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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XI. Lesser Novelists

§ 1. Susan Edmonstone Ferrier

JANE AUSTEN did not found any school; and her artistic strictness is not shown by any of her contemporaries or immediate successors. Several among them, especially women writers, took advantage of the new fields which she had opened to fiction; but, in most cases, the influence of the earlier and less regular novel isevident, and perhaps the influence of a period full of contrasts and extremes. In the novels of Susan Edmonstone Ferrier there is something of the rough sarcasm of Smollett, mingled with a strong didactic flavour and with occasional displays of sentiment that may be due to Mackenzie. To her personal friend Scott, she may have owed something in her studies of Scottish life, but Maria Edgeworth was her principal model. Her first novel, Marriage, was written in 1810, though it was not published till 1818, when it appeared anonymously. Marriage is full of vigorous work. The studies of the highland family into which an English lady of aristocratic birth and selfish temper marries by elopement are spirited and humorous; but the story rambles on through a good many years; and the character of Lady Juliana, poor, proud and worldly, is but a thin thread on which to hang the tale of three generations. The Inheritance, published in 1824, has more unity. Destiny, published in 1831, is chiefly remarkable for the character of McDow, the minister. To compare McDow with Mr. Collins is to see the difference between Jane Austen and Susan Ferrier; but the latter, with her coarse workmanship succeeds in achieving a picture full of humour. The novel becomes very sentimental and strained towards the close, a criticism which, also, holds true of The Inheritance; but Susan Ferrier was a novelist of power, whose work is still fresh and interesting.

Coarse as her workmanship may be compared with that of Jane Austen, it is refined and delicate by the side of that of a remarkable woman, Frances, the mother of Anthony and Augustus, Trollope. Mrs. Trollope’s best work was done in middle-age and may be found in two novels, The Vicar of Wrexhill (1837) and The Widow Barnaby (1838). The Vicar of Wrexhill is a book of virulent malignity, in which the chief character is a clergyman of evangelical beliefs. He is licentious, suave, cold and cruel; and the force with which his vices are shown to be mingled with his religion could only have been displayed by a novelist of courageous and powerful mind. Be the character possible or impossible, it is throughout credible in the reading; and Mrs. Trollope never permits her reader to escape from the terror which the man and his deeds arouse. The Widow Barnaby is written in more humorous mood. The chief character is the buxom widow of a country apothecary, who poses as a woman of fortune. Vulgar, selfish and cruel, she is still a source of constant delight to readers who have stomached coarser things in Smollett. Rough as Mrs. Trollope’s work is, and crude, especially in the drawing of minor characters, her power and her directness remain unmatched by any English author of her sex, save Aphra Behn.