"A Country Vicarage" (or "Louisa Mildmay") by Anne Marsh (Marsh-Caldwell)
From the book "Tales of the Woods and Fields". First published 1836.
"A Country Vicarage" opens with three letters concerning the future of Louisa Evelyn (Louisa Mildmay), a poor parson's daughter. Louisa is young and beautiful, but naïve, consequently her mother is keen to broaden her horizons, believing that once subjected to London society she would be 'contented' with the social obscurity that attends a lack of fortune. Louisa's father on the other hand is not so sure. With the emphasis society places on beauty he cannot imagine Louisa will ever be content to accept a similar lot to that of her plain, but 'honest and affectionate sister'. Domestic bliss as the wife of 'an obscure, though most worthy individual' is thus measured against the craving for social advancement achieved by securing a rich and influential husband. These two matrimonial possibilities are represented by Charles Lovel, a sensitive and affectionate man who is devoted to Louisa, and the charming young aristocrat Lord William Melville. Though Louisa values Charles as a brother, his solid dependability is no match for the charismatic Melville who appears to be vital to her very existence.
Despite the allure of London life Marsh reveals the hollowness of a society which values outward show above sensitivity and feeling. Lord William views Louisa as a prize, a beautiful possession to pander to his wishes and adorn his life, whilst Mrs. Carlton, her patron, wishes to 'produce' an image pleasing to the eye but with no inner, emotional existence. Left to his own devices Melville would have dallied for a while with this beautiful, young woman before leaving her for a newer and more exciting challenge, but ironically Charles, acting out of love and concern for Louisa's failing health and despondency, precipitates this fatal union. By bringing together two young people from diametrically opposite social spheres Anne Marsh offers a scathing critique of the emptiness of 'fashionable' society and its destructive influence on human lives.
However, once married and removed from his artificial environment into the more natural surroundings of rural Wales, Lord William behaves with some degree of sensitivity and affection towards his naïve and adoring wife. At this stage we might even expect this unlikely union to achieve some degree of success. But the unsophisticated charms of rural life vanish once the couple return to London. Amongst Melville's cold and insensitive family Louisa suffers a serious depression brought on by feelings of inadequacy and alienation, feelings which are heightened by the languor of pregnancy. Furthermore the birth of their baby daughter does nothing to alleviate their marital tension. Lord William despises any claims on his time and views his daughter as a rival for his wife's affection. As this tale speeds to its dramatic conclusion we feel a distinct sympathy for Louisa, portrayed more as an unfortunate victim than a vain, self-willed woman who deserves her unhappiness.
Though there is much to connect this tale with Burney's Evelina, even the names are similar, there is no model of positive aristocratic behaviour to be found here. Melville is no Lord Orville, and without the strength and support of her husband, Louisa Evelyn becomes completely destroyed by the society she has dared to enter.
The above review written by Diane Duffy, 2002.
The first British edition of "Tales of the Woods and Fields" (1836, Saunders & Otley, London) contains three stories by Ann Marsh-Caldwell: "A Country Vicarage", "Tale of an Oak Tree", "Love & Duty". However, the American first edition (1836, Harper & Brothers, New York) has the first story titled "Louisa Mildmay", not "A Country Vicarage". The two stories are in fact the same except for a name change. In the British edition the name of the key character in the story is Louisa Evelyn but in the American edition her name is Louisa Mildmay.
"Tales of the Woods and Fields" has the following dedication printed in the front "Dedicated to my dear and honoured father". Anne Marsh-Caldwell's father was James Caldwell (1759-1838), of Linley Wood,
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