In Praise of Emily Eden
When I’m in need of comfort, there are various authors who can be guaranteed to take me out of myself. They include Emily Eden (1797-1869). She came from an aristocratic family at the centre of 19th century political and social life and had both a keen intelligence and a lively wit. As well as writing Up the Country, an account of her travels in India, she wrote two novels. The Semi-detached House came out 1859. It was followed in 1860 by The Semi-attached Couple, which was actually written thirty years earlier in 1829.
We also meet the naive Eliza Douglas, who comes from a Bennet-like household with a vulgar discontented mother. Eliza is invited to stay at Eskdale castle – and struggles to cope with intimidating footmen and overhearing that her taste in dress is vulgar. She is a good, kind-hearted girl – a sort of Catherine Morland – and we worry when she falls for the handsome Colonel Beaufort, far above her in rank, and selfishly concerned with his own pleasure. Can true love etc….
The Semi-detached House is a lively, much more satirical novel. In it, the grass-widow Lady Blanche Chester, newly-married and pregnant, is horrified to find herself sharing a house with the middle-class Hopkinsons. Mrs Hopkinson is cheerful, generous and vulgar and has two delightful daughters, Rose and Janet, both in need of husbands. Blanche has a lot to learn.
Then there’s the financial speculator, Baron Sampson, and his unhappy but spirited niece Rebecca, whose fortune he’s trying to swindle. And I particularly enjoyed the gloomy Willis, whose idea of a suitable present for his small son is a model coffin with a skeleton which jumps out when the spring is pressed. The stage is set for financial skulduggery, snobbery exposed, and true love triumphant.
Both books are guaranteed to cheer one up when feeling down or troubled; the perfect antidote to too much Christmas.