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Agnes Musgrave
The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

Synopsis of The Solemn Injunction

Lucy Fraser

In this complex gothic novel, the beautiful heroine, Alicia, must overcome being orphaned, bloody secret chambers, faked ghosts, accusations of incest and generations of deception to uncover the truth of her birth and ancestry.

The novel begins with the funeral of Joshua Wetherall in St. Mary's Oak. His granddaughter, Eliza, throws herself on to the coffin and a stranger, who is a witness to the funeral, takes pity on her. With no other relations or prospects, Eliza marries the wealthy stranger, Frederick Bouchier, and they live in the nearby Oakdale Hall.

Not long after their marriage, Bouchier disappears without explanation and is presumed dead. Eliza gives birth to our heroine and when Alicia is six years old, she is orphaned. Just previous to her death, Eliza reveals to her daughter the horrible secret chambers at Oakdale, the contents of which hold the truth to Alicia's mysterious birth and ancestry. However, at that young age, Alicia is not ready to understand the secrets and her mother gives her the 'solemn injunction' that she must return to Oakdale when she has turned sixteen years old to discover her identity.

As an orphan, Alicia is repeatedly abandoned by people she looks to as guardians. She is educated at school for a time under the name Miss Sleigh, until her present guardian, Mr. Meynell introduces her to the noble Bertram family. The family consists of` Sir Robert and Lady Bertram, their children, Mary and Henry, and another orphan called William March whom they adopted when they found him by the roadside as a baby; Alicia is also taken in by the family. One of Sir Robert's seats is Oakdale Hall, and Alicia feels she is somehow connected to the family and it was fate that put her into their care.

In a sub-plot, March becomes the subject of a lawsuit against Robert Bertram: it is claimed that March is the son of Lady Bertram's deceased brother and that he is entitled to the Bertram's Malieveren estate. In an attempt to resolve the lawsuit, March goes to France to meet his alleged mother, but during the voyage he elopes with a nun and the suit is dropped.

As the years pass, Alicia finds it increasingly difficult to bear her griefs alone and a close relationship develops between the heroine and Henry Bertram to the extent that she divulges to him part of her tragic history.

Henry, Mary and Alicia are in a phaeton accident and Alicia is very ill as a result. When she is at her most feverish she unconsciously reveals to Henry the existence and location of the secret chambers at Oakdale Hall.

Alicia recovers, but Henry's health declines drastically; he has searched the secret chambers of Oakdale and found letters that say that Sir Robert Bertram is Alicia's father. The love that has developed between Henry and Alicia is therefore incestuous and it is this shocking realisation that has so adversely affected Henry.

Concerned for the well being of their son, Lady and Sir Robert Bertram take their son abroad where it is hoped that a warmer climate will revive the spirits of Henry. Alicia and Henry keep their apparent kinship secret.

Alicia stays with newly wed Mary, whose flippant character and passion for the fashionable takes them into London society. Alicia meets the Earl of Trewarne who appears to be a very sensitive and virtuous man. However, when she is kidnapped, Alicia discovers that Trewarne himself is the perpetrator and that he intends to force her to marry him.

Alicia escapes Trewarne and returns to safety at one of the Bertram's estates. Days later, a funeral passes near to the estate and Alicia is relieved to hear that it is the funeral of the Earl of Trewarne.

No longer fearing a kidnap attempt by the Earl, Alicia vows to fulfil the injunction given to her by her mother and returns alone to Oakdale.

She is shocked to find the Earl is alive and has followed her to the hall. Alicia is able to slip into the secret chambers undetected and remains there to uncover the truth of her birth.

Alicia finds the same papers Henry must have found, but then discovers a different compartment with many more papers.

From the letters and pictures left by various people, including her mother and father, Alicia discovers that Frederick Bouchier, her father, is in fact the Earl of Trewarne. She leaves the secret chambers in search of the Earl only to find Henry Bertram with a man who looks like the Earl of Trewarne but is much older. It emerges that this gentleman is the true Earl of Trewarne and the real father of Alicia. The Earl who abducted her was the half brother of Trewarne who took his name and title whilst he was in America, and this impostor also staged the lawsuit against Robert Bertram. William March is the son of Trewarne too, and Alicia's brother.

The novel ends very happily with the marriage of Henry and Alicia and the return of all titles and estates to those who truly deserve them.