The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This novel describes the difficulties and adventures of ten-year-old Maria, an orphan who is harassed and circumscribed by a pair of villainous guardians: the vicar, Mr. Hater, and her governess, Miss Brown. Her parents have died in an accident, and she seems to have no friends her own age. Although her extensive ancestral estate had been visited in former times by many famous political and literary figures, such as Queen Victoria, James Boswell, and Jonathan Swift, it is no longer being maintained because of a supposed lack of funds. The grandiose house and romantic monuments are either in ruins or overgrown, and the surrounding grounds are leased to a local farmer.

Maria’s two friends are the cook, who is the sole retainer at Malplaquet, and an elderly, absent-minded professor who lives in a small cottage on the grounds. While exploring the Quincunx, one of several lakes not far from the palace, Maria visits its small island, on which is an ornamental temple nicknamed Mistress Masham’s Repose. There she discovers a colony of miniature people, who initially are terrified of her. After gaining their friendship, she learns that they and their farm animals had been kidnapped from Lilliput in the early eighteenth century, following their discovery and a later account of their civilization written by Lemuel Gulliver. Carried about, put on display, and forced to perform by their captor, Captain Biddle, the ancestors of the present Lilliputians had managed to escape their jailer while at Malplaquet and then made their way to the island, where they took refuge.

Maria’s efforts to befriend them attract the attentions of her cruel guardians, who plot to exploit the Lilliputians for their own ends by capturing and selling them. Although they are able to imprison Maria, and Miss Brown appears to be plotting murder, the story ends happily through the combined efforts of the cook and her dog, the professor, the Lilliputians, and the local lord lieutenant and his assistant, all aided by the cleverness of Maria herself. A brief summary in the final pages details the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of Mr. Hater and Miss Brown, the recovery of the money they had embezzled from the estate, and the restoration of Malplaquet to its former magnificence.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story takes place in England in the 1940s. World War II has taken a great toll on the expansive Ducal estate of Malplaquet. The heavy...

(The entire section is 375 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although Mistress Masham's Repose is a novel of conflict, danger, and adventure, it would be a loss to overlook the deeper levels of...

(The entire section is 581 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The most obvious problem, for many readers, is the menacing, cruel, and evil characters of the Vicar and Miss Brown. From their early abuses...

(The entire section is 124 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Maria is not a bad person, but in her initial dealings with the Lilliputians she makes some serious mistakes, and her behavior is less...

(The entire section is 254 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Read Gulliver's Travels, especially the section on Lilliput, and compare the way Swift and White describe Lilliputian society and...

(The entire section is 180 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Since Mistress Masham's Repose is directly inspired by Gulliver's Travels and the philosophies of its author Jonathan Swift, a...

(The entire section is 129 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Asimov, Isaac, ed. The Annotated Gulliver's Travels. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1980. Since so many themes of Mistress Masham's...

(The entire section is 200 words.)