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...
(The entire section is 4929 words.)