SUMMARY OF CONTEMPORARY CRITICISM ON ELIZABETH LE NOIR
Elizabeth Le Noir's two works, Village Anecdotes and Clara De Montfier seem to have met with a moderately good reception from the critics at their time of publication in 1804 and 1810 respectively, though she is not praised to any great extent overall. The reviews found on Village Anecdotes give the novel generally a favourable report, though it is not her plot or characterisation that are praised, but other features of her novels. The critics seem to find the novel to contain a plot that is interesting and pleasant, but of no great genius. The London Review states that 'it exhibits a very faithful and genuine picture of rural manners . . . The story has all the appearance of an exact portrait of real life.', while the Monthly Magazine finds the volumes of the novel to 'present a most interesting picture of quiet, simple and domestic life.' They seem to be impressed generally with Le Noir's accurate portrayal of country life.
The setting chosen by the author inevitably means that no particularly extraordinary events take place within the novel, but this choice seems to have met with approval from the majority of reviews. The Lady's Monthly Museum sees this as one of the novel's best features: 'In the Village Anecdotes we have none of the fantastic delicacy, the prodigal munificence, the almost revolting disinterestedness, which crowd the pages of ephemeral romances.' The Monthly Magazine also praises this quality; the novel is 'free from all meretricious ornament, all monstrous characters, and extravagant incidents.' They see it as a pleasant novel, representing traditional values and morals.
The moral instruction contained within the novel is generally seen as commendable. The London Review comments on how 'moral instructions are suggested occasionally.' The Lady's Monthly Museum seems particularly impressed by the moral guidance to be found within the novel. 'From the unostentatious Mrs Villars we receive practical lessons of generosity, of which the examples are familiar, the application universal.' The article sees the novel as going beyond a simple narrative. It is a positive promotion of the values that society as a whole should take on board, ' . . . that to do good is open to the benevolent of every class, and is in number not only of the dearest, but the cheapest pleasures.' The London Review believes that if all classes and ranks were portrayed as they are in this book then, 'young people would be furnished with a manual, which would in a considerable measure supply the deficiency of age and experience.'
The 'original' poems that are contained within the narrative also seem to meet with very favourable reception. The London Review praises them very highly: 'this novel is interspersed with several beautiful original poems, both French and English: the former always accompanied with a correct and elegant translation, and both so judiciously arranged and blended with the prose.' The review believes that the poems add 'relief and energy to the narration.' The British Critic which receives the novel as a whole without praise or commendation, 'has no scruple in affirming, of the poetry that is interspersed, that it has a great deal of merit.'
The Critical Review commenting on the poems contained within Clara De Montfier in contrast does not rate them all that highly; some of the poems are described as "pretty", but 'of the rest, if there is not much that we can highly commend, there is nothing that calls for the severity of criticism.' This indifferent stance can be used to describe the reaction of The Monthly Review in response to Village Anecdotes. This review is the exception in that it has nothing good to say of the novel. The events in the novel are described as furnishing 'but an insipid treat, and can excite no particular sensations of either a pleasurable or painful nature.' Its closing comment is also derogatory remarking that 'the diction of this work is also extremely low and colloquial.'
The London Review also remarks on mistakes in the text, though their treatment of them is more lenient, giving as explanation the bad quality of the author's handwriting, and the difficulty of the printing press in deciphering them. The reviewer comments that 'in general, these errors, where they are found in English, will be easily corrected by the intelligent reader: in the French terms they will be set right with more difficulty.'
The reception of Clara De Montfier, going on the comments from the Critical Review, the only review found on this novel, is also favourable, but again the work is not seen as exceptional. The author's ability to accurately portray rural village life, though this time in France, is again commented upon and praised. The representation of 'the middle ranks in France' and of the 'creolians' are said to 'ppear to be faithful representatives of their originals', and Mrs Le Noir's marriage to an émigré is cited as a possible cause for her extraordinary knowledge in these areas.
The fact that Le Noir was the daughter of the famous poet Christopher Smart will have affected the reception of her work, bringing a certain amount of attention to Le Noir and her novels. Despite this Le Noir appears to have been a fairly well-known figure in her own right, with connections such as Dr. Burney and Mary Russell Mitford. The critics seem to have good knowledge of the private life of Le Noir. For example the Critical Review is aware of the fact that she is married to an émigré. The fact that there are a substantial number of reviews on her novel Village Anecdotes shows that she was well-known in the literary circles of her time, and fairly successful.
Village Anecdotes seems to have been her most successful novel in light of the amount of contemporary criticism published on it. The comparison by The London Review with Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield is high praise indeed, Goldsmith being regarded as a great writer of that time. Her other novels warrant little or no mention in the reviews.
To summarise, it seems that the general reception of Le Noir's two novels was quite good. It seems that her ability to write domestic novels and novels of instruction was generally appreciated, and the reviews comment favourably on the moral guidance given in these two books. It also seems that Le Noir was recognised for her ability to portray real life, and realistic pictures of rural settings. It seems to be these features that the critics focus on, there is no mention of any great literary skills, such as outstanding plots or characterisation. The reception of her poems is good, the praise of these often outweighing that of the novels themselves. To close, it seems that while the merit of these two books is seen and appreciated by the majority of the contemporary reviews, Le Noir on the whole is not recognised particularly as any great literary talent.
Bibliography of Contemporary Reviews:
British Critic, 23 (Feb. 1804), 199-200.
European Magazine (London Review and Literary Journal), 45 (Mar. 1804), 190-95.
Lady's Monthly Museum, 13 (Sept. 1804), 200-201.
Monthly Magazine, suppl. v18 (Jan. 28, 1805), 595.
Monthly Review, ns, v47 (June 1805), 207.
Clara De Montfier,
Critical Review, s3, v20 (Aug. 1810), 442.