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At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Out of the Depths

Author and Title: Henry Gladwyn Jebb. Out of the Depths: The Story of a Woman's Life. A Novel

First Edition: London: Macmillan, 1859. 1 volume.

Summary: A frank and sympathetic story of a fallen woman. Mary Smith is the daughter of the head gardener of the Neville family in an eastern county. After her schooling ends and a brief apprenticeship as a seamstress, she goes to work as lady's maid for Miss Philippa Neville. Her mistress marries and during her honeymoon Mary is left behind where she meets George Fisher, an Oxford student visiting the area. They meet several times clandestinely and once have sex. Mary repeatedly blames her fall on her own vanity in believing a gentleman would marry a maid. He does promise to marry her once his studies are finished and returns to Oxford. In a few months, Mary discovers herself pregnant and George honorably sends her money to come to Oxford to be married before the baby comes. During the night, she sneaks away, hoping her betrayal will eventually be smoothed by her nuptials. After several difficulties, she arrives in Oxford to find George dying of typhus. Unable to prove her engagement with their son (she has lost his letters during her hasty trip), his family spurns Mary as a seductress. In her bereavement, Mary is taken in by two kind seamstresses and gives birth to a stillborn child. Refusing to return home and struggling to make ends meet, her friends introduce her to prostitution. Mary descends "into the depths" over the next several years, going from being the mistress of a young lord to the mistress to rich barrister to eventually a street-walker in London. In this position, an earnest young clergyman follows her home and exhorts her to repentance, which she initially and haughtily rejects. But his words weigh on her conscience and after the death of one of her companions, she decides to make an honorable living. Her first attempts at employment are cut short when her past is discovered. But a few sympathetic people recognize her sincere desire to change and help her to find work. Eventually, she contacts the clergyman who promises to find her employment. She travels to his town, meeting George's uncle on the way, and takes a position as schoolteacher, devoting her life to penance and good works. She is reconciled in time with her mistress, her family, and George's uncle. A local widower offers her marriage (even with full knowledge of her past) which Mary first rejects but then accepts. But she dies of small pox before the wedding. (TJB)

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References: Bodleian; BL


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