Essay on the work of Ann Hatton (Ann of Swansea), by Susan Brook, May 2003
Misapprehension and Concealment in Conviction; or, She is Innocent! (1814), and Guilty or Not Guilty; or, A Lesson for Husbands (1822), by Ann Hatton (Ann of Swansea)
‘Concealment is always wrong’ (Hatton, 1822: v5, 179): words of wisdom, it may appear, being imparted from a mother to her daughter. This sentiment is also conveyed as a didactic message by Ann Hatton throughout both Conviction and Guilty or Not Guilty, though, ironically, it can sometimes be lost among the numerous, often complex concealments and misapprehensions in Hatton’s literary technique. Hatton uses the technique to keep the reader in suspense and guessing about the true nature and purpose of the multitude of characters she introduces – but in five-volume novels this effect can become wearisome, and often the suspense is lost as the reader begins to keep one eye out for characters who are supposedly missing or dead.
Even to a 19th-century reader it is likely that this would be a familiar literary style, as tales involving unknown parentage, misapprehensions and concealments were by this time widespread, in both novels (such as Burney’s Evelina) and drama, Lovers’ Vows and The Stranger, the latter of which was performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane, with Hatton’s brother and sister in the lead roles. This leaves little doubt that Hatton, and possibly many of her readers, would be familiar with this style.
It would be impractical, if not impossible, to explore convincingly all the misapprehensions and concealments in these two novels, as the effects of lifelong secrets, deceits and misjudgements spread to a host of characters, with various, far-reaching consequences. Therefore this essay will focus on the two heroines of the novels and the effect of concealments and misapprehensions on them and their families, paying particular attention to their relationships with their fathers.
Hatton was writing early in the 19th century, when the novel form was still in its infancy and ‘women novelists felt themselves under pressure to endorse filial obedience because of the still morally dubious reputation of the novel form’ (Gonda, 1996: 93). Hatton obviously felt some of this pressure, stating the well-meant intentions of her novel Conviction on the title page of every volume:
Say not, if I paint Folly, Ignorance,
These novels follow a period in the 18th century when ‘conduct books, diaries, and novels reiterate the lesson that children – especially daughters – should obey their parents’ will’ (Poovey, 1984: 14). It is unsurprising, then, that in such a cultural and literary climate, Hatton chose to write novels in which concealments and misapprehensions threaten to damage irreparably familial ties, which are of such importance to a young girl’s protection and virtue.
To enable her to write about the adventures and misadventures of her heroines, Hatton necessarily removes their mother from an active parental role as guide and educator. In both novels Hatton does this by creating the disastrous misapprehension that these women have committed adultery, therefore making it necessary – in the eyes of society, religion, their families and, indeed, literature – to relinquish all rights regarding raising their children. Hatton, by removing the mother figure, thus places emphasis on the relationships between her heroines and their fathers.
a being to avoid whom I would fly to the extreme verge of creation, whose
Hatton leaves the reader in little doubt of the Earl’s distress at seeing Oriana, and she further convinces us of this by having the Earl fall into a fever – a widely used reaction, in Hatton’s novels and in 18th- and 19th-century literature generally, which strives to convince the reader of the seriousness of the matter at hand. The reasons for the extent of the Earl’s distress, however, are kept from the reader as well as from Oriana herself. It only later becomes apparent that Oriana reminds the Earl of her mother, and thus of the suffering inflicted on the Earl by her believed extra-marital affair.
Hatton does show that the Earl’s behaviour towards Oriana is out of character, or even hypocritical, by showing his ability to be caring and compassionate. His love and respect for Beechgrove, a foundling whom he adopted as a young child, is evident in his address to him: ‘My son! My beloved boy!’ (Hatton, 1814: v1, 53).
The Earl has a nose-bleed at the height of his fever, which, unconvincingly to the modern reader, brings him back to reason. This is the point at which Hatton begins to show signs that there is a softer, more reasonable side to the Earl, and he shows some remorse for his actions:
though my jealous feelings constantly refuse to acknowledge her my daughter,
The plot can be seen to be moving steadily towards a reunion between a loving father and his daughter, with the Earl realising the difficulties he has caused to Oriana. He is upset by the ‘idea of the lovely, innocent, unoffending Oriana Delwyn encountering difficulties, poverty, perhaps insult’ (Hatton, 1814: v2, 217-18). The transformation of his feelings toward Oriana take a total turn following a sequence of coincidental events, including deathbed confessions, leading to the removal of any doubt about the propriety of the behaviour of Matilda, the Earl’s wife, therefore ridding the Earl of any doubt that he is in fact Oriana’s father:
“The only happiness I am now capable of enjoying,” replied the earl, “springs
It is possible to perceive that Hatton sees a reunion of a loving father and daughter as the only acceptable outcome; to achieve this convincingly she gradually lifts the layers of the concealments and misapprehensions which have prevented it from happening. By doing this, she gradually persuades the reader that the Earl is a character capable of being a loving father, who wishes to find his daughter:
Hatton does not, however, allow this loving father/daughter relationship to materialise in the greater part of the novel, as the journey of incidents and contrivances that Oriana takes are only possible for a heroine who is ‘orphaned’, without the protection of loving parents. The character of Oriana is used effectively to highlight the many perils awaiting a young, virtuous girl with little or no worldly experience. As Richardson argues, ‘women, for their own sakes, are safest when dependent, too ignorant and vulnerable to avoid the snares of predatory men’ (Richardson, in Gonda, 1996: 92-93). Hatton appears to support this opinion:
An unprotected female is not only considered lawful game by the profligate
Oriana despairs at her position, ‘I belong to no one – I never knew my parents nor do I believe in this wide world I have a single friend’ (Hatton, 1814: v1, 41).
Hatton sets Oriana on a course led by her overwhelming need to protect her own virtue. She is a character much more concerned with her morality and respectability than with rank or wealth: ‘So lonely do I feel myself, that I would gladly be related to the poorest being in the wide creation, provided that being could boast of virtuous poverty’ (Hatton, 1814: v1, 41).
Oriana’s determination to remain virtuous and act with propriety at all times is at the forefront of her activities throughout the novel, as are her questions regarding her parentage and identity. The overwhelming effect which her unknown parentage has on Oriana even leads her to reject a proposal from ‘Conway’ (Lord Orville), whom she greatly admires:
The decision about marriage proposals would, for most girls, be taken jointly with their parents – or taken completely out of their hands. A proposal of marriage, therefore, reinforces the message that Oriana is having to make her own decisions, unaided and unsupported. Surprisingly, despite the wish Oriana’s speeches imply, at no point in the novel does she actually take action to try and solve the mystery of her parentage. Oriana never seems to explore fully any options available to her, including other marriage proposals which she rejects on the same grounds as the first. Throughout the novel she stumbles from incident to incident, encountering welcome – and unwelcome – attention.
The unwelcome attention comes from characters such as Sir Eustace Beverley, who is actually so bold as to creep into Oriana’s bedchamber. This calls further attention to the defencelessness of a young girl without her parents as protectors and advisors. Hatton, despite bringing Oriana perilously close to disaster on several occasions, always, by the use of coincidences or the emergence of characters who believe in her good nature, manages to avert any serious catastrophe. Her good name, though, doesn’t always come out so unscathed, highlighting the ease with which misapprehensions of character can occur. Particularly prominent are the aspersions cast on Oriana in the home where she is working as a governess. The lady of the house, Mrs Loftus, on overhearing a discussion between Oriana and Erasmus Loftus about Oriana’s unknown origins, exclaims:
The reader pities Oriana for her inability to prove that she has no aspirations to wealth and rank; she has no knowledge of her own rank and has to rely on her virtue and honesty to convince people of her good intentions. Another misapprehension about Oriana’s character occurs when Orville, her admirer, on finding her sheltering in the home of Mrs Lessingham, herself a ‘kept woman’, jumps to the wrong conclusions about the propriety of Oriana’s conduct, putting their future relationship in jeopardy. This implies the ease with which appearances can be deceiving, with varying consequences, and how ‘a woman’s situation, her reputation, or her countenance could dramatically misrepresent her character’ (Poovey, 1984: 25).
The misrepresentation of character – particularly of Oriana’s mother, Matilda – that results from concealment and jealousy, is the cause of the desperate plight and the many misapprehensions suffered by Oriana. The actual character of Matilda, meanwhile, remains sidelined, with the reader only able to establish Matilda’s innocence and virtuous character through third-person accounts and the letters she has written. Despite this, the reader is left in no doubt of the love she has to offer her daughter and husband:
The issue of presumed infidelity is not dealt with in detail by Hatton, but merely used as a catalyst for a series of events that highlight the consequences of secrecy, even when it is the result of a sense of duty to others. But Hatton appears to use this seemingly faultless character, who to the modern reader seems just too perfect, particularly when she takes the blame for her daughter’s distress, to highlight the suffering of women in patriarchal society: ‘I confess I have deeply erred for my silence has exposed my dear child to danger, insult, and distress; and worse than this, may for ever have alienated her from her father’s heart’ (Hatton, 1814: v5, 212).
In a patriarchal society women should be dutiful to their husbands, just as girls should be to their fathers. Concealing secrets that would cause damage to familial relationships would not be considered dutiful.
In Guilty or Not Guilty, as in Conviction, misapprehensions and concealments affecting relationships of fathers and daughters abound. The most immediate of these is the presumption that the heroine, Rosella, and her father General Fitzallan, have been killed in a shipwreck. The reader is soon reassured of Rosella’s survival, but this provides Hatton with another ‘orphaned’ young girl to lament her situation:
You have never felt the misery of being an orphan, cast on to the world
Immediately a picture of a young, virtuous girl with love and respect for her father is formed, also a girl who, without the protection of her parents, is open to villainy and deceit: ‘Miss Fitzallan, beautiful, young, and inexperienced, was an object that it would be dangerous to leave unguarded in London’ (Hatton, 1822: v1, 162). Even without the presence of her father, Rosella’s sense of filial duty is made apparent as she tries to consider ‘what … [her father’s] feelings would be, could he behold her at that trying moment’ (Hatton, 1822: v1, 163).
In this novel, in contrast to Conviction, Hatton does introduce the guiding presence of a father in the early stages of the plot. His death, as Rosella’s, is merely a misconception. The reaction of the general, on seeing his daughter, is in stark contrast to the reception the Earl gives to Oriana. Oriana, initially, serves only to remind the Earl of his misery, while Rosella’s presence alleviates much of her father’s misery. The general describes Rosella as, ‘her whose smile had illumined my dark existence’ (Hatton, 1822: v1, 234).
The relationship created between the general and Rosella is one of mutual respect and admiration. With the removal of her mother from the main part of the novel, the relationship between father and daughter becomes the focus. Rosella is seen to be totally dependent on her father and respectful of his wishes, as would be expected of a dutiful daughter: ‘I can scarcely remember the care or tenderness of a mother, and my father has been everything to me – he has been my friend and instructor, as well as the fondest and most indulgent of parents’ (Hatton, 1822: v1, 242).
The indulgences of the general are signs of the high opinion he has of his daughter, believing that her virtuous mind and her propriety of conduct will lead her to make the choices he would himself want for her. A father allowing his daughter to make her own decisions, particularly on whom she would like to marry, is something that was widely debated at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century:
From 1753, the year in which Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was passed,
The general is shown to trust his daughter’s judgement concerning whom she marries; she has the option of rejecting a proposal from Lord Clarisford despite his being judged highly by the general: ‘his person is good, his rank high, and his fortune such as few young ladies of the present day would reject’ (Hatton, 1822: v2, 103), but the general assures Rosella that the offer is to be ‘accepted or refused as your inclination dictates’ (Hatton, 1822: v2, 104). Despite the general’s indulgences to Rosella’s wishes, she in no way becomes a character who takes advantage of this, and the reader is never left in any doubt of the extent of her filial duty.
Although there is no incidence of the general forcing his opinions onto Rosella, Hatton ensures she is sensitive to his recommendation of Lord Wandsworth, in whom she sees ‘very much to admire’ (Hatton, 1822: v3, 86) and we see how far she would go to obey her father’s wishes:
she distressed her mind with recalling the look and tone of her father, when he
This sense of duty expressed by Rosella supports the argument that there was ‘pressure on young girls to acquiesce in their parents’ demands, perhaps even simulate affection for a man who could enhance the family status’ (Poovey, 1984: 13). But Hatton does not allow the general to adopt the role of tyrannical parent in forcing Rosella to marry where her heart isn’t inclined; this filial duty is spared as another concealment is uncovered with the revelation that Wandsworth is already secretly married.
Rosella’s feelings of affection for Ornville and the reciprocation of his for her, are the subject of yet another of the concealments of the novel. The reasoning for this concealment appears to be to confirm the propriety of the couple’s behaviour, with Ornville, considering himself unworthy in wealth and rank, keeping his feelings for Rosella hidden to save her from ‘the certain disapprobation of her father’ (Hatton, 1822: v2, 81). Rosella, for her part, believes that it would be most improper to make any sort of suggestions to a man who has failed to show any inclination to her. This means that ‘the secret of their hearts was so studiously concealed, that no one suspected there was more than esteem on either side’ (Hatton, 1822: v2, 77). The feelings of Rosella and Ornville remain concealed throughout most of the novel, but, to the reader’s relief, the general becomes conscious of the reason for Rosella’s rejection of other proposals, made clear by Rosella’s excessive reaction to news of Edmund Ornville being ill:
For the first time, a suspicion flashed across the general’s mind, that it was
The general, unsurprisingly, approves of Rosella’s choice in marriage partner, and Hatton appears to support the belief that the ‘relationship between father and daughter had a specific social function: it was to prepare a woman for the central relationship, the purpose indeed, of her whole life, the relationship of a wife to her husband’ (Gonda, 1996: 18), with the general’s remark to Ornville, ‘may she make to you a wife such as she as been to me a daughter!’ (Hatton, 1822: v3, 157).
In a novel of this nature it is unsurprising that the steady, untroubled relationship of the general and Rosella hits some difficulty. Also unsurprising is that the cause of the problem is concealment. This time Rosella is a participant, hiding the presence of Madame de Valmont in London. As would be expected from a girl of Rosella’s moral standing, this concealment does not rest easily with her, particularly when the secret has to be kept from her father, therefore going against her sense of filial duty:
She had hoped to persuade Madame de Valmont to admit general Fitzallan
Hatton here manufactures a double concealment, for as well as Rosella concealing the presence of Madame de Valmont from her father, Madame de Valmont is hiding from Rosella the fact that she is indeed her mother. This is one of the concealments that is hinted at and becomes apparent to the reader before it is disclosed, due to the vast number of coincidences and suspicious circumstances surrounding Madame de Valmont and her background. Rosella, though, in her innocence and naivety, remains ignorant of the true identity of her companion. Hatton doesn’t stop reminding us of the extent to which Rosella values her father’s approval; she involves the reader in the turmoil of Rosella’s conscience: ‘She could not reconcile her innocent mind to having concealments from a parent so tender, so indulgent as hers … “I greatly fear, in promising this concealment, I have acted wrong” (Hatton, 1822: v2, 258).
When the general questions Rosella about her secret movements and receives no compliance from her, Hatton finds it necessary to change the tone of the general and Rosella’s relationship: ‘For the first time in his life the general felt displeased with Rosella – “Can it be possible,” said he, “that the child I have brought up with such care and tenderness, can act unworthy of my precepts” (Hatton, 1822: v5, 216).
The general assumes parental authority in a manner he has not had occasion to do before: ‘The scripture gives a father power to annul the rash vow of an inexperienced child, and I command you, by the obedience you owe me – by the love and duty I have a right to expect, speak!’ (Hatton, 1822: v5, 216).
Again Hatton shows how easily someone can jump to the wrong conclusions, and how secrecy and deceit can escalate and cause cracks to appear in even the strongest relationships. The general, and also Ornville, when they learn that Rosella is hiding a secret, believe that it must involve a man. On this occasion, though, to the reader’s relief, Hatton does not allow the concealment to go on for too long. The general and Ornville take positive action to find out what Rosella has been hiding, and find her with her mother, which in turn leads to the unburdening of the concealments and misapprehensions which have come between family members for years.
As well as the concealment that Rosella keeps from the general, there is another threat to the harmony of the relationship between father and daughter. This time the source is Rosella’s half-sister Georgina, Countess of Clarisford. The figure of Georgina appears to be used by Hatton to highlight how a lack of filial respect and duty in a daughter can lead to a life of impropriety. This idea reflects the beliefs of Samuel Richardson:
If daughters once put their own selfish desires before duty to parents, claiming
In order to account for the stark contrast in the morality and behaviour of Rosella and Georgina, it emerges that Georgina has been raised and educated by an aunt. The aunt, Mrs Lutteridge, encouraged in Georgina a hatred for her step-mother, urged her:
to consider herself an alien to her father’s affection; which prejudices were
Ensuring that Georgina sees Rosella as an opponent, rather than a sister, Hatton ensures herself plenty of scope to depict underhand behaviour and deceit, to undermine the relationship between the general and Rosella, and bring some tension and drama to the novel. The relationship between Rosella and Ornville intensifies this – and adds the dimension of envy, as Ornville had, unrequitedly, been the object of Georgina’s affection for many years. Hatton allows Georgina’s impropriety to know no bounds, even to having Georgina entrap and confine Ornville in an immodest attempt to win his heart.
The depth of Georgina’s disregard for others is constantly referred to, and even mourning for her father is seen to be a trial to her: ‘You know this detestable mourning has kept me at home six weeks already … and that etiquette requires I should absent myself another fortnight, at least, from public entertainments!’ (Hatton, 1822: v1, 8).
The observations from her husband, the Earl of Clarisford, highlight the motives for Georgina’s lack of grief:
Georgina, your apathy absolutely shocks and astonishes me. What grief, or
To exaggerate even further the folly of Georgina’s life, Hatton makes multiple references to the priority Georgina gives to society and fashion over propriety and filial duty:
The very dashing style in which the countess of Clarisford lived, did not at all
The lack of filial duty that Hatton displays in Georgina directly contradicts that of Rosella. Therefore the considerations of the general are not taken into account when Georgina chooses to remarry a wealthy duke soon after the death of her first husband. This disrespect for her father, and also for respectful conduct in society, convinces the reader of Georgina’s self-absorbed, avaricious nature, which is pointed out by her father:
“Georgina is now a duchess”, said the general; “she is doubtless at the height
Hatton shows Georgina constantly disregarding the duties expected of a daughter, and this disregard is mirrored in her relationships with her husbands: ‘The duke will, I am persuaded, readily accord me leave of absence … but if he should object, n’importe – I shall not permit his will to interfere with my inclination’ (Hatton, 1822: v5, 191).
This again demonstrates the belief that a girl’s treatment of her father will be reflected in her marriage. Hatton maintains Georgina’s underhand behaviour throughout the novel, with no hint of reformation of character, leaving one acceptable outcome. With a mere ‘adieu’ she leaves her husband, her father and sister and flees to Brighton, to the fun of fashion and society. Fleeing to save her reputation, her carriage overturns and she dies: ‘Thus suddenly terminated a life of vanity, dissipation, and guilt; and that at a moment when, unrepentant of former errors, her heart was nourishing those baneful passions – ENVY, HATRED and MALICE’ (Hatton, 1822: v5, 267).
The failed attempts of the general to bring a sense of duty and propriety to Georgina’s behaviour lead him to lament, ‘Never let a parent trust the education of his child to another, even if that other could endow it with the wealth of Croesus’ (Hatton, 1822: v5, 194). The reader is left in no doubt that the general disapproves of the upbringing and education of Georgina. The upbringing of Rosella, in the care and protection of her father, proves more of a success despite the absence of her mother.
Unlike Matilda in Conviction, Caroline, Rosella’s mother, is actually present in much of the novel, though under the guise of Madame de Valmont. This allows a relationship of affection and respect to be built between Rosella and her mother. The coincidences which lead the mother and daughter to finding each other transcend belief: Rosella is rescued from a shipwreck on a boat from India to England and is taken to the home of her mother in Dieppe to recuperate. Yet despite their meeting early in the novel, the true nature of the relationship is not revealed until the end, when the deathbed confessions of lord Austincourt, perpetrator of the deceit which led to the general and Caroline’s divorce, clear the shroud of misapprehension and concealment. Rosella’s mother relates a message of warning to Ornville:
I have no doubt but you will plead excess of love as an apology for your
Messages of warning like this are apparent throughout the fiction of Ann Hatton. But despite following a long-established form of multiple-volume novels, which lack some originality, Hatton does successfully, albeit didactically (in order to satisfy the critics of the novel form), comment on relevant social issues such as the importance of filial duty and the propriety of young women’s behaviour in a patriarchal society. Hatton continually uses the technique of misapprehension and concealment to allow her to manufacture numerous incidents that test her heroines, leaving the reader in no doubt of their unfaltering virtue.