Catherine Gore Critical Essays


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Catherine Gore 1799(?)-1861

(Born Catherine Grace Frances Moody; also wrote under the pseudonyms CD., D.F.G., Mrs. Charles Gore, and Albany Poyntz) English novelist, dramatist, nonfiction writer, poet, and composer.

Gore was one of the most popular authors of the "fashionable novel," or "silver-fork novel," a romance genre popular from the mid-1820s to 1850. In her lifetime, Gore wrote more than sixty novels, dramas, and verse, most of them published anonymously; among her best-known novels are Mothers and Daughters: A Tale of the Year 1830 (1831), Mrs. Armytage; or, Female Domination (1836), and Cecil; or, The Adventures of a Coxcomb (1841). Like many silver-fork novelists, Gore wrote detailed depictions of the upper classes during the reign of George IV (1811 to 1830). She often portrayed dominant men and submissive women, who content themselves with subordinate positions in their marriages, homes, and families. Gore has been criticized for her inclusion of copious details involving scandals, gossip, etiquette, social gatherings, and fashion; she is singled out, however, for her sharp and realistic portrayal of upper-class life, as well as for her satirization of her aristocratic subjects. Among her most avid readers were middle-class women, with whom she often sympathized and who looked to her novels for instruction in such details as proper dress and behavior, and how to converse.

Biographical Information

Although Gore was one of the most popular silver-fork novelists, little is known about her life—Gore herself concealed much about her origins. She is believed to have been born in East Retford, Nottinghamshire, in 1799, to a merchant-class family. After her father's death, the family moved to London, where Gore was educated primarily at home. She began writing novels, poetry, and short fiction in the 1820s. In 1823, she married army officer Charles Arthur Gore, who retired soon thereafter, and with whom she had ten children. After her marriage, Gore rose to prominence in the London high society that would serve as the subject for her most successful fashionable novels, beginning with Women as They Are; or, Manners of the Day in 1830. In 1832 the Gores moved to Paris, which again offered a rich setting for many of her novels; by then, Gore was supporting her family with her prolific writing. In the early 1830s, Gore also wrote several plays that were moderately successful—including The School for Coquettes (1831)—but none were nearly as popular as her books. In 1840, the Gores returned to England. The publication in 1841 of Gore's best-known novel, Cecil; or, The Adventures of a Coxcomb, caused a stir in high-class circles, but little commotion elsewhere; by then the popularity of the fashionable novel was waning. Gore was plagued by misfortune later in life, beginning with her husband's death in 1846. In addition, after receiving a substantial inheritance from a relative, Gore lost the money in a bank fraud in 1855. She was forced into retirement in 1858 by failing eyesight—an irony given her reputation as a sharp-eyed observer of the upper classes—and died on January 29, 1861, in Lyndhurst, Hampshire.

Major Works

Although Women as They Are was Gore's first fashionable novel, Pin Money (1831) was her first success. The moral in Pin Money, as in many of her novels, is that the husband should be dominant while the wife remains submissive—and therefore closer to the "feminine ideal". In Pin Money, for example, the female protagonist voluntarily relinquishes control of her allowance to her husband after she nearly bankrupts herself with extravagant purchases. Manipulative women are punished in Mothers and Daughters: A Tale of the Year 1830—only the female character who marries for love achieves happiness, unlike the woman who attempts to raise her social standing through marriage. In Mrs. Armytage; or, Female Domination (1836), one of Gore's few nonfashionable novels, the author portrays the powerful, manipulative title character as "unnatural," stretching, as she does, the boundaries of her "proper" sphere of home and family. Gore's novels also demonstrate a wistfulness for the waning Regency era. In The Hamiltons; or, The New Era (1834), Gore tells of a married member of Parliament, who devotes all his energies to retaining his office. According to critics, Gore's depiction of the Tories' sole concentration on office-holding reveals her bias toward the Whig (or reform) party. In her best-known novel, Cecil; or, The Adventures of a Coxcomb, Gore also celebrated the London Regency era: the title character, a conceited and adventurous young man, enters London society, engages in several romantic liaisons, visits Europe with Byron, and obtains the family fortune, before eventually finding himself in the court of George IV.

Critical Reception

In the preface to Pin Money, Gore stated her intent "to transfer the familiar narrative of [Jane] Austen to a higher sphere of society." Although the subject matter of the two authors is similar, Gore never attained the literary status of Austen. Gore herself, in fact, recognized the lack of literary value in her work, referring to her "sickly progenitor of fashionable novels," and once confiding to the editor of the Athenaeum: "I was a reader of rubbish long before I became a writer of it." Critics generally describe Gore's novels as caricature. Her stories tend to be largely superficial, with little character or plot development, and filled with "puffing," or the incessant name-dropping of shops and tradesmen that catered to the upper class. Her writing is also highly affected, according to critics, filled with an overabundance of foreign phrases, quotations, allusions, and polysyllabic words. For these shortcomings, Thackeray parodied her work in his "Novels by Eminent Hands" in 1847. Yet even Thackeray, like other critics, found room to praise her for her detailed observations of the manners and mores of upper-crust society, as well as for her ability, unlike other silver-fork novelists, to satirize her subjects with her sharp wit. Likewise, Charlotte Brontë praised The Hamiltons in a letter to Gore: "I found in its pages not the echo of another mind—the pale reflection of a reflection—but the result of original observation, and faithful delineation from actual life." Gore's work continues to be of interest from a historical perspective, as scholars acknowledge her as an accurate chronicler of fashionable society during the Regency period.