The Real Regency Reader: The Miser Married

One popular book on the Regency bookshelf was written by an unlikely spinster, Catherine Hutton (1756-1846). She used the character of a spendthrift to conquer a miser in her 1813 novel The Miser Married, A Novel. The story is mostly a series of letters, many consisting of a daughter’s observations of her widowed mother’s adventures and those of the widower Mama sets her cap for.

Catherine Hutton

Catherine Hutton

The novel opens with Mr. Winterdale, a gentleman of some means who keeps to himself and known to be ever careful of his money. He is quite aware of his new neighbors:

“The lady who has taken Ravenhill Lodge is come to it, with her family, which Martha tells me consists of a daughter and a niece. She says Mrs. Mereval is a handsome woman, not more than eight and thirty, and that the two girls are very beautiful. So they may be for me. I had a glance of two female figures, peeping through the lattice of the little door in the park wall, and I sent for the carpenter directly, to nail it up with boards. These women may, perhaps, think they have a right to be acquainted with me, because they chuse to come and live at the next house. I can tell them that will be no easy matter.”

Then we have the daughter’s letter, written in the wake of being diverted from reading her novels:

“Which, my dear Harriet, in the catalogue of human events, do you think capable of bringing Mr. Winterdale to our house? ..not for a morning call but a positive inmate; eating, drinking and sleeping under our roof? You are mute with astonishment; at length you answer, “a broken leg, perhaps.” Your conjecture is exactly right.”

Throughout the three volumes of the novel, the series of letters from the characters cleverly display a wide range of personalities in a diverting tale of the miser and the beautiful widow. The author is not above commenting on other Regency books, relying on the aforesaid novel-reading daughter:

Mrs. Hannah More–Cœlebs in Search of a Wife. Comprehending observations on domestic habits : “Wicked novel reader as I am, I confess that, in some of her long arguments, I turned over six leaves, instead of one!”

On Maria Edgeworth’s Lenora: “The moral purpose of Leonora is to persuade woman to attend to her duties, rather than her rights. In a word, to counteract Mary Wollstonecroft.”

Of Holcroft and his Anna St. Ives: “(It) is written, as the author, himself, declares, to inculcate the lesson of fortitude to females. I admire her fortitude; but I think her rather too philosophical, for a young lady.”

Miss Hutton was an expert on characterization, a talent highly prized by Regency readers. As such, she was certainly aware of how her keen observations might strike a nerve in more than one quarter. In her Prologue, she lays bare her trepidation in releasing her first novel to the “awful Tribunal of the Public.”

She knows she is an unlikely novel-writer, being only certain of her ability to make a variety of puddings:

“..but that I possessed the inherent qualities necessary to write a book, was not suspected by me, till lately.”

What Ravenhill might have looked like. Remote.

What Ravenhill might have looked like. Remote.

The Real Regency Hoyden: the Sexed Mind

During the Regency, the rising middle class added to the ever increasing demand for more daughters to be accomplished. Voluminous writings pondered the wisdom of educating so many females.

“The shoemaker, the publican, the barber, the tailor, the butcher, the journeyman weaver, send their daughters to boarding schools, and no sooner do they enter those seminaries then they are all at once transformed into young ladies,..” — An Inquiry into the Best System of Female Education, J. L. Chirol (1809)

The italics are the author’s–as is the scorn.

"And what is hell, can you tell me that? A pit full of fire. ..What must you do to avoid it? ..I must keep in good health and not die." --Jane Eyre

“And what is hell, can you tell me that?
A pit full of fire.
..What must you do to avoid it?
..I must keep in good health and not die.” –Jane Eyre

Despite this disdain, it was generally conceded that female education was not a bad thing, as long as it did not seek to blur the differences between the minds of male and female:

 “The mind of each sex has some kind of natural bias…Women have generally quicker perceptions, men have juster sentiments. Women consider how things may be prettily laid. Men how they may be properly laid.” — Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education  (1811).

Table-setting was always the province of men in great houses.

The sexed mind refers to that ruling theory of education in the Regency which demands curriculum be tailored to the sex of the pupil. The character of a hoyden figures largely in these musings, although she does not cut as attractive a figure as she did during the Restoration. She exists to illustrate what educators must endeavor to thwart–the boldness and vivacity that threatens to allow a girl to cross over into the province of men.

Just possessing qualities of quickness, even in a young girl, is evidence of her lacking in mental capacity, according to the noted Reverend John Bennett in his Strictures on Female Education (1793). It was an argument that couldn’t be answered, and therefore became more cemented as the nineteenth century wore on.

Even the feminists who should have stood by the hoyden added their scorn to Mr. Chirol’s:

“I also object to many females being shut up together in nurseries, schools or convents. I cannot recollect, without indignation, the jokes and hoyden tricks which knots of young women indulged themselves in, when in my youth accident threw me, an awkward rustic, in their way.” — Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)

"Ye virgins fair; ye lovely flowers, the blooming pride of vernal hours! Chase while I speak, O chase away, what e're is frolic, lively and gay."

“Ye virgins fair; ye lovely flowers, the blooming pride of vernal hours! Chase while I speak, O chase away, what e’re is frolic, lively and gay.”