A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbald.

I think it's quite impressive that a book can be reminiscent of both Jane Austen and Emily Brontë in equal measures, and this is what A Simple Story is: Elizabeth Inchbald anticipated both authors. 

It was first published in 1791 and is divided into four volumes: the first two tell one story, the second two the other. It begins,
Dorriforth, bred at St. Omer's in all the scholastic rigour of that college, was by education, and the solemn vows of his order, a Roman Catholic priest - but nicely discriminating between the philosophical and the superstitious part of that character, and adopting the former only, he possessed qualities not unworthy of the first professors of Christianity - every virtue which it was his vocation to preach, it was his care to practise; nor was he in the class of those of the religious, who, by secluding themselves form the world, fly the merit they might have in reforming mankind. He refused to shelter himself from the temptations of the layman by the walls of a cloister, but sought for, and found that shelter in the centre of London, where he dwelt, in his own prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. 
He was, as Inchbald goes on to describe, about 30 and a dear friend of his, Mr. Milner, has just died, leaving behind a request - that he takes charge of his only daughter Miss Milner. And so he does, and Miss Milner comes to live with him, the kindly Miss Woodley, and Mrs. Horton (who, frankly, loves a bit of drama) and ultimately, despite her being a Protestant and he a Catholic, she falls passionately in love with him. A change in Dorriforth's fortune leads him to seek to be released from his vows. When he does, they marry, but this is only a fraction of the story. Inchbald goes on to describe their marriage: Dorriforth is still in his mind a Catholic priest who continues to be stern and fatherly; Miss Milner, despite being bright and earnest, is ill-equipped to deal with the real world. Their marriage is a disaster, as described in the first half of the book, and in the second half, volumes III - IV we see the effects this has on her daughter Matilda.

It is not 'a simple story' but it's an effective one on the perils of women ill-prepared for marriage. The plot of it is quite dark, but is frequently lightened by the drawing room scenes and conversation that Austen would later depict so wonderfully. I'm certainly not in love with A Simple Story but I did enjoy it very much: it's very intriguing and very hard to put down. In the early part I felt Mrs. Horton often stole the show with her love of discord, and Miss Woodley is very much of the age, the female 'sounding board' for the heroine of the tale, but still a good character. As for Dorriforth, he is rather a brooder like perhaps Heathcliff or Mr. Darcy, which made him to me rather irritating, and Miss Milner: however interested I was in her fate, I didn't care about her - I was more the objective bystander watching it all unfold, rather, I suppose, like Mrs. Horton. All in all though, it's a fascinating work but on the whole I think perhaps the second half of the novel rather laboured the point.

Comments

  1. i've heard of Mrs. Inchbald but have never had the pleasure... maybe one of these days/years...
    i left a comment on Bagehot but it vanished in the ether: just that he was a lawyerly type and i've read some of his essays and enjoyed his pragmatical pov... i have the one about the English Constitution i just haven't read it yet...

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    Replies
    1. Sorry your comment disappeared. Wonder why...

      I'd not heard of Bagehot until recently - I'll check out his essays :)

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  2. Oke, my copy of this book arrived yesterday....I will be curious if I will like it.
    Feedback....soon!

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