because she also has a baby without her parent's knowledge and marries on her deathbed. She has been duped in to having pre-marital sex but she put herself in that position because she got drunk , which is of course very unbecoming of a lady. Where she was once described as having 'had something sweet and pleasing in her fair face' after committing the sinful act she has wild and hollow eyes 'which have entirely lost their former lustre' (Clark, 1805, 2, p.231 & 3, p.207). On first meeting her, the reader should have been aware of the propensity of Minette to make an erroneous judgement because although her 'manners were the most elegant' she was 'inclined to vivacity' (2, p.231). However, Minette and Jane are both given a second chance as it were, before God, because they both have 'good deaths' (Houlbrooke, 1995, p.203). Minette still has 'a beautiful bloom' on her cheeks because these girls are not bad, they have just lost their way. Their virtue is related to appearance as their beauty is restored to a certain degree once they have ceased their immoral behaviour.

Women who are immoral are described as having unattractive faces or flaws which they manage to conceal to a certain extent. Mrs. Pryce is a 'short fat women, genteely dressed' who seems good natured (Clark, 1819, 1,p.124). She has the 'remains of a handsome face' but wears a lot of rouge (1, p.126). Mrs. Pryce is one of the main protagonists in the downfall of Jane and she has also been conducting an affair with Rose's estranged uncle. Her bad character is concealed in the first half of the story when Jane befriends her. In the same way, Mrs. Pryce manages to hide her natural complexion by applying rouge: 'to her cheeks, chin, and even to her nose, which gave her a very ruddy appearance, and would have deceived any one, so natural did this bloom appear' (1, p.133). Mrs. Pryce is not a nice woman she beats her children and dies alone in a cave. She does not have a 'good death' so this shows her character is flawed. She is not virtuous but she is deceitful both in her appearance and her manners. In The Esquimaux, Mrs. Marley's complexion is 'rather too brown and pale, but she improved it with rouge and pearl powder' (Clark, 1819, 1, p.113). Mrs. Marley is the mistress of the wicked Zamara and she is 'revengeful, artful, extravagant, intemperate and licentious' (1, p.112). She is deceitful because she gives the 'appearance of natural modesty' and like Mrs. Pryce her rouge is convincingly put on and it is hard to tell she is deceiving the eye ( Clark, 1805,1, p.113). These mature women have realised that virtue is dependent on appearance and they adjust both their manners and faces accordingly. In these novels Clark has two types of older women, one is virtuous and is always a lady, the other is lower class with a desire to appear as of higher birth. These lower class women, Mrs. Pryce and Mrs. Marley are used by Clark to warn the reader of the consequences of dishonest and deceitful behaviour. They are both instrumental in bringing about the kidnapping of the heroines for financial gain. They are similar characters with identical flaws; their appearance is far from perfect and their disposition likewise. Clark warns the reader, 'it was impossible to judge of her disposition which could only be known when you had been for a long time on an intimate footing with her' (Clark, 1819,1, p.113). They are the main instigators of the plots against the heroines, cosmetic masks help them to be taken at face value and their pretensions to be middle class are almost successful.

This theme is followed through even in minor characters. Upon the death of Sir James Douglas, there is a fraudulent claim upon Rose's father's inheritance. A woman of the lower class named Helen insists that James had secretly married her but friends of the Douglas family are suspicious: 'the late sir James had more taste than to have exposed himself from attachment for this low, ugly, cunning woman' (Clark, 1819, 3, p.16). The fisherwoman, who is Rose's captor, is again of a similar nature; she is dirty, lower class, a liar and she masks her deficient character with perfume. 'Rose was astonished to hear a woman most uncommonly dirty, and in a station exceedingly inferior, boast of using perfumed soap, when she seemed even niggardly of the commonest and cheapest. She was convinced, from this circumstance, she did not speak a word of truth' ( 2, p.153). These characters are guilty of contributing to the struggles of the heroines but their artifice is not as successful as that of Mrs. Pryce and Mrs. Marley. Their appearances almost at once give them away as liars, therefore, in the case of lower class, morally corrupt women , their virtue is dependent on appearance.

Another type of female character in Clark's novels is the heroines' social peers, who all have their faults and lack morality andsensibility. This contrasts with the heroines' virtue as no positive comments are mentioned about their moral characters and their physical appearance is of the utmost importance. Catherine Stanhope is beautiful but extremely vain and jealous, she has various beauty rituals that are alien to Amelrosa. Catherine tapers her fingers to make them grow straight and when she has a pimple she sleeps in an upright position to rid herself of the toxins (Clarke, 1805,2, p.155). Catherine's countenance assumed a gloomy past, though part of its expression was hid by the rouge that concealed her change of colour' (2, p.287). For Clark, natural beauty is virtuous. Clark uses a line from Moore's Fables to contrast Catherine with Amelrosa; Catherine is a 'gaudy tulip' while Amelrosa is a 'lily of the vale' (2, p.163). Rouge is the ultimate in vanity; Catherine offers it to Amelrosa, who declines. Rouge symbolises sin and Amelrosa is able to state categorically that she does not want to use it because she is so morally upright. 'Catherine and her mother, Mrs.Stanhope, are socialites, who betray Amelrosa. They tell her fiance, Glenholme, that she has been secretly meeting with another man. Clark ensures that these unpleasant characters receive just punishment; Catherine's death follows shortly after that of her own baby and her mother is left destitute. In contrast, the virtuous Amelrosa not only forgives the Stanhope family, but pays Mrs Stanhope a generous allowance. Another character, Polly Wizzle, is similar to the Stanhopes to a certain extent, as her revengeful acts demonstrate: at her brother's dinner party she deliberately spoils the food (Clark,1819,1, p.251). Polly tries to affect youth with her style of dress and mannerisms, she pinches her cheeks to produce a colour which surprises Rose 'as she had frequently heard Miss Wizzle finds fault with a natural bloom, saying it gave a vulgar look to a female to have a colour, and that it was more genteel for a lady to be pale' (Clark, 1819, 1, p.251). By trying to appear younger Polly comes across as a person who does not want to act their age, at fifty she is still playing childish pranks on her brother. Two other characters who lack moral excellence are Robecka and Madame St. Eu. Robecka, the rival of Kamira, 'possessed a worthless, merciless, and revengeful heart' and 'constant falsehood stained her lips' (1, p16). Madame St. Eu was 'rouged so exceedingly high' and 'her manners were as artificial as her person, and she flattered and deceived all her acquaintance…they were completely taken in by her artifice' (Clark, 1805,2, p.261). In The Banks of the Douro, Mrs. Taylor is different, although she is 'vulgar and ignorant' she is 'a good kind of woman' (Clark, 1805, 2, p.89). Mrs. Taylor is the only exception to the general rule in these novels that virtue is dependent on appearance for female characters.

The male characters are introduced without emphasis on their appearance, it is a few pages after they have been introduced that the reader might be told what they look like, while a woman's appearance is always described first and foremost. For example, Captain Glenholme is a soldier, who eventually marries Amelrosa, is described as having a 'rich glow of his fine turned cheek embrowned by the heat of the sun, which was an improvement as it gave him a more manly look' ( Clark, 1805, 1, p.60). His uprightness is proved when he rescues Amelrosa from her kidnappers. The hero of The Esquimaux is Sir. Eglamour Delavalle, he is also a soldier and is 'tall, and finely proportioned, with a face of manly beauty' (Clark, 1819, 2, p.182). These are the only physical descriptions we have of the heroic male. Rose links Delavalle's virtue to his appearance when she thinks 'if his mind equalled his person, he must be perfection itself' (2, p.183). His integrity is shown when he rescues Rose from the smugglers who have held her captive. Both these characters are physically attractive and morally good.

Don Luis de Zamara tries to murder Amelrosa to prevent her from inheriting a fortune that is rightfully hers. He is a gothic figure who wears a black cloak and is consequently disfigured by his crimes: 'a convincing proof that a long course of infamous pursuits, and a depraved mind, frequently deforms the countenance and renders it a faithful portrait of the heart' (Clark, 1805, 1, p.122). His unchivalric action of masterminding the plot against Amelrosa is displayed in his facial features, so certainly here Clark is linking virtue to appearance. Whereas in The Esquimaux the uncle also masterminds the plot, but no description is given of his appearance. The male's appearance is only important in so much as it adds dramatic tension when a shady figure tries to murder the heroine. There is no attempt on Rose's life and consequently her uncle's appearance is unimportant. This is in stark contrast to Clark's treatment of female characters who have a propensity for evil. Clark sometimes uses traits other than the man's appearance to describe male characters. For example, weapons are only important in the descriptions of young, sexually available males; wealth and status are important in descriptions of older men. This is so in the case of Jacome, a young man who is forced to be a member of the banditti but proves he is morally upright when he helps Amelrosa to escape. Jacome is described as 'a short sturdy fellow of a swarthy complexion, in a kind of soldier's dress, with a dagger stuck in his belt and two pistols laying on a table before him' (1, p.180). This is also borne out in the character of Mr. Taylor, from the same novel, who is older and is a merchant who takes Amelrosa into his care. He is simply described as 'a man of large property' and 'a man of respectable connections' (Clark, 1805, 2, pp.87-88).

Minor characters do not have lavish descriptions like the female characters do. Even if they are virtuous their appearance is of little importance. Captain O'Dell is just such a minor character who 'not possessing sufficient fascination to engage the affections of any woman of education or refinement; the outward varnish of his character wearing off on a nearer acquaintance' (Clark, 1805, 2, p.100). There is no description of Captain Burton appearance except to say that he is six foot tall, though he is described as 'kind-hearted, frank, unsuspicious and generous' (Clark, 1819, 1, p.161). Even the male characters who lack integrity will not be described in great detail. For example, when Courtenay is first introduced only his age is revealed, it is not until the next chapter when 'his eyes give away his passions' that his appearance is relevant (1, pp.163-172). He is not virtuous because he propositions Rose saying that he will marry her when he has money and he strikes Rose several blows because she has rejected him. Rose finds this 'insulting to a female educated in virtuous principles' and she sees his face 'distorted with brutal anger and unmanly vice, (2, pp.92-94).

Eustace is Rose's first love but is unveiled as unsuitable. He is 'very handsome' but Rose perceives that his chin is 'too long'. This minor flaw in his appearance is related to his 'boisterous, rude, and …instantly vulgar' character (Clark, 1810,1, pp. 149-150). He is likened to the Earl of Essex but he doesn't have the good qualities that the Earl had. In fact Eustace is 'the most unprincipled of men' (Clark, 1819,1, p.152).

In the character of Felix, Rose's brother, who is away fighting for the majority of The Esquimaux virtue and appearance are linked. He promised at the age of fifteen 'to be a model of personal elegance and manly beauty. Nor was his heart undeserving of an exterior so perfect' (Clark, 1819, 1, pp.7-8). Here the virtue and physical appearance are directly connected and this is in contrast to a number of Clark's other minor male characters. However, Clark thought it necessary to warn the reader to be on their guard against men who appear to be virtuous, with this carefully chosen verse placed at the beginning of the second chapter. It draws together the theme for the whole chapter.

I saw, - admir'd, - reflect'd,- and esteem'd

Nor judg'd such carriage with destructive show,

Conceal'd a darksome well of treason hid below! (Sterling in Clark, 1805, 1. p.110).

Like Burney's female characters the women in Clark's novels are judged by appearances and are consequently 'victims of society' (Figes, 1982, p.53). They are 'pronounced upon only from outward semblance' (Burney in Figes, 1982, p.55).Clark emphasises that disguising facial features can disguise bad characteristics and she demonstrates the negative effects on the heroines of masking the true self. For example, when Amelrosa attends a ball where everyone wears masks she is kidnapped, believing her kidnapper to be a friend because his face is covered. Clark guides the reader towards believing all masks of cosmetic make-up, in particular rouge; or that even facial expressions may hide character faults. Virtuous female characters have no need of masks, they are beautiful because their faces will glow from inner strength and natural goodness.

This direct link between inner goodness and outward appearance in is re-enforced by Clarke. She uses this moral on the title page of The Esquimaux:

A faithful heart its ample store

Can more than eastern treasures pour:

- its price is known

To pure and noble souls alone

It lends the lip a richer glow

Than Persian rubies can bestow (quoted by Clarke, 1819, appears on title page).

Clark's female characters are judged primarily by their appearance, whereas with male characters other criteria are important. Wealth, status and possessions matter in this patriarchal society. Clark attaches less importance to the appearance of lower class characters of either gender; though there are devoted servants who never express any discontent with their position in society, their benevolence is not depicted to the same extent in their faces.

Conversely, the morally corrupt characters are generally less attractive but even those who are pleasing to the eye are vain. Moral justice is achieved for these characters, they usually end their days in sorrow, and generally get what they deserve. A strong thread in Clark's novels is that bad characteristics actually show in the face. The nature of these deeds 'frequently deforms the countenance and renders it a faithful portrait of the heart' (Clark, 1805, 1, p.122).