The Amelia Alderson Opie Archive
1805 Adeline Mowbray; or, the Mother and Daughter
 
Critical Review, series 3, 4 (1805): 219-21.

 

We opened with great pleasure a new novel from the entertaining pen of Mrs Opie, a lady whose uncommon talents do honour to her sex and country. She displayed, in her pathetic tale of 'the Father and Daughter,' a power of working upon the passions we think unrivalled (perhaps with the single exception of Mrs Inchbald,) by any writer of the present day. Nor has she failed to affect her readers with many heart-rending scenes in the work before us.

The story of 'the Mother and Daughter' may be comprised in few words. The former imbibes and supports in theory the principles of the new code of morality; the latter carries them into practice, and becomes the mistress of one of the authors who broached them to the world. Upon this her mother, inconsistently, but naturally, renounces her; and by the death of her lover she is driven to seek support in the exercise of those accomplishments her education had bestowed upon her. But her course of virtuous industry is interrupted by the scandalous reports of those who remembered her in her former vicious situation; and she is awakened to a sense of her misguided conduct. She is in consequence married; but her husband using her ill, after much misery she is restored to her mother, and dies contented.

But this scanty outline Mrs Opie has most ably filled up with a variety of characters and incidents, well conceived, and adroitly introduced. She keeps up the attention of her readers to the end. The moral of her work is declared in the following passage: (Vol. iii. p. 13.)

The example of Adeline is held up 'as a warning to all young people; for her story inculcates most powerfully how vain are personal graces, talents, sweetness of temper, and even active benevolence, to ensure respectability, and confer happiness, without a strict regard to the long established rules for conduct, and a continuance in those paths of virtue and decorum which the wisdom of ages has pointed out to every one.'

But we cannot avoid remarking that the effect of this moral does not seem to have been consulted, when the state in which Adeline and Glenmurray lived was represented as perfectly happy, as far as their happiness rested in themselves; but the instant that Adeline marries, she becomes miserable from the conduct of her husband. Rightly considered, this reflects nothing upon the marriage state; but what we have to object to are the fascinating colours thrown over the erroneous virtues of Adeline and Glenmur-[220]ray, 'making' (as the benevolent quaker observes, Vol. ii. page 109) 'vice more dangerous by giving it an air of respectability.'

We have to remark a few inaccuracies in Mrs Opie's style: solely from a regard to her reputation as a writer, for we doubt not her good sense will profit by our hints. 'Gulping down sobs and sighs' is an expression that occurs too often throughout the three volumes; 'a fine moral tact' we cannot help thinking a silly and affected phrase; 'it was the dark hour' means nothing but 'it was dark;' and why should 'the maternal feeling' be substituted for the feelings of a mother?

The interesting interview between the mother of Adeline and the benevolent quaker, in which the latter gives the former tidings of her daughter, is successfully imitated from the scene between Lady Randolph and the Stranger, in the play of Douglas.

But the description of the death of Adeline may bear a comparison with that of Richardson's Clarissa, or Rousseau's Heloise. Her last letter to her mother, where she bequeaths [sic] her infant daughter to her care, must move every reader to tears who can melt at the recital of unmerited distress; and that to colonel Mordaunt, recanting her false principles, and strongly contending in favour of marriage for the sake of the children and their education, is an honourable proof of Mrs Opie's powers of argument in the defence of the good old cause.

We shall conclude our observations on the present work, with an extract from the second volume, page 116, which we conceive to be a very beautiful specimen of Mrs Opie's eloquent and interesting flow of language. Mrs Pemberton (the benevolent quaker) thus addresses Adeline; whom she had heard of in her days of innocence, and now met with in disgrace.

'And art thou,' she cried 'Adeline Mowbray? art thou hat [sic] courteous, blooming, blessed being, (for every tongue that I heard name thee blessed thee) whom I saw only three years ago bounding over thy native hills, all grace, and joy, and innocence?' Adeline tried to speak, but her voice failed her. 'Art thou she,' continued Mrs Pemberton, 'whom I saw leaning from the window of her mother's mansion, and inquiring with the countenance of a pitying angel concerning the health of a wan labourer who limped past the door?' Adeline hid her face with her hands. Mrs Pemberton went on in a lower tone of voice. 'I came with some company to see thy mother's grounds; and to hear the nightingales in her groves; but' (here Mrs Pemberton's voice faltered) 'I have seen a sight far beyond that of the proudest mansion, said I to those who asked me of thy mother's seat; I have heard what was sweeter to my ear than the voice of the nightingale; I have seen a blooming girl, nursed in idleness and prosperity, yet active in the discharge of every christian duty; and I have heard her speak in the soothing accents of kindness and of pity, while her name was followed by blessings, and parents prayed to have a child like her. Oh! lost, unhappy girl! Such was Adeline Mowbray: and often, very often, has thy graceful image recurred to my remembrance; but [221] how art thou changed! Where is the open eye of happiness? where is the bloom that spoke a heart at peace with itself? I repeat it, and I repeat it with agony, Father of mercies! is this thy Adeline Mowbray?'

 

 
   
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