A CONSIDERATION OF THE PORTRAYAL OF MOTHERHOOD, MARRIAGE AND RELIGION IN MARY HEDGE’S THE FLATTERER AND LIFE; OR FASHION AND FEELING by Michaela Rosenthall
Although little is known privately of Mary Hedge, the novels that are to be evaluated in the following essay are very specific in their intentions. As a writer, Hedge chose to specialise in conduct style novels that were popular since the eighteenth century. Her tone is moralistic, didactic and she makes no pretensions that her works are intended to produce highly crafted or original tales. The Flatterer follows the scheming of a young governess, Clara, in her attempts to exert financial control over her young female charge, which will ultimately lead Clara back into the fashionable society she craves. Life is a novel of interwoven relationships, particularly concerning itself with the problems inherent in making the correct choice in a marriage partner, being a good mother and retaining a true Christian faith.
Hedge’s concern with the domestic is a dominant theme throughout both novels. Here female characters are encouraged to conform to a stereotype of perfect motherhood, and the responsibility for the child’s moral conduct weighs heavily on the mother. Hedge does not attempt to criticise or challenge a patriarchal view of society. Women are viewed and judged by male characters when not condemned or praised directly by the narrator. Indeed, Hedge presents a very strong and manipulating authorial voice, which dictates the narrative, yet she rarely uses this to undermine male authority. The celebration of the ideal woman whose proper role would be recognised as domestic is common with most writers of her period, as Poovey remarks:
‘As a daughter, a wife, a mother, a widow, a virgin or a whore, every woman was defined by relationship – explicitly to man, implicitly to sexuality itself’ ( Poovey: 1984: preface)
The dependence of women upon the male perspective is represented throughout both novels with the narrators’ device of demonstrating influential male characters, such as fathers and guardians, as possessing morality and common sense.
However, it can be argued that Hedge does attempt to assert some individuality of style upon her novels. As with many writers of her period she challenges popular genres, such as the gothic, with scathing criticism through character portrayal. What takes Hedge beyond this, is her attempt to subvert gothic devices by frustrating the usual sub-plot with a lack of closure.
Ultimately, the female reader is encouraged to seek fulfilment in a domestic position dominated by a masculine society. Portraying transgressing women as unhappy and shallow enforces the doctrines of the period. The ‘proper lady’ is associated with nature in an attempt to enforce the message that the behaviour characteristics that society condones are biologically inherent in women. There is very little active or assertive behaviour in Hedge’s heroines, as they continue to present themselves as models of femininity. In contrast, the male characters are allowed to make human errors, learn from their experiences and embrace the consolations of religion.
The portrayal of motherhood is one of the dominating themes within Hedge’s fiction. In the Myth of Motherhood, Elizabeth Badinter states that within the nineteenth century:
‘There was a new awareness that the mother’s function went beyond the biological to the moral; it was her duty to raise a good Christian and a good citizen, a person who would benefit himself and society’ (Badinter: 1981: 205)
Hedge seems to agree with the idea that the mother can be the greatest influence on a child’s behaviour as Life contains many references to both good and bad examples of motherhood. When we are introduced to Matilda, the wife of one of the main characters, Charles Wilmot, we are advised by an authorial narrator that her mother educated her to attract a rich marriage partner only:
‘She therefore could form the manners of her daughter, and instruct her in the suavity necessary to win attention and to conceal…any defects of mental cultivation’
This is intended as a clear warning to any mother of the great responsibility that they must acknowledge over their children’s education. The character of Matilda is shown to be selfish, vain and interested only in the vapid pleasures of a society life. However, she does secure the hand of Charles Wilmot, a man of comfortable means by using the charms her mother has educated and encouraged her in. In this respect, Matilda’s mothers’ plans appear to have been successful initially, yet the narrator undermines this success by advising the reader what she has failed to gain in her actions:
‘Poor Matilda reached her seventeenth year without an idea or an aim beyond the transient scenes of the present life…for the retired pleasures of cultivated and congenial minds' (Hedge: 1822: 20, Vol. II)
This is intended to demonstrate how a misguided understanding of a nurturing mother's role has made it impossible for Matilda to be satisfied with herself or recognise her own faults.
Matilda as a mother figure is shown to have faults which could lead to repercussions on the next generation of mother, that of her daughter Emma. However, Hedge is careful to explain Matilda’s faults as being caused by temptations in society rather than acknowledging the possibility that a mother has the potential to feel no love for her own child. As Mary Brunton comments in her moral etiquette novel Self-Control (1811):
It is the fashion of the age to account for every striking feature of a character from education or external circumstance’ (Maitland: 1986: 4)
It is this ‘fashion of the age’ that has prompted Hedge to provide the rational behind Matilda’s attitude to motherhood by explaining in detail how she has suffered moral and educational defects from her own mother. Not only does Matilda not possess the skills of motherhood which would provide a sound basis of education for her own daughter, she is unable to cultivate a satisfying life for herself and her husband, leaving her susceptible to the thrill of gambling. The type of entertainment gambling can provide is quickly rebuked by Hedge as a ‘poisonous influence’ which 'destroys any mental or moral qualities of the individual’ (Hedge: 1822: 38, Vol. I). In her morally weakened state, Matilda is no longer able to establish clearly what an evil influence fashionable society is on herself and is distanced by the narrator from a natural picture of motherhood. Once distanced, the narrator presents her as a victim in order that she may be excused from her parental neglect:
‘Was it surprising that the slender, maternal affection she had hitherto shown should vanish before their power? (Hedge: 1822: 39 Vol. I)
As Matilda is shown to be an unfit mother figure due to her own childhood experiences, Hedge is able to introduce the paternal parent as natural carer of Emma. It is Charles, as well as the readers who ‘see his child neglected by her frivolous mother’ (Hedge: 1822: 42 Vol. I), and so readily accept his willingness to provide a replacement parental role model, a role that is usually filled by the mother.
Motherhood has to remain a sacred position. Even though Matilda’s neglect has forced Charles to take up a maternal role, the reader is made aware that motherhood must be kept separate from the individual if that individual is incapable of becoming a natural nurturing mother figure by the standards of the age:
‘He was well aware that it would be a delicate and difficult task to make Emma despise the apathy and indolence of her mother, without attaching the same feeling to her individually’ (Hedge: 1822: 100 Vol. I)
Hedge does not want to condemn or destroy the position of the good mother figure here and is anxious, by dictating that her characters also become anxious, to separate bad qualities from an individual who is also a mother. We are introduced to the consideration given to the mother figure early in the first volume when Charles states:
‘Wilmot thought he had never seen so lovely a figure, and it is very true that a woman never does appear to such advantage as in the maternal character’ (Hedge: 1822: 69, Vol. I)
It is important to note in the passage illustrated, that the narrator refers to the character of Charles as ‘Wilmot’. This is a deliberate manipulation by the narrator in order to foreground the statement as a moral position. It is intended to be a generic statement rather than a thought which can only be attributed to a specific character. It is the conjunctive ‘and’ which signals to the reader that this is a statement intended to be recognised as being made by the narrator rather than Charles. Also, by using the comparison of a perfect mother figure in a friend’s wife, the narrator is able to express through the character of Charles the importance of women to be aware of and appreciate their role as mother.
Hedge’s portrayal of motherhood continues to be dominated by the male characters’ viewpoint. The ‘natural’ state of motherhood in women is viewed through the character Charles’ observations of his wife, ‘Ah Matilda! Should a mother be at an uncertainty on such a point? (Hedge: 1822: 56 Vol. I). This particular statement by Charles is reminiscent of Rousseau’s Emile (1762), that is also a text intended to portray the role of women as natural wives and mothers. It appears likely to have contributed towards the influence over Hedge’s own opinions when we compare Charles’ utterance to the following of Rousseau’s,‘Is it any the less a woman’s business to be a mother? (Foxley: 1974: 328).
It is important to note here how Matilda is condemned through the judgement of Charles. The portrayal of the ideal mother is presented using ‘the controlling effects of the male gaze’ (Palmer: 1989: 34). The image of the ‘mother’ is created through the thoughts and statements of the male dominant Charles, leading us to suggest that the narrator is following a patriarchal ideology rather than encouraging her readers to forge new ideas on the position of women within society.
A further link to Rousseau is the idea that women need to learn docility, since ‘they never cease to be subject to men’ (Foxley: 1974: 710). As Charles directly refers to Emma as ‘docile’, this presents an attitude that leads him to conclude that as ‘Emma is docile, we will educate her’ (Hedge: 1822: 11 Vol. I). If we consider this statement in light of feminist criticism, it is significant that only Charles refers to his daughter in this manner, as it allows him to justify his reasons for manipulating her education. The female for him is presented as naturally passive and so requires guidance. The character of Emma raises no objections or surprise when her father assumes the maternal role of educator. She is quickly encouraged to adopt the characteristics he considers are correct for his view of society. It is also a view of society the narrator does not criticise. This allows the narrator to infer to the reader which qualities will render them successful in society. It is Emma’s natural docile temperament which is shown to be necessary to obtain praise in a patriarchal society, ‘these reflections daily became more pleasing to Wilmot. Emma met all his wishes by her docility…which aided…all his intentions respecting her’ (Hedge: 1822: 137 Vol. I). Here, it is a feminine state, which is dictated by a masculine perspective.
In her considerations of the portrayal of the mother figure, Hedge also pursues the option of the motherless or orphaned child. One of the principle characters of The Flatterer, Clara Pemberton, is used to symbolise what can happen to a child who does not possess the benefit of a loving mother. We are advised that Clara’s mother dies before she reaches the age of ten, therefore ‘deprived of the guidance of an affectionate mother’ (Hedge: 1822: 1-2) she develops into a selfish, artful character. The narrator of The Flatterer informs us that Clara’s guardian, Mrs Fullerton, cultivates her beauty and feminine accomplishments, specifically requesting ‘her manners and exterior deportment should be particularly attended to’ (Hedge: 1822: 9). Although Mrs Fullerton is not Clara’s mother, she is intended to represent her nearest female influence and as such is offered as a comparison to the mother figure, but Mrs Fullerton neglects to recognise and assume her role as moral educator of her charge. The selfish gratification she displays in presenting her protégé Clara is transferred to Clara herself who concludes it is perfectly acceptable to judge yourself on your appearance rather than the genuine qualities you possess. As Hedge also demonstrates with the character of Matilda in Life, the education of a child solely in feminine accomplishments estranges them from the ability to give or receive genuine affection, ‘Clara was much too occupied by the thought of selfish gratification to reflect upon the claims of a parent’ (Hedge: 1822: 4). It is not a coincidence that Clara shares many features of character with Matilda, as the message to the reader is intended to be the same, that the lack of an adequate mother figure can have repercussions on the child’s ability to be a credit to themselves or society. This relates back to the initial statement provided by Badinter that it is the mother who teaches a child to ‘benefit himself and society’ (Badinter: 1981: 205)
As well as demonstrating the powerful role of mother for future society, this also highlights the links frequently made between women and nature. Once the narrator has shown Clara rejecting the possibility of striving to make herself into a decent individual who will benefit society, readers are advised by a didactic narrator that Clara has not been born bad, but like Matilda she was not nurtured by a mother who could curb such behaviour:
‘The penetrating affection, the anxious vigilance of a mother, might have ameliorated the soil which brought forth such noxious weeds, while her incessant care might have exterminated each spreading, hurtful root’ (Hedge: 1822: 12)
As Rousseau was clear to stress that a woman’s biological processes shaped her into a mother, it is important to Hedge to demonstrate that a link could be established between the concept of natural motherhood being possible due to woman’s affinity to nature. However, as this link has to be so forcibly demonstrated within her fiction, we must consider whether Hedge is misguidedly ‘ascribing to nature what is in fact cultural’ (Kaplan: 1992: 21). Hedge is aware of the influence of didactic novels such as hers, as she acknowledges this within her introduction to The Retreat (1820). Here she addresses her readers directly to explain that she is intentionally portraying characters who ‘attempt to exemplify the influence of the beauties of nature upon the character’. By using her authority as an author to advocate the necessity of motherhood to produce good citizens an artificial link is created between woman and nature.
It is a favoured narrative style of Hedge’s to emphasise the deficiencies or highlight virtuous qualities of her characters by introducing characters to their seeming opposites. Within The Flatterer is no exception as the stepmother, Mrs Bosville is portrayed as the opposite mother figure to Clara’s guardian Mrs Fullerton. Julia is not Mrs Bosville’s natural child, as Clara is not Mrs Fullerton’s natural daughter, but she is anxious to adopt the role of mother. It is important for Hedge to demonstrate Mrs Bosville’s intentions towards Julia are benevolent, even though she is unable to prevent Julia from falling under Clara’s influence:
‘To assist me in adding to the virtues and mental acquirements of my dear Julia. I am perhaps, more anxious respecting her than if she were my own’ (Hedge: 1822: 53)
It has to be made clear to the reader that Mrs Bosville has not usurped the role of the biological mother which is why she has to be shown being ‘anxious’ to care for Julia well and honestly. Mrs Bosville, like Mrs Fullerton is keen to see Julia acquire ‘those exterior accomplishments which will render her an ornament’ (Hedge: 1822: 55), but beyond this desire, she displays the maternal concern of hoping for Julia to be ‘a blessing to her family and society’ (Hedge: 1822: 55). It is the desire to see her adopted daughter become a blessing rather than an ornament that separates the maternal role of Mrs Bosville from Mrs Fullerton.
Although Hedge continually states the need for the nurturing mother figure throughout the novels, the figure of the father is encouraged as a suitable replacement. A contemporary readership is shown the benefits of a child raised by a father with the right attitude by introducing the oppositions of Julia as wayward child and Emily as virtuous child who is brought to the Bosville house by the narrator to expose the flatterer Clara. The girl child Emily has been orphaned like young Julia and Clara but she has not been apparently introduced to a replacement female maternal figure either. Yet Emily is not portrayed as deficient in virtuous characteristics as Clara was after loosing her mother. A large emphasis was placed on Clara’s deficiencies being encouraged due to a lack of a suitable mother figure. What saves Emily from the fate of Clara is her removal from society by her father. We are told that upon the death of his ‘beloved’, who is aptly named and described as ‘my sainted Mary’ (Hedge: 1822: 83) five years previous, Emily’s father had allowed her to accompany him on his travels as his companion, thereby devoting his life to her. By removing Emily from society, it has been possible to accept that although she appears not to have received a replacement mother figure, her father has successfully occupied the nurturing role.
The role of the father as educator is therefore introduced as a legitimate option in both The Flatterer and Life. Throughout both novels, the main characters are never able to develop to adulthood with both parents. Kaplan confirms that ‘Rousseau in general established a conception of child rearing as a long preparation for adulthood carefully overseen by the parents’ (Kaplan: 1992: 20). Although Rousseau advocated the strong responsibility of the mother to her child, he seems to be suggesting here that the male parent can carry an equal role. In accordance with this suggestion, Hedge concedes that as long as the role of parent educator is fulfilled wisely, a child does not have to be limited to a maternal influence for regulation. As Adela says of her father in Life, ‘ I owe it, as I do every acquirement I possess, to my dear father’ (Hedge: 1822: 5 Vol. II). A strong moral influence is still advocated within this statement, however it is interesting to note that although male characters on both The Flatterer and Life successfully raise their children, they are given an affinity for nature usually associated with the female.
An intriguing link between the two novels is the repeated use of the same character names. There are two Archibald’s and Adela’s in Life, an intelligent character called Emily in both Life and The Flatterer and one of the main characters in Life is Julian who possesses a female equivalent name of Julia in The Flatterer. This could certainly be a coincidence but it is more likely that Hedge is manipulating a popular gothic device known as doubling to manipulate reader expectation. It is not intended that the character doubling should distort or provide alternative selves directly, but that readers of her novels may recognise the name associations and use these as indicators of what to expect from the characters. Those familiar with her work may recognise there is a doubling of the villain of Clara, a manipulative female only interested in Julia’s fortune and Fitzwalter in Life, who is an equally selfish individual who uses people for his own gratification. Both characters are cruel, vain and self indulgent. As her tone and style are didactic, it would be appropriate that she would use such an obvious method as a sign indicating the appearance of good or bad characters.
It is possible that gothic fiction was read by Hedge as it was widely available and proved extremely popular from the 1790’s onwards. It is also pertinent if we consider that Hedge published with the Minerva Press, who were infamous in their associations with the much criticised popular gothic form. One aspect of her writing that could indicate she was aware of the gothic form is that within The Flatterer Clara, the villain of the novel is allowed to attempt to corrupt an innocent family from within their own home. In domestic fiction, the home would be expected to be the last refuge from any external threatening influences. As Hedge presents the home as potentially threatening, the novel anticipates later gothic novels that deal with the home as ‘a site of both internal and external pressures’ (Botting: 1996: 128), such as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. There are also located within the novel phrases that are reminiscent of the dark gothic style, such as ‘misanthropy erected his dark altar’ (Hedge: 1822: 23 Vol. III).
In resistance to gothic tradition, Hedge never reveals the full circumstances surrounding Julian St Aubyn’s parenthood. This was highlighted as a frustration of a contemporary reviewer from The Monthly Censor, who stated how he ‘continued the history constantly anticipating an unravelling of the mystery…when the usual subterfuge…might have satisfied us upon this point’ (Monthly Censor: 1822: 825). What is interesting about this resistance to gothic closure is that Mary Hedge is arguably rejecting this in the same way she rejects the frivolous reading enjoyed by the shallower characters of Caroline Mordant and Isabella De Clair. What appears to be a disappointing oversight to one contemporary reviewer becomes a stance by the author against one form of popular fiction of her period. Hedge therefore considers the influences of gothic but rejects its example to elevate her own work above what she may consider an inferior literary genre.
The volumes of Life concern themselves considerably with the theme of marriage. In her study of women writers within this period, Eva Figes suggests that:
‘There were two main themes open to the women novelists of the eighteenth century…the conduct in courtship novel, and the novel of misconduct, betrayal and ruin…[the former] being an exemplar for young ladies to follow’ (Figes: 1982: 12)
As Hedge is an author concerned with teaching and displaying morality, it is not unusual that she has approached such a considered subject for her readers. The consideration of marriage as companionship for life, is one of the first concerns surrounding marriage that is raised. We are introduced to a married couple, Charles and Matilda, who have married without either being aware of the other's true nature and therefore are ultimately unable to make each other happy. It may appear to be a harsh consideration of the sentimental character Charles that both he and Matilda have married falsely. However, what is suggested is not that he approached the union with any intention to deceive, but that he did not attempt to obtain a longer courtship period before resolving to marry. We are introduced to the concept of choosing the marriage partner carefully by Charles’s uncle, who is described by the narrator as a ‘good man’ in order that the reader can assume his advice is sound. The warning given by his uncle is a clear signal to a contemporary readership:
‘He did venture to hint the importance of temper in the marriage union, the necessity of ascertaining the principles of the woman he should choose for his companion through life’ (Hedge: 1822: 25 Vol. I)
The description of marriage as a ‘union’ is significant in its suggestion that both men and women are equal in standing within the institution of marriage. If this were the intended position, it would certainly prove an enlightened suggestion for the period.
However, as the novel progresses, the narrator advises us that the woman’s position within this union is to enhance the happiness of the man. As Charles laments, ‘he must not hope to find in the bosom of his wife a sanctuary from the chagrins, the cares, the tumults of life’ (Hedge: 1822: 35 Vol. I). The feminist criticism concerning the reduction of the female to body parts is pertinent in this image. Here Charles has reduced Matilda to ‘the bosom’, a feminine physical attribute which exists to serve as comforter to man, but presented in such a way that appears to be ‘a natural body image’ (Palmer: 1989: 25). By focusing on the needs of the man and reducing the figure of the woman, the suggestion that the marriage is intended to be an equal union is not supported by the narrator's use of language.
The narrator manoeuvres Charles to allow him and the reader to view an ideal of the domestic situation when visiting his friend Clifford. The wife Emily (note how with Hedge, this name is synonymous with a superior image of a female), is the perfect cook, hostess and mother and excels in the ‘feminine accomplishment’ of drawing. As a result of her being such a joy to her husband, she is portrayed as completely fulfilled by her role:
‘There was something in her action, her manner, and in the tender tones of her voice which spoke volumes of happiness, confidence and gratitude’. (Hedge: 1822: 73 Vol. I)
This image is highlighted to provide a comparison to Charles’s own wife Matilda, as directly after this scene of bliss, Charles arrives home to experience Matilda dressing to go out alone rather than keenly awaiting his arrival. By seizing on this comparison, the narrator is able to portray Charles as concluding ‘he must not permit himself to make comparisons’ (Hedge: 1822: 77 Vol. I) encouraging the reader to make just such a comparison. Although Matilda’s appearance on first meeting Charles was ‘designed to attract’ (Hedge: 1822: 23 Vol. I), the attraction is for Charles’s benefit only and not that of the readers. As the narrator has full manipulation over reader reaction, it is Emily’s appearance, which is designed to attract us.
It is an attraction, other than the physical, which occasions the union of the pious Julian St Aubyn. As the novels do not attempt to disguise themselves as anything other than teaching manuals for life, this marriage is recognisable as the perfect union, for Julian, Adela and society itself. Unlike Charles’s attraction for his wife, and later Horatio De Clair, Julian’s attraction is described in the following way:
His was not a character to be struck by mere beauty, nor to be led away by romantic excitement of the passions…the most favourable sentiments had been excited by the conversation and the duteous attentions of the lovely Adela to her dying father. (Hedge: 1822: 133 Vol. II)
The word ‘character’ here is significant if we consider that Julian is a character created by Hedge to present a perfect moral stereotype, and it is his character, or his personality, which is also on display. This passage allows the narrator the opportunity to attack portrayals of character in other novels, such as those considered overly Romantic in their style, as inadequate representations of life, while simultaneously demonstrating her views on the correct portrayal of marriage.
This is not the only opportunity Hedge seizes to criticise other novel genre’s of the period in order to promote her own attempt at the novel. In Life, we are introduced to Caroline Mordunt, who is described as receiving an education which ‘qualified her for a life of fashion’ (Hedge: 1822: 96 Vol. I). As the readership is well informed of her ‘superficial accomplishments’, it is not expected to come as a surprise that a book she takes pleasure in is described by Charles as containing ‘the perverted effusions of sentiment’ (Hedge: 1822: 200 Vol. I). Later in the novel, we are advised that Isabel Roseberry, a mother who abandons her husband and infant to elope with a lover, is ‘sapped of moral principle’ (Hedge: 1822: 6 Vol. III), and as a consequence, her reading:
‘Had been confined to the ideal scenes of romance and descriptions of romantic love…the licentious effusions of poets, adorned by a meretricious glare, to conceal the moral poison of their pages’. (Hedge: 1822: 9 Vol.III)
The condemnation of what Hedge considers to be inappropriate reading is harsh here. The novel The Flatterer, also introduces the subject of regulating your education through reading but the message is slightly different. The reader is introduced to Mrs Bosville’s education through books ‘of the historian and the moralist’ (Hedge: 1822: 38). Although these are accepted as a good grounding for a ‘virtuous heart’, they must not be relied upon to educate the young in the intricacies of character and are therefore to be accompanied with a practical knowledge of the world.
It is perhaps ironic that Hedge’s own style cannot be considered as natural in its character portrayal. Her characters continue to remain uncomplicated in order that she can foreground her didactic tone. Although The Flatterer does not consider the dangers of Clara as a marriage partner, it certainly wishes to highlight as Life does the dangers of forming your opinions of people on the basis of their beauty and female accomplishments alone.
It has been suggested by critics studying the rise of the novel form that novels concerned themselves considerably with the female pursuit and choice of marriage partner:
‘After all, for a woman it was the single most important choice of a lifetime…and much more depended on her decision for good or ill, that could ever be the case for a man’ (Figes: 1982: 7)
However, the novel Life rejects this statement in some ways, as the focus appears to be concerned with the impact of marriage on the male characters. This would suggest that Hedge was concerned to promote the idea that for a man, the choice of marriage partner would also have considerations that could concern him for a lifetime. Traditionally, the idea of women finding a suitable marriage partner would include the concern with finances. If we consider Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) in relation to concerns surrounding finding a suitable marriage partner, it is noted that Mrs Bennett is anxious to secure a man with money for any one of her five daughters. Although the sensible daughters, Jane and Elizabeth reject selection on this consideration, it is noticeable that they are rewarded with partners that are financially viable and the concern with money is a consideration throughout the novel. Although Matilda and Isabel actively seek partners that can elevate their social and financial position, the characters of Augustus Somerton and Henry Harlowe pursue Caroline Mordunt for her inheritance. It is not necessarily significant that male characters may consider marriage only on the basis of a female with money, as Austen pursued this idea with Mr Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility (1811). However, with Life, Caroline is the only character concerned in a marriage plot to have her material worth specifically stated as forty thousand pounds. Although it is implied that both Matilda and Isabel have married successfully, the worth of their husbands does not have to be recorded. It suggests that the author does consider money as a consideration of any marriage, but the figure has to be substantial for a man to consider marriage solely on this basis. For example, with Augustus Somerton, ‘marriage was a yoke he spurned…but his broken fortune must now be repaired by the abhorred means’ (Hedge: 1822: 96 Vol. I). Under his present circumstances, marriage as an option becomes the most important consideration of Somerton’s lifetime, therefore the choice of partner cannot be considered an exclusive consideration of the female only.
However, we must not forget that Hedge’s novels are novels of manners, a teaching aid for life and classified as such, they cannot be presumed to restrict themselves to one gender only at any one moment. Although male characters are placed considerably within the novels concerns of marriage, the syntax is calculated to instruct ladies how to become better wives. The characterisation of Matilda is intended to portray how females may incorrectly consider a marriage partner on the basis of social position only. Although the reader is intended to experience from a dominant male perspective, the generic nature of the statements made by Charles regarding the lack of companionship and satisfaction within marriage, are foregrounded in order to speak clearly to both her female and male readership:
‘There should be some gentle soothing or tenderness, some mental sources of conversation, to dignify the hours’. (Hedge: 1822: 31 Vol. I)
Therefore, although Charles is unhappy with his union, it is important that contemporary readers were aware that Matilda was also unsatisfied, ‘Wilmot was not unmindful of his Matilda, he saw with deep concern that she had also found a life of pleasure unsatisfying’ (Hedge: 1822: 37 Vol. I). The gentle characters of Julian and Adela are rewarded with true union in their marriage, ‘their hearts seemed to blend into each other’ (Hedge: 1822: 149 Vol. II). It is this portrayal of happiness that is intended to speak the loudest to Hedge’s readership.
In The Flatterer, the consideration surrounding re-marriage is one of the dominant themes. The remarriage is described under circumstances that allow it to appear perfectly natural without damaging the character of Mr Bosville, or his previous wife. We are told that his first wife was ‘beloved’ and that noticing the loss in companionship and family unity that his wife’s death had highlighted, he could not help but become attached to Lucinda Warren’s (the future Mrs Bosville), ‘gentleness, modesty and goodness of heart’ (Hedge: 1822: 41). Here then, are circumstances that allow for a second marriage to be morally and socially acceptable, an orphaned child in need of educational guidance and an amiable man requiring solace. In the interests of keeping her own characters conduct within socially acceptable guidelines, it is not surprising that Hedge is always careful to make her point without transgressing society’s rules or compromising her moral position. Only a re-marriage is provided for a male character.
Using her position as omnipotent narrator, Hedge is considerate in her attentions to religion and the ability of her characters to recognise the existence of one true and unquestionable God. The presence of religion works to unite many of the themes discussed with the two novels, such as those of fashion, education, marriage, motherhood and society. It is in her comments on religion that she becomes at her most didactic.
It is through her opinions on religion that she manipulates total authorial control and speaks directly to her readers, particularly on matters concerning education of the self in religious duty. Within The Flatterer, strong biblical images are used within her syntax to link religious concerns with those of conduct in society,
‘Oh! Let the young guard against the first temptations to insincerity…to enter the paths of error are easy…preserve the heart from evil’ (Hedge: 1822: 71-2)
The image of the snake or serpent is used throughout both the novels considered here to signal evil, either in its description of character or society. The female characters with true faith or feminine virtues, such as both the Adela’s and Emily’s are juxtaposed with religion and nature.
‘Those sentiments of religion which are so congenial to the softness of the female character, and so necessary to sustain its weakness in the trials of life’ (Hedge: 1822: 29 Vol. I)
It is important for the narrator to establish a link between good characters’ ability to appreciate nature and as a result feel closer to a God who is considered to have created nature.
A deliberate link between the feminine ideal and the capacity to sustain a religious attitude here is also present. Hedge is particularly fond of linking women to the form of an angel to reassert a natural link between women, using images such as ‘she is created to be a ministering angel’, and 'enshrined in a form so angelic’ (Hedge: 1822: 29 & 33 Vol. I). The narrator is asking women to consider themselves as being capable of imitating an idealised form. This form also allows women to be worshiped for their conduct, without losing their virtue or modesty. The suggestion that the feminine ideal can not only be achieved but will allow the female a powerful position could appear attractive to a female readership. Other benefits that occur by linking women in this way for the narrator is that it also suggests women are created to nurture, reinforcing the argument that to fulfil their natural role they must become mothers and companions to man.
Religion is to be considered a guide to conduct, as Julia is instructed in The Flatterer, ‘I have many times heard her say (Julia’s stepmother) a lie debases the soul, and makes it unfit for noble sentiment’ (Hedge: 1822: 64). Using Julia as an example, the narrator demonstrates how this utterance becomes a reality, by allowing Julia to lie about her ability to draw, suffering the agonies of keeping her lie a secret, and then using her faith to break free from the influence of Clara:
‘Julia rose from her bed, and threw herself on her knees beside it, fervently thanking God, who had upheld her resolutions, and beseeching him to confirm them. She experienced all the comfort of this appeal’ (Hedge: 1822: 126-7)
Those characters whom are unable to console themselves in a religious faith are left ultimately unhappy, which is demonstrated in the character of Clara by the narrator, ‘even success gave her little pleasure because her schemes had no virtuous basis…they began and terminated in self (Hedge: 1822: 47). Her success in direct contrast to Julia’s is lacking faith and therefore ultimate fulfilment.
The novels continually emphasise how possessing a religious faith promotes self-sacrifice and creates a better society of individuals. In Hedge’s considerations on parenting, she introduces the benefits of faith as an all encompassing parent and guide, ‘have you not ever taught me to consider our god as the father of the father less?’ (Hedge: 1822: 120 Vol. II) However, they also concern themselves with promoting the idea that a lifetime of good deeds recorded on earth will be rewarded in the afterlife. In order to create a more subservient and collective society, individuals must take responsibility for influencing and educating themselves and the younger generation around them. As Figes notes, ‘all the women novelists of Edgeworth’s period were quite sure that novels influenced behaviour for good or ill’ (Figes: 1982: 14), as indeed had Dr Johnson believed before them. The narrator is keen to focus the ideal that a belief in an afterlife is the ultimate and stabilising comforter of grief. It is not surprising that many worthy and pious characters meet an early, yet natural death, as in the case of Adela, in order that the main characters can be shown reacting to the loss with the correct religious consolation:
Where would have been his consolation, had he not believed ‘there is a spirit in man’ formed to become a denizen of another and happier world? (Hedge: 1822: 100 Vol. II)
What Hedge wishes to promote through the consolations of an afterlife is the idea that death is not a punishment from God but a test of an individual strength of character. By promoting the need to conform without question to a Christian faith, the control over the individual ability to act independently by society becomes even more rigid.
However, possessing religious beliefs must be shown by Hedge to liberate an individual benevolence if it is to be readily accepted. It is for this reason that Hedge introduces a sympathetic reaction to what society may consider a social evil, that of prostitution:
Rose soon ranked among those miserable beings for whose direful lot our profoundest pity should mingle with the censure which virtue dictates (Hedge: 1822: 213 Vol. III)
By interpolating the reader’s opinions with the use of ‘our’, Hedge is encouraging a shared response to her views on both religion and society. What this declarative actually reveals is that in accordance with existing social opinion, the response to Rose’s condition is dictated to by a religious belief which is promoted and controlled by the existing society.
Close examinations of two of Mary Hedge’s novels confirm that she does not want to challenge a male-dominated nineteenth century society. She manipulates the portrayal of her characters in order to maximise their moral impact. Should a character move outside what is socially acceptable, an analysis of their childhood is provided as sufficient justification for their behaviour. This may have been acceptable to a contemporary readership who were satisfied to account for mistakes within the individual rather than the society, however it appears to be a simplistic device by modern standards.
EPILOGUE: FURTHER AREAS OF INTEREST THAT MAY BE EXPLORED WITHIN MARY HEDGE’S THE FLATTERER AND LIFE; OR FASHION AND FEELING.
In respect of the critical essay on Mary Hedge, my particular study was limited to three subject areas, however there are other considerations within her novels that may prove of interest to researchers of the period.
Many of the male characters, such as Charles and Julian in Life and Dr Richmond (Emily’s father) in The Flatterer, display characteristics of the eighteenth century’s man of sentiment. The characters are encouraged to openly display their emotions and exhibit a tenderness reserved for the most refined of the female characters.
The career path chosen by a male character is usually explicitly stated but women are confined to the domestic only. The professions mentioned are Barrister and Doctor in The Flatterer and the Army, Navy and Clergy in Life. Unfortunately no specific details surrounding their duties or salaries are given. However, as these professions are specifically stated, we can assume that they were acceptable middle to lower upper class situations.
Following on from the enthusiasm displayed by the early Romantic writers, Hedge displays great sympathetic support for the French characters of Louis De Courcelle and his daughter Adela in Life. She praises these characters for remaining patriotic to France, instructs her readers to feel pity for their usurpation from their home for being born into the nobility, and rewards them by portraying them as virtuously untouchable characters.
Characters throughout the novels are encouraged to travel for their health or whilst on business but true to her style and more likely to her actual experience, the scenes are lacking in intimate detail. Hedge acknowledges in The Flatterer to quoting directly from ‘Dr Pinkard’s account of the West Indies’ (Hedge: 1822: 105) in her description of a particular mountain range.
Badinter, Elizabeth, 1981, The Myth of Motherhood, An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct, London, Souvenir Press.
This explores the origins of society's obsession with the image of the ‘natural’ mother. It looks in detail in the shift of both the mother and father's position in society in relation to their ability to care for their child. It discusses publications on motherhood from 1760 to the present day, and proved invaluable in its detail of Rousseau’s influence over the representation of the mother in society. It does concern itself considerably with the French history of motherhood and so has to be treated with care. However it does build an interesting picture of how society came to place so much pressure on the mother figure.
Botting, Fred, 1996, Gothic, London, Routledge.
Used briefly to check on the dominant devices used on the gothic genre. It is a very comprehensive introduction to the genre with large sections on Radcliffe and Walpole. However, I consulted this for assistance with my argument of Hedge’s use of doubling.
Figes, Eva, 1982, Sex and Subterfuge, Women Writers to 1850, London, The Macmillan Press.
This was useful in its research on why didacticism was an accepted and applauded style for women writers of the period. It explores the themes available to women novelists, such as marriage and misconduct.
Hedge, Mary Anne, 1822, The Flatterer; or False Friendship, London, Baldwin, Cradock and Joy
Hedge, Mary Anne, 1822, Life; or Fashion and Feeling, London, A K Newman and Co.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1974, Emile Foxley, B (ed), (1911 Trans.), London, Dent.
The primary text of Rousseau.
Kaplan, E Anne, 1992, Motherhood and Representation, The Mother in Popular Culture and Melodrama, London, Routledge.
I found her discussion on Rousseau’s conception of child rearing very thought provoking. She expands on Rousseau’s suggestion that a girl’s biological processes shape her to be a mother. I also found her explanation of his theories of the public/male and private/female roles very interesting.
Brunton, Mary, Self-Control (1811) Maitland, Sara (ed) (1986), London, Pandora Press.
This is the primary text of Mary Brunton’s Self-Control. The introduction is concise but pertinent in respect of Hedge, as Brunton’s novel is also didactic and moralistic in style. Brunton ‘defends the moral worth of her novel’ and stresses the superiority of nature over artifice and pretension (the oppositions of the country and the city). The protagonist in this novel is Laura, however the narrative of her fathers’ ill-fated choice of marriage partner is very similar to that of Charles and Matilda in Life. From the beginning of this tale is the possible inspiration for Hedge’s own texts.
Palmer, Paulina, 1989, Contemporary Womens Fiction. Narrative Practice and Feminist Theory, Wiltshire, Anthony Rowe Ltd.
For the chapter on ‘images of femininity and the dominance of the male gaze’ this is a very useful introduction to the manipulation of media within a male dominated environment. I never intended to impose a feminist reading on Hedge’s novels. However, her conformity with a male patriarchal view of society needed explaining. The chapter I consulted concerned itself mainly with an 80’s critical view of the media’s perspective in women, therefore I adapted her ideas to a nineteenth century perspective to the control of women through instruction novels such as those that Hedge produced.
Poovey, Mary, 1984, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer, Chicago, Chicago University Press.
The preface of this was used briefly to establish what controls were imposed upon women writers by society. As nothing is known regarding the personal circumstances of Mary hedge it as not possible to establish whether her style was dictated by financial considerations, or her social position.