The Amelia Alderson Opie Archive
1805 Adeline Mowbray; or, the Mother and Daughter
Annual Review, 4 (1805): 653.


Novels in former days were nothing but love stories, or works professing, often indeed falsely enough, to exhibit pictures of real life and manners. The importance that they have lately been allowed to usurp in the republic of letters, is at once a curious and an alarming symptom of the frivolity of the age. There was a time when a person wishing to inform himself in the higher branches of literature or philosophy, would have been obliged to undergo the labour of perusing dry crab-bed treatises, written professedly on serious and important subjects. Now, happy revolution! he may luxuriantly imbibe, in the tempting form of a novel, the beauties of history embellished with all the eloquence of fiction, encumbered by no dates, and perplexed with no documents. Through the same medium he may see the happy effects of a new scheme of education, illustrated by the example of children who were never born; or the advantages of a new system of morals displayed, or its evil consequences exposed, on the unexceptionable authority of characters that have never existed. The work before us undertakes to shew, from the example of miss Adeline Mowbray, that a young lady who ventures to ridicule and condemn the marriage-tie, will expose herself to insult; that if she consents, though from the purest motives imaginable, to live with a man as his mistress, she will assuredly be driven out of decent company; that her children, being illegitimate, will be destitute of the right of inheritance, and subject to a thousand affronts; and that she cannot do better, if deprived of her lover by death, than to accept the first legal protector that offers. From the adventures of the mother is taught, the folly of neglecting all the duties of life for the study of metaphysics and politics; the ill consequences attendant on a complete ignorance of the world in the mother of a grown up daughter; and the madness of a rich widow's falling in love with and marrying a profligate young Irishman overwhelmed with debt, from whom she forgets to demand a settlement. It must be confessed that these great truths are sufficiently familiar; and in spite of the rage for experiment in moral conduct, which some years ago prevailed to a considerable extent, we hope there are few ladies 'so to seek in virtue's lore,' as to be inclined to put in practice the extravagances of poor Adeline. As for the faults and follies of her mother, we fear the causes of most of them are too deeply wrought into the constitution of the human race, to be removed by the united eloquence of all moralists, novelists, and divines, who have ever written, preached, or taught. If, therefore, it was Mrs Opie's wish, by the present work, to establish her name among the great guides of female conduct and promoters of practical wisdom, she has assuredly failed of her object; but if she has adopted the vehicle of system only for the sake of placing interesting characters in new and striking situations, contenting herself with the more appropriate task of amusing the fancy and touching the heart, she may certainly lay claim to a pretty large portion of applause. In drawing characters indeed we do not think she has been very successful, for both Adeline and her mother appear to us considerably out of nature; but there are situations and incidents of great effect. Glenmurray, the hero, is a most interesting being; and several well-imagined circumstances serve to set in a strong light the native benevolence and sensibility of his mind, triumphing first over the stoical pride of system, and afterwards over the fretful selfishness produced by lengthened sickness. The account of Adeline's meeting with the illegitimate child at Richmond is natural and striking, and the speech of the quaker over the body of the misguided Glenmurray is quite in character. There are other passages of considerable merit interspersed throughout, and some of deep pathos; but we should have been better pleased if the tale had ended with the death of the hero, before the odious Berrendale had appeared to put us out of love with husbands.


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