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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Married at Last

Author and Title: Helen Dickens. Married at Last: A Novel

First Edition: London: C. J. Skeet, 1877. 2 volumes, post 8vo., 21s.

Summary: The narrator Penelope "Penny" Sutherland Gedise begins the novel as a poor music teacher at a girls' school in Banff, Scotland, where she endures privations and contempt from her schoolmistress. She receives a letter from a maternal aunt, the rich widow Mrs. Sutherland, offering her a position in her house as governess to her youngest daughter, Eunice. She moves south to "Ringly Royal" in Surrey where she is introduced to the Sutherland family: the imperious mother, the proud eldest daughters Charlotte and Isabel, their better-natured brother Yorke, and the youngest Eunice. (Three other brothers live away from home: the married Albert, the banker William, and the colonial Jack.) Penny by degrees adds the housekeeper duties to her role as governess. Soon another niece arrives at the house: Joan "Jocky" Berden is the daughter of an "unfortunate match" between Mrs. Sutherland's sister and a Yorkshire mill owner. Jocky, in the words of the narrator, "was peculiar. Braver than most women, and fascinating to a dangerous degree, she exercised a charm over people that eclipsed the beauty of others completely." Jocky bewitches (in turn) a visitor Mr. Travers Thorne (who proposes and is turned down), Yorke (who also proposes and is accepted), and a rake Colonel Clavel. Dancing with the latter leads to a disagreement between Yorke and Jocky. As a result Jocky decides to leave and Penny accompanies Jocky to her mother's rural house near Ripon in Yorkshire. While there, Travers visits and Jocky (scandalously) entertains him in the kitchen while she cooks. And, they are bothered by a persistent beggar who is run off by the dog. After the death of Mrs. Berden, the two women return to Ringly Royal where soon after Jocky is assaulted in her bedroom. She refuses all questions of who attacked her, but Yorke suspects Thorne who is found strangled a few days later. After Jocky confirms Thorne's innocence, she disappears. Penny suspects Yorke killed Thorne. Years pass. Jack, Yorke's brother, returns from India, falls in love with Penny, and marries her (all within a few pages!). While at the theatre with her husband, Penny recognizes the actress "Miss Thorne" as Jocky. Penny accompanies Jocky back to Yorkshire where she confesses: she was attacked by the beggar, in reality her fugitive criminal brother. Now dead, for years, he has been extorting money from the family and he murdered Thorne. In the end, Jocky marries Yorke.

The novel also contains the short story "Harvest Queen." The story concerns the fate of the four Boucher children: Henry ("Ned"), Isabel ("Bell"), Georgiana ("Georgie", who suffers from a disabled leg), and Memie. They were born and raised by their parents in Demerara (present-day Guyana) before being sent with their black nurse to live with their widowed uncle in London. He sends them to school in Harrow. The youngest, Memie, dies to be followed by their parents in South America. Left a pittance, Ned goes to Canada where he dies. Bell and Georgie go to live with the family friend Mr. Pole, an Irishman who owns a farm at Lea Hurst, Sussex. While there, Bell gains the attention of both Pole's godson, the aptly named Cecil Frankly, and his drunken son, Dunstan Pole. Cecil dies in a fall from this window either as a result of his sleepwalking or the jealous Dunstan. Bell and Georgie leave the farm for London where Bell becomes a renowned actress.

The novel also contains the short story "Fairy." The story centers on Frances, the youngest daughter of the Rector of Boscobel in Sussex. A tomboy, she is dubbed "Fairy" by her cousin Alexander Stewart. He is dispatched with his army unit to Bombay. A few years later he returns still smitten by his cousin. They wed. (TJB)

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References: BL; EC