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At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: St. Martin's Eve

Author and Title: Ellen Wood. St. Martin's Eve: A Novel

First Edition: London: Tinsley Brothers, 1866. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.

Summary: The story opens with the death of George Carleton St. John's first wife, shortly after giving birth to Benjamin ("Benja") on St. Martin's Eve. The following year George falls in love with Charlotte Darling, the eldest and spoiled child of Mrs. Norris Darling. Mrs. Darling opposes Charlotte marrying, but she refuses to provide a definite reason for her opposition and fails to stop the marriage. Charlotte does her best to be a loving and fair mother to Benja. Charlotte gives birth to a son, George, also born on St. Martin’s Eve. Despite her best efforts, Charlotte is slowly consumed by a strong jealously of Benja because he, and not her son, is heir. Her jealously becomes known to George St. John when, in a moment of passion, Charlotte violently smacks Benja to the ground without cause. George St. John becomes ill with a hereditary condition. Faced with pending death, he alters his will to appoint his relation, Isaac St. John, the guardian of Benja and the estate after he dies, if Charlotte proves to be an unsuitable caregiver. George St. John dies. The altered will is a slight to Charlotte, as it suggests a lack of faith in her ability to care properly for Benja. During a birthday celebration, Honour, Benja’s devoted attendant, helps him build a model church out of paper. She leaves the room for several minutes. When she returns, she finds the doors to the room locked and Benja burned to dead from a fire. Honour is blamed for leaving Benja unattended, though it is unclear how the doors came to be locked. Benja’s brother George is shocked by the incident, becomes ill, and eventually dies. Meanwhile, at a boarding school in France, Charlotte’s youngest sister, Rose Darling, befriends Adeline de Castella. Adeline meets and falls in love with Frederick St. John, the younger brother of Isaac St. John, despite being already engaged. Frederick boldly asks Adeline’s father to break off the previous engagement in favor of his proposal, which is refused. After a failed elopement, Adeline is given permission to choose between her two suitors but is discreetly informed by her father that, because Frederick is Protestant and her family Catholic, she will be barred from entering heaven if she marries Frederick. She is not allowed to tell Frederick her reason for refusing him, so he mistakenly believes her to have been false. Adeline’s sadness brings on an illness and she dies. In ancient French tradition, Adeline’s body is displayed at a reception in her full wedding attire. Rose brings an unsuspecting Frederick to the reception, where he is stunned by the grotesque scene. Back in England, after George’s death, Charlotte moves in with Isaac St. John. Isaac is a bachelor and intends to remain so, but Charlotte subtly but pointedly pursues his affections and becomes extremely jealous of anyone who comes between them. The rector’s daughter Georgina, long-time friend and admirer of Frederick’s, spends a lot of time with Isaac and evokes Charlotte’s jealously. It is revealed that Charlotte is suffering from a hereditary mental illness that causes her to turn violent, which is why Mrs. Darling opposed her getting married, and that Charlotte had locked Benja into the room while he was on fire. In a fit of madness, Charlotte attacks Honour, requires forcible restraint by Frederick and others, and is sent to a private asylum. Frederick marries Georgina. (SCT)

Title Tags:

References: BL; EC


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