Frances Brooke Essay - Critical Essays

Brooke, Frances


Frances Brooke 1724-1789

(Also wrote under the pseudonym of Mary Singleton) English novelist, playwright, librettist, translator, and essayist.

Known during her lifetime as a translator, novelist, essayist, and playwright, Brooke is chiefly remembered as the author of the first Canadian novel, The History of Emily Montague (1769). In both her fiction and nonfiction works, Brooke addressed social issues, particularly women's right to education and choice in marriage partners. She is also credited with helping to shape the epistolary novel into a vehicle for social criticism.

Biographical Information

Brooke was born in 1724 to Reverend Thomas Moore and his wife, Mary (Knowles) Moore, in Claypole, Lincolnshire. After the death of her father in 1727 and her mother in 1737, she was raised by relatives. At about age twenty-four, she was drawn to the theatrical and literary life of London, where she supported herself through translations and journalism while writing novels and dramas. In 1756, she married a clergyman, John Brooke. They had a son in 1757. In that year her husband was sent to British North America as an army chaplain, first at Louisbourg and then at Quebec. In 1763, Brooke joined him. While there she wrote The History of Emily Montague. This novel, published a year after the Brookes returned to England in 1768, is believed to be the first extended work of fiction with a Canadian setting.

In 1773 Brooke and the actress Mary Ann Yates become joint managers of King's Theatre in the London theater district. Unable to abtain a patent to produce plays, they staged ballets and operas for the next four years. In 1777 she published The Excursion. This novel attracted attention for its insider view of the theater scene and its criticism of the renowned actor-manager David Garrick. Late in life, Brooke achieved theatrical success with her historical tragedy The Siege of Sinope (1781). Rosina, a comic opera, was a popular and critical success when it was finally performed in 1782, some ten years after it was written. Marian (1788), another copmic opera, also did well. A year after Brooke's death in 1789, The History of Charles Mandeville, a sequel to The History of Lady Julia Mandeville, was published.

Major Works

Brooke published thirty-seven issues of a periodical called The Old Maid (1755-56), writing most of the content herself. Modeled after the popular magazine The Spectator, The Old Maid featured a mixture of fictional dialogues and critical reviews in which Brooke addressed contemporary social topics, including marriage, female education, and the morals and manners of the theater. Brooke wrote several plays that she was unable to have produced before she began writing novels. Her first, The History of Lady Julia Mandeville (1863) established Brooke as an author and showed the influence of the French epistolary romance novels, some examples of which she had translated into English. The History of Lady Julia Mandeville was widely popular in England and translated into French, earning the praise of Voltaire, who called it the best English novel since Samuel Richardon's Clarissa (1747-48) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753-54). In Emily Montague, Brooke turned her familiarity with the Canadian landscape to advantage. Her description of Niagara Falls in winter, for example, was much admired. Emily Montague infused the epistolary novel with the growing vogue of travel literature: the narrative consists of letters between English immigrants living in Quebec and their correspondents in England, and addresses such issues as the most effective way to colonize Quebec, perceived racial differences between the English, the French Canadians, and the native North Americans, the Church of England and Catholicism, the nature of a happy marriage, and the differences between men and women. The book was a critical and popular success, running to at least six editions in Brooke's lifetime and receiving favorable reviews in both English and French journals. The Excursion received some good reviews, but was never as popular as the previous works It departs from the epistolary format to introduce an ironic, detached narrator, who relates the trials of the novel's heroine with sympathy tempered by worldly wisdom. The novel is a satirical examination of what happens to a bold young woman who dreams of becoming a writer in London. It is thought to contain autobiographical elements. The History of Charles Mandeville, published posthumously, provided a happy resolution to the tragedy of her first novel. It features a character from The History of Lady Julia Mandeville and ends with his marriage to the best friend of the earlier novel's deceased heroine. The fact that Brooke did not attempt to publish the novel during her life may indicates that she was not satisfied with it. It received little critical or popular notice.

Critical Reception

Neglected for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Brooke has been reclaimed by feminist critics seeking women's literary traditions, and by Canadian critics tracing the origins of their national literature. Although the accuracy of the Canadian content of Emily Montague is open to debate, critics have noted its status as a New World novel, particularly in its stress on the disjunction between English and British North American landscape and social conventions. Recent criticism informed by post-colonial theory tends to be overtly political, examining this novel's treatment of imperialism, racial issues, and the exploitation of natural resources. Feminist critics have stressed Brooke's use of the sentimental novel to explore the limited scope of women's personal and professional lives during her era.

Principal Works

The Old Maid [editor; as Mary Singleton] (essays, fictional letters, and criticism) 1755-56

Virginia: A Tragedy, with Odes, Pastorals, and Translations (drama) [first publication] 1756

The History of Lady Julia Mandeville (novel) 1763

The History of Emily Montague (novel) 1769

The Excursion (novel) 1777

The Siege of Sinope: A Tragedy (drama) 1781

Rosina; or, Love in a Cottage: A Comic Opera, in Two Acts (libretto) 1782

Marian: A Comic Opera, in Two Acts (libretto) 1788

The History of Charles Mandeville (novel) 1790


Lorraine McMullen (essay date 1977-78)

SOURCE: "All's Right at Last: An Eighteenth-Century Canadian Novel," in Journal of Canadian Fiction, Vol. 21, 1977-78, pp. 95-104.

[In the following essay, McMullen outlines the authorship controversy concerning All's Right at Last, and argues for the text's significance as the second Canadian novel; in theme and setting, the novel suggests Brooke's hand, though the work is of inferior quality to her earlier novels.]

Could you believe that this divine girl should make me prefer the cold frost and snow of Canada to the mild winter of my native country; and that I would rather gaze on her bright eyes than partake of your most brilliant amusements?1

In 1774, five years after the publication of The History of Emily Montague, the circulating library of Frances and John Noble in London published All's Right At Last; or, The History of Frances West. The style is epistolary, the setting for the most part Canada, the plot improbable. Although published anonymously (no reputable writer would admit to an association with circulating libraries and their flimsy formula novels),2 there is reason to believe that Frances Brooke is the author of this work. Whoever the author, All's Right At Last can lay claim to being Canada's second novel. As such, it merits our attention.

Unlike The History of Emily Montague, early events of this novel take place in England. An exchange of letters between the heroine, Fanny West, in London and Mrs. Darnley, her friend and mentor, in the country reveal Fanny's predicament. Her mother has unwisely brought Fanny to London where she is attempting to introduce her into society, with the hope that her beauty and accomplishments might allow her to marry above her station. Although filial obedience requires that Fanny concur with her mother's plans, she is dismayed at the situation in which she finds herself, and Mrs. Darnley warns her of the dire consequences which may ensue. The fears of Fanny and Mrs. Darnley are soon realized. The aristocratic and wealthy Lord Walton seeks out Fanny with intentions no one but Fanny's naive mother can conceive as honorable. However, Fanny is not without spirit. When Walton in a melodramatic scene attempts to rape her, Fanny reverses the situation and stabs him with his own sword. Not seriously injured, Walton turns the incident to his own advantage by circulating a report that Fanny has wounded him in a lovers' quarrel. She and her mother are placed under house arrest guarded by Walton's servants. Mrs. West dies, of shock and dismay it seems, whereupon Walton conceives a Clarissa-like plot to spirit Fanny away to his own estate and force her to become his mistress. At the last moment Fanny escapes to a friend through whom she then obtains a position as companion to a young bride. This woman, Mrs. Manwaring, is about to join her husband, the newly appointed Governor of Trois-Rivieres. Thus the stage is set for Fanny's journey to Canada. The melodramatic incidents involved in the above situation comprise the first third of this novel and the remainder, with the exception of the resolution in England, takes place in Canada. This is the reverse of The History of Emily Montague in which the first two-thirds of the action takes place in Canada and the last third in England.

On Fanny's arrival at Trois-Rivieres, the romantic plot is immediately initiated. Her mistress's husband, Governor Manwaring, is revealed to be Henry Parker, the son of a family friend who had made a fortune in the British colony. Parker had followed his father's dying request to seek the hand of his old friend's daughter, Fanny, in England. When he met Fanny, Parker was led to believe that she was Walton's mistress and disappointedly arranged to return to Canada. Prior to departure he married Caroline Manwaring and took her surname to fulfill a requirement of his bride's inheritance; hence Fanny's astonishment at meeting him in Canada. Now both realize, too late, that they are in love. Canada was expected to provide a new start for Fanny, but Manwaring's love for her and hers for him complicate her situation, for the excessive sensibility of both makes it impossible to hide. To ameliorate the situation Fanny agrees to spend the winter in Montreal with a newly married friend, Bel Roachley, and accepts the advice of her acquaintances that she resolve her dilemma by marrying. She accepts Colonel Bellamy, the most eligible man in Canada, who is as attractive to the ladies as Fanny is to the men. Ironically, on the day of their marriage Fanny learns of the death of Caroline Manwaring, thus freeing the man she loves. Soon after, Bellamy is conveniently killed in a duel by a jealous husband who erroneously suspects him of an affair with his young bride. Manwaring has sailed to England and Fanny, now free, returns there for the happy resolution: "All's Right at Last."

Was this novel written by Frances Brooke? The listings in the National Union Catalogue,3 in the British Museum General Catalogue of Printed Books4 and in Andrew Block, The English Novel 1740-1850,5 suggest that Frances Brooke is probably the author. The title page of the novel indicates that it was published anonymously and that it was "Printed for F. and J. Noble at their respective Circulating Libraries, near Middle Row, Holbom, and Saint Martin's Court, near Leicester Square."6 The reason usually given for ascribing the novel to Frances Brooke is its Canadian setting. However, added credence may be given to this claim by the existence in the British Museum of a French translation of the novel. The title page of the first volume of this translation reads: "Histoire/De Miss West/Ou L'Heureux/Denouement/Par Madame***,/Auteur de l'Histoire d'Emilie Montague,/Traduite de l'anglais/Premiere Partie A Rotterdam / Chez Bennet & Hake/MDCCLXXVII."7

There are also several internal reasons for considering that Mrs. Brooke may be the author, although this novel is not as successful as The History of Emily Montague or The History of Julia Mandeville (1763). The main interest of the novel resides in its portrayal of life in Canada and its commentary on marriage and society. Structurally, the novel lacks the unity which characterized Frances Brooke's earlier two novels or the later Excursion (1777). Fanny's desperate adventures in London provide a tale in themselves thinly linked with the Canadian events which follow. They do provide a reason for the penniless young woman to wish to leave England and they introduce, however briefly, the young man destined to provide the romantic interest and complicating factor in her Canadian experience. In this first part of the novel the author strongly criticizes the London social scene. Urban life is contrasted with rural in a manner reminiscent of The History of Julia Mandeville, which idealized country life and condemned the city. In that novel most of the action took place on the Belmont country estate and Julia's father described his reactions when required to leave his idyllic estate to spend a few days in London:

You can have no idea, my dear Mr. Mandeville, how weary I am of being these few days only in town: that any one who is happy enough to have a house, a cottage in the country, should continue here at this season, is to me inconceivable; but that gentlemen of large property, that noblemen, should imprison themselves in this smoking furnace, when the whole land is a blooming garden, a wilderness of sweets; when pleasure courts them in her fairest form; nay, when the sordid god of modern days, when Interest joins his potent voice; when power, the best power, that of doing good, solicits their presence; can only be accounted for by supposing them under the domination of fascination, spell-caught by some malicious demon, an enemy to human happiness.8

In All's Right at Last, Bellamy writes of the London beau monde: "I almost tremble at the thought of returning with her [Fanny] to your world of dissipation and intrigue, where the fair married dames are so little tenacious either of their own honor, or that of their husbands: …" (II, 53-4, Letter XXXIV).

The corrupt life of London society, shallowness of its members, superficiality of its pleasures, and foolishness of involving oneself in its activities provide a major theme of Mrs. Brooke's later novel, The Excursion. In that novel Mrs. Brooke moves from the epistolary style of her earlier works to employ the voice of an acute and witty omniscient observer. The Excursion concerns the adventures of a young woman from a rural background who journeys alone to London to experience the excitement of the London beau monde and to attempt to publish her novel and play. Like Fanny West this young woman, Maria Villiers, very nearly comes to grief in a world which assumes that a single, unprotected young woman seeking to enter society is an adventuress, or at least fair prey. Just as Fanny's mother assumes that Lord Walton's intentions are honourable, so Maria in The Excursion assumes that Lord Melvile in his approaches to her is honourable. Both are proved wrong. All's Right at Last is more melodramatic with its attempted rape, stabbing, interception of letters, imprisonment, and attempted kidnapping. The later Excursion expands with more wit upon the theme of the naive young woman from a rural, therefore simple and innocent background, caught up in the corrupt London social world.

The tone of All's Right at Last alters when the scene shifts to Canada and the decadence of the old world is left behind. Fanny's letters to her friend Mrs. Darnley continue, and now provide the reader with her reactions to the new land and an ongoing report of her activities there. Her first response to Canada is ecstatic delight at the beauty of nature, somewhat mitigated by a nostalgia for England:

We are at last arrived at this most delightful country, where nature has dealt her bounties with a lavish hand. How unclouded is the sky! How bright the sunshine! How beautiful is the earth enamelled with flowery sweets! Everything here is gay and smiling; yet, dear England, often do I breathe a sigh to the memory of thee.

(I, 161, Letter XIX)

Other correspondents write from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, and Montreal, the three centres of activity and social life in Canada. As with the earlier part of the novel, the great majority of the Canadian letters are written by women. Various members of the colony comment on Fanny's impact on the new world: of course her beauty, charm, and sensibility—which capture the hearts of all eligible males—cause some resentment among the females.

The most lively writers are Lucy Santemore in Trois-Rivieres; her sister, Belinda Roachley; and Lucy's friend in Quebec, Charlotte Bladon. The names Lucy and Bel will be familiar to readers of The History of Emily Montague who will recall Emily's confidante, Arabella "Bell" Fermor and Bell's friend, Lucy Rivers. Lucy Santemore is a mixture of French, English and possibly Indian blood as she indicates in a letter to Charlotte Bladon:

Everlasting dancers are we Canadians. No wonder, with all the wildness of Indians, and all the vivacity of the Parisiens so blended in our compositions. My family, in particular have a mixture of both, with very little of the English gravity to moderate either. I have been told that my great, great grandmother was a Squaw. Heavens! no wonder I am a brunette.—How I ramble!

(II, 29, Letter XXVII)

The tone and phrasing of this letter recall Bell Fermor. Colonel Bellamy confirms Lucy's...

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Lorraine McMullen (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "Frances Brooke's Early Fiction," in Canadian Literature, Vol. 86, Autumn, 1980, pp. 31-40.

[In the following essay, McMullen stresses the importance of Brooke's early writing, noting that her translations of French epistolary novels helped her develop her own novel-writing techniques. McMullen demonstrates that The History of Lady Julia Mandeville anticipates many of the themes and formal techniques employed in Emily Montague.]

Finding herself at Quebec in 1763, Frances Brooke (1723-1789) made the most of the opportunity to transmute some of her experiences and observations into fiction. The result, The History of Emily Montague (1769), is well...

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Mary Jane Edwards (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Frances Brooke's The History of Emily Montague: A Biographical Context," in English Studies in Canada, Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer, 1981, pp. 171-82.

[In the following essay, Edwards discusses the religious references in Emily Montague, noting that Brooke's father, maternal grandfather, and husband were Church of England clergymen and that Brooke herself had a keen interest in promoting the tenets of the church.]

Since its first publication by James Dodsley, the London bookseller, in April 1769, Frances Brooke's The History of Emily Montague has been considered in a variety of contexts.1 In English literature it has been discussed as...

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Mary Jane Edwards (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: Editor's Introduction, in The History of Emily Montague, edited by Mary Jane Edwards, CEECT edition, Carleton University Press, 1985, pp. xvii-lxxi.

[In the following excerpt, Edwards examines the literary, biographical, and historical contexts of The History of Emily Montague.]

[The History of Emily Montague] was typical of much eighteenth-century English literature. Its references to classical literature and mythology, and to the Chinese, Tartars, Turks, sultans, seraglios, and nabobs, and its quotations from the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, and more recent English and French writers placed it squarely in the context of the eighteenth-century literary...

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Ann Edwards Boutelle (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Frances Brooke's Emily Montague (1769): Canada and Woman's Rights," in Women's Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1986, pp. 7-16.

[In the following essay, Boutelle argues that Brooke's aim in The History of Emily Montague went beyond providing a colorful novel of Canadian frontier life, suggesting that she intended it to serve in part as a document in favor of women's rights and on the current unequal state of relations between men and women. Boutelle maintains that with this intent Brooke's novel foreshadows the overtly feminist work of Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft.]

Today we remember Frances Brooke, if we remember her at all, as the...

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Robert Merrett (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "The Politics of Romance in The History of Emily Montague," in Canadian Literature, Vol. 133, Summer, 1992, pp. 92-108.

[In the following essay, Merrett suggests that in The History of Emily Montague Brooke presented a negative view of British colonization of Canada.]

The most interesting, because most problematic, claim that Mary Jane Edwards makes in her fine edition of The History of Emily Montague is that Frances Brooke expresses in her novel an "essentially positive view of the potential of the new British colony."1 This claim is problematic for many contextual and textual reasons.

In the first place,...

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Barbara M. Benedict (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "The Margins of Sentiment: Nature, Letter, and Law in Frances Brooke's Epistolary Novels," in Ariel, Vol. 23, No. 3, July, 1992, pp. 7-25.

[In the following essay, Benedict examines Brooke's use of the epistolary novel form to challenge the prevailing sentimental ideology of that genre.]

The most popular form of literary sentimentalism in the eighteenth century was the epistolary novel.1 The epistolary method aims to present human nature released from social convention, meditating on the faculty which sentimentalists saw as the spring of virtue: feeling. Through intimate letters describing characters' responses to emotions and events, these novels...

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Robin Howells (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "Dialogism in Canada's First Novel: The History of Emily Montague," in Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, Vol. 20, Nos. 3-4, September-December, 1993, pp. 437-50.

[In the following essay, Howells argues for the literary as well as the historical and documentary value of The History of Emily Montague as the first Canadian novel.]

All utterance, says Bakhtin, is dialogic. Any given utterance occurs in relation to context: time, place, interlocutionary situation. It is implicitly engaged with all other utterance—reworking, replying, anticipating—and with the reality that it seeks to attain. Insofar as it incorporates multiple discourses,...

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Dermot McCarthy (essay date 1993/94)

SOURCE: "Sisters Under the Mink: The Correspondent Fear in The History of Emily Montague," in Essays on Canadian Writing, Vols. 51-52, Winter 1993-Spring 1994, pp. 340-57.

[In the following essay, McCarthy characterizes The History of Emily Montague as an essentially racist and bigoted narrative with a pro-colonialist point of view.]

According to Frances Brooke's biographer, Lorraine McMullen, The History of Emily Montague (1769) was "required reading for early British travellers to Canada" (115), and the novel's most recent editor, Mary Jane Edwards, writes that it served as "a kind of guidebook" for tourists and emigrants (Introduction li). But...

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Robert James Merrett (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Signs of Nationalism in The History of Emily Montague; Canadians of the Old and The Imperialist: Cultural Displacement and the Semiotics of Wine," in Recherches Semiotiques-Semiotic Inquiry, Vol. 14, Nos. 1-2, 1994, pp. 235-50.

[In the following excerpt, Merrett discusses the cultural and symbolic meanings associated with wine in Emily Montague.]

Wine—the fermented juice of the grape—may be a natural phenomenon yet it is also the product of complex vinification processes involving traditional but disputed histories: its origin and production have always been subject to legal rules and political restrictions. Its consumption has served society...

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Paula R. Backscheider and Hope D. Cotton (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Introduction in, The Excursion, edited by Paula R. Backscheider and Hope D. Cotton, University Press of Kentucky, 1997, pp. ix-xxxviii.

[In the following excerpt, Backscheider and Cotton discus the literary context and form of The Excursion, including its critical reception and Brooke's later career; they argue for the novel's significance in the movement towards critical realism.]

The Excursion and Its Significance

Thomas Cadell … the publisher of David Hume's History of England, Hannah More's Percy and Fatal Falsehood, and Samuel Foote's last four plays brought out Brooke's The Excursion in...

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Further Reading


McMullen, Lorraine. An Odd Attempt in a Woman: The Literary Life of Frances Brooke. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1983, 237.

A detailed history of Brooke's life and writing, including summaries of works and their critical reception.


Foster, James R. "From Sidney Bidulph to the Placid Man." In History of the Pre-Romantic Novel in England, pp. 145-50. New York: Modem Language Association of America, 1949.

Discusses the literary influences on Brooke's major novels.

Green, Katherine Sobba. "Frances Moore Brooke: Emily Montague's...

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