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|Author:||Hofland, Barbara (née Wreaks)|
|Title:||The son of a genius; a tale for youth. By Mrs. Hofland, Author of "Daughter of a Genius," etc. etc. etc. etc. New edition. Carefully revised and enlarged by the author|
|Publisher:||John Harris, St. Paul's Church-Yard|
|Pages:||1 vol., iv + 248pp.|
|Size:||14 x 9 cm|
Images of all pages of this book
See below for synopses of selected Hofland texts.
Barbara Hofland was one of the most prolific writers for children during the first half of the nineteenth century. Her biographer, Thomas Ramsey, calculated in 1849, five years after Hofland's death, that 300,000 copies of her books had been sold in England alone (Ramsay 1849: viii). Given that she wrote at least 66 books this does not seem such an unlikely figure. Her bibliographer, Denis Butts, has pointed out that Hofland's works also appeared in 112 American editions too, as well as throughout Europe (Butts 1992: 41). In view of this manifest popularity Hofland surely deserves more detailed consideration than she has so far received. F. J. Harvey Darton, one of the few critics even to have devoted as much as a paragraph to Hofland, dismissed her work as 'the average marketable wares of what is now a past day' (Darton 1982: 211). Even Butts, writing in 1992, though acknowledging that Hofland has been unjustly neglected, suggests that her chief claim to renewed attention is that she provides a realistic portrayal of life at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Butts 1992: 7).
If the portrait of Britain that Hofland paints is an accurate one, then it was a very mercenary society, dominated by economic considerations. As Butts has noted, the number of detailed references to money in Hofland's work is extraordinary (Butts 1992: 19). In this, Hofland was like Maria Edgeworth, who also delighted in presenting the details of the economic transactions which formed her plots. One reason for doing this was to achieve a level of verisimilitude which, it was hoped, would draw the reader into the narrative and thereby enhance the work's didactic potential. For Hofland though, this representation of economic realities appears to be part of her didactic aim itself, rather than merely a means to an end. The lessons she seeks to inculcate are not merely moral, in the manner of Edgeworth, nor merely religious, in the manner of Mary Martha Sherwood, but are what might be termed commercial.
In The Son of a Genius (0138) and The Daughter of a Genius (0134), for instance, Hofland understands 'genius', the main target of her attacks throughout both books, as principally composed of financial irresponsibility (see below for synopses). Lewis and Maria, the two eponymous geniuses, are condemned because they spend extravagantly when they have money, and make no endeavour to obtain money when they have none. What Hofland especially cannot countenance is the fact that people with their great talents would have no difficulty in becoming rich if only they were prepared to conform their abilities to their market. On a less general level, Hofland makes great efforts to teach particular financial lessons. In Daughter of a Genius, she is anxious to inculcate the value of compound interest (0134: p.111); in Son of a Genius, the lesson which Hofland stresses with more urgency than any other is the importance of keeping receipts. Ludovico finds a receipt, seeks for its owner, and when he is able to return it to him, is rewarded with two guineas. This much is the conventional 'honesty rewarded' episode of so many moral tales. But Hofland goes much further. Not only does Ludovico go through the rest of the tale insisting on receipts from everyone he deals with, thereby cementing the lesson (e.g. 0138: p.213), but Mr. Higgins, who had lost the original receipt, explains just why this piece of paper is so valuable to him. Without it, he says, he would be at the mercy of that worst of villains, 'an irregular man who did not keep his books properly.' (0138: p.117) Such men and women haunt Hofland's fiction like spectres uttering dreadful warnings. Such a man, for example, is Lewis, Ludovico's father, the eponymous 'genius'. Though he has to admit that he has suffered many times through not insisting on being provided with receipts, he still cannot bring himself to demand them, thinking such haggling coarse and beneath his dignity as an artist. The wise Higgins could not disagree more: '...depend upon it', he says, 'a great mind can take in petty cares, an aspiring genius stoop to petty details; since it is impossible to be virtuous and pious without it' (0138: p.118). It is easy to miss what Hofland is saying here, because words like 'virtue' and 'piety' are common in the moral tale. But her last phrase clearly acknowledges that, for her, business rectitude is in itself actually pious. It is an affront to God, and to morality, to eschew receipts, or the benefits of compound interest. For Hofland, commercial probity and religious piety are united, not separate, virtues. This is why Ludovico indignantly refuses to go along with Mr. Sinister's scheme to defraud his father's creditors and free Lewis from debt, even though Sinister says that such methods are common practice (0138: p.158). This is why Ludovico, when engaged in detailed financial negotiations to sell his father's pictures prays for advice on whether he should accept the offer which has been made (0138: p.160). And this is why the pious Quakers are persuaded to help Ludovico's family when they witness his mother simultaneous financial probity and piety. She divides up the money she has just received, the first the family has had for weeks, into small, equal piles, destined for each of the family's many creditors, and 'having done so, cast a look to Heaven full of devout gratitude' (0138: p.218). Hofland was not interested in showing that traditional Christian virtues would lead to material success. This was a commonplace of fiction in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, which enlisted Providence to reward the virtuous and punish the vicious. Rather her philosophy held that it was commercial probity which led to material prosperity, and that this commercial probity was it itself a virtue, every bit as important as charity, chastity, honesty or any of the more established virtues.
Why was Hofland so anxious to provide this economic didacticism? One factor must have been the reduced and straitened circumstances the author found herself living in. Certainly The Son of a Genius was based on her own biography. Hofland was born Barbara Wreaks into an affluent Sheffield family in 1770. By her mid-twenties, she was running her own millinery shop, and in 1796 she married Thomas Bradshawe Hoole, a prosperous businessman. When he died in 1799, her financial troubles began. Though he left her a considerable estate, it was soon lost through the collapse of the firm in which it was invested. Like the widows who filled her fiction, she was forced to cast around for new means to support herself and her young child. She began to write, producing a volume of poetry in 1805 which gained over 2000 subscribers (who were motivated more by 'sympathy more than appreciation' according to the Dictionary of National Biography). Like Maria Albany in Daughter of a Genius, she also opened a school, only to give it up when she married the well-regarded artist, Thomas Hofland, in 1810. He too had been born into affluence, but had been driven to seek paid employment - as a painter - when his father's business failed. But his career did not take off as planned. It is not only in this that he resembles Lewis in Son of a Genius. Both had received some acclaim at the Royal Academy, and both had moved their family to London to enhance their chances. Hofland took his wife and son there a year after the marriage, and it was here that she began writing in earnest. The Son of a Genius was her fourth book for children, first appearing in 1812, only two years after her marriage. Given that the work is so contemptuous of an irresponsible 'genius' who so resembles Thomas Hofland, one can only speculate that Barbara's husband must either never have read the book, have been very thick-skinned, or perhaps regard himself as immune from such accusations. Otherwise the book can only be regarded as a savage attack by Hofland on her new husband. After all, in The Son of a Genius the reader is really just waiting for Lewis's inevitable death. It is clear that his 'genius' is ruining the family, as he drags his wife and children from Cumberland to Manchester, to Leeds, to York and to London, and all the while deeper and deeper into debt. The reader can equally easily predict that after his death, the family will surely prosper, which is precisely what happens. Could Thomas Hofland have read this rebuke unmoved?
But if Hofland had biographical reasons for extolling commercial values in her fiction, there were surely other factors too. A sound education in the values of business had formed a central part of children's literature since the beginnings of its resurgence in the mid-eighteenth century. John Newbery, for instance, had emphasised commercial values like industry and honesty throughout his oeuvre, never more influentially so than in Goody Two-Shoes (0123) or The History of Giles Gingerbread (0240). His readers may not have been inducted into the mysteries of receipts and compound interest, but they certainly learnt that through trustworthiness, meticulousness, hard-work and even a modicum of ambition, they had it within their power to achieve worldly success. This emphasis was retained in later children's literature. It was marketable. For publishers and authors of children's books, the trick was to persuade parents to buy their wares. How better to do so than to convince them that the book they bought their children would be a sure route to economic success and social elevation? It was this conviction that books were both a sign of, and a means to achieve, status and wealth which, after all, had powered the rapid growth of children's literature amongst the middle classes for the half century before Hofland set pen to paper. She was simply continuing with the same strategy, although refining it to run together the commercial and moral values which had never previously been so overtly elided.
When Hofland attacked 'genius' she attacked financial irresponsibility, but she also meant the more conventional vices of indolence and lack of determination. Hofland's stated aim in The Son of a Genius might have come straight from Newbery. She wanted to encourage her hero, and thus her reader, 'in pursuing whatever he engaged in with perseverance and ardour, as the never-failing means of ultimate success' (0138: p.51). And 'genius' meant still other things. It meant an inability to adapt oneself - in Lewis's case, to the demands of the market, for he would not compromise his art to produce what was wanted. And by extension, it meant a refusal to accept the new realities of industrialising Britain. It was particularly in Manchester that Lewis refused to pander to the tastes of new money, while, for their part, 'the wealthy merchants and manufacturers of Manchester' found Lewis 'particularly disgusting' because he behaved 'in opposition' to the 'regularity in all their proceedings' (0138: p.33). 'Genius' meant 'Frenchness' too, as is evident in the conduct of Maria Albany, the anti-heroine The Daughter of a Genius. She dresses in the French fashion, the reader is told, and if that was not enough to condemn her, Hofland adds that 'when she got an English cap she put it only like a French-woman, or a woman of genius, for it was never straight' (0134: p.66). That she dresses in the French style is simply the visual confirmation of her surfeit of sensibility, her inability to see a project through to the end, and her lack of financial sense. All are typically French failings, as Hofland's voluminous travel writing makes clear: 'the habits and genius of this great nation [France] are not commercial', she noted in The Young Cadet (1042: p.20), easily accounting for the dominance of the British over the French in India.
And, last, 'genius' means a betrayal of gender propriety too. Maria Albany in Daughter of a Genius is criticised from the very start for her lack of what Hofland regards as womanly qualities. We are first introduced to her while she and her sister are winding tangled silk for their mother. While Bella perseveres, Maria loses patience and is cuts the silk. Though she quotes lines of poetry and cites historical allusions as she tries to exculpate herself, this display of what could be regarded as 'masculine' learning propitiating her father, she is severely reprimanded by her mother (0134: pp.1-3). Hofland's condemnation of Maria for transgressing against the dictates of gender propriety is continued until, at last, she recants. It is her chastening experiences in post-Revolutionary France, the nation in which the natural order, sexual as well as political, has been overturned, which precipitates her reform. And by the close of the novel she is no longer 'vain, self-willed, or eccentric,' Hofland exults, but lives happily, engaging in 'charitable occupations and elegant accomplishments, which render a gentlewoman so situated the ornament and blessing of her own circle, and an example to those beyond it' (0134: p.184). Yet Hofland's defence of the ideology of gender spheres is not so superannuated that it cavils at the role of women as writers. Indeed, Hofland goes out of her way to debate and defend female authorship. Aunt Albany attacks such modern notions. She would rather have women 'stupid and ignorant, than knowing, conceited, wild, learned, poetical, and fantastical'. Such a 'degrading pursuit' and 'unfeminine occupation' as writing can only result in 'slatternly dresses, littered houses, neglected children, and dissipated husbands', she insists. To this, Belle can only assert that things have changed, and that for a woman to write or to paint is no longer a badge of wilful defiance. Eventually her mild logic, and her insistence that to be an artist does not necessarily indicate the neglect of other duties, persuades even Aunt Albany (0134: pp.53-55).
There is much else to note in Hofland's books. Her writing is sometimes squarely in the tradition of the ideological novelists of the late eighteenth century. In Daughter of a Genius she attacks sensibility, like so many committed authors of the age from Henry Mackenzie to Hannah More to Jane Austen. But she also takes on more contentious questions. Like William Godwin she investigated the questions of guilt and responsibility. Just as he had asked in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) whether the dagger was as guilty as the murderer who wielded it, for both surely acted according to the dictates of the circumstances they found themselves in, so Hofland has Maria Albany debate why it is that her cook has defrauded her. Was the cook really responsible for her crime, or had Maria herself forced her into sin by her own laxity? And can Maria really dismiss the girl as a result of her crime, sending her out into the cruel world, knowing 'the way she will now seek for the means of life.' (0134: p.93). Overall, though, Hofland takes a broadly conservative line. She advocates not only honest industry as the best means to live by, but also respectful quiescence to one's superiors. Thus Ludovico, though supremely talented, is commended for his humility in apprenticing himself to a master for five years, and promises faithfully not to waste his master's time, abuse his master's property, nor omit the respect due to his master's wife (0138: p.224-25).
That Hofland is not afraid of engaging with serious issues brings into question how suitable her writing was for children. (She even has a nod to Luddism in Son of a Genius, first published in the principal Luddite year, carefully insisting that the machine which Lewis invents 'to improve the appearance of broad cloths' would abridge manual labour 'without supplying the place of workmen' - 0138: p.130.) Although she sometimes addresses her 'young reader' directly, her chapters are long, her lexicon is large and not especially straightforward, and the tone of the books does not seem particularly suitable to children. Hofland wrote novels for adults too, and one would be hard-pressed to differentiate between these two oeuvres, save only that in her writing for children she takes children, as well as adults, for her protagonists. Moreover, the lessons which form the first part of both the 'Genius' novels seem designed to teach parents how to bring up their children rather than children how to behave. Against this, of course, we must weigh Hofland's huge popularity. Her books for adults were not great successes. Her books for children, and most especially The Son of a Genius, which had gone though fourteen editions in the thirty years after its publication, were amongst the biggest sellers of the day. She was clearly doing something right. I have argued that she was providing adults with what they thought their children ought to read. But would this alone account for her success? Her 'novels for children' are certainly didactic, and they are certainly moral. But this does not mean that they are unpleasing to read. The Son of a Genius, in particular, contains many affecting scenes, not wholly unlike those which Dickens was producing from the 1830s. The story of Ludovico, a de facto orphan while his parents are incarcerated in debtors' gaol, is engaging, and even if his every tribulation and gain eventually serves a didactic purpose, this need not necessarily interfere with the interest of the narrative. In short, it is possible to imagine a child of the early nineteenth century enjoying Hofland's fiction, and, in accounting for her tremendous sales figures, this should not be overlooked.
0138: The Son of a Genius
The narrative opens in mid-scene with an unnamed gentleman telling Mrs. Agnes Lewis that her son, Ludovico, is undoubtedly possessed of genius. She hopes that he will not seek to capitalise on his talent to gain fame, for she knows how dangerous a path this can be. We are told of her own husband, Mr. Lewis, an artist, and how they first met, fell in love and married. Lewis had been encouraged by his father to follow his calling as an artist. He was good, but having been told he was a genius, he was reluctant to put in the work which should have accompanied his talent. Having sold a few pictures in Manchester, he and his wife moved there. Once there, he refused to comply with the demands of his patrons wished for, and found himself unable to make a living. Lewis moves his family onto York, then a Yorkshire village, then Leeds, and his imprudence and reluctance to make what his patrons want leads them into worse and worse financial straits. Agnes is forced to make gloves to feed the family, although she keeps this secret from her husband. When Lewis does sell paintings, he uses the money for a new wardrobe and to make extravagant but useless purchases. Their young children suffer most, becoming ill. Several of them die.
Ludovico is the oldest son. His best friend, his younger brother Raphael, dies. Lewis is arrested for debt. Ludovico, also talented as an artist, sells some drawings at the fair. When Agnes goes to spend the night with her husband in the gaol, the eight year old Ludovico has to spend all night alone with his dead brother in a coffin. Ludovico refuses an apprenticeship with the tailor who, by calling in his debts, has imprisoned his father, but he does live with him while attempting to sell his pictures. He makes a substantial amount of money, but not enough to pay for his father's release. Since the family have been evicted by their landlords, Agnes is also living in the gaol, along with their ailing baby daughter. Ludovico draws more pictures hoping to sell them at the fair in Wakefield. But the peddler he entrusts with them absconds.
Ludovico continues his career as a hawker of his own pictures at markets. He is always charitable to those even worse off than himself. As he is giving alms to an old woman, he bumps into a quarrelsome corn-factor whose pocket-book spills onto the street. Ludovico receives a hard blow and his own valuable drawings are scattered onto the wet floor ruining them. Having collected his bills, the factor leaves, but one for five guineas has stuck to Ludovico's foot. He wishes it was his. The poor woman whom he was helping encourages him to keep it, calling it a God-send and a reward for his charity. Ludovico will not, and he enquires for the factor, but cannot find him. He sees him galloping past, halloos him to stop, but to no avail. Surely, Ludovico realises, if he cannot find the man (who is evidently a stranger in town) then he cannot repay the money, and, indeed, if the stranger had lost the money, then he would surely have stopped when Ludovico called him. Ludovico explains all this to his mother. He has enough money to liberate them from prison and his father is keen that he should do so. Agnes is troubled. But she agrees to led Ludovico use the money to purchase their freedom so long as they advertise for the owner of the bill. This is what happens. But then Ludovico finds a receipt belonging to the same factor as lost the bill, and it has an address on it (as well as being worth a large amount of money in its own right). They determine to advertise again to find the factor.
The peddler who had stolen Ludovico's drawings returns, announces that he has sold the drawings, and gives Ludovico the money that they have fetched. He also commissions more. Ludovico is also tipped off that a Moravian school will have many scholars ready to buy such drawings. They do, and Ludovico makes a pretty penny - he now has almost five guineas, the amount of the bank note he still hopes to repay. One of the boys at the school turns out to be Higgins of Thorpe farm, whose father was the corn-factor at the market. Ludovico urges the boy to write to his father. Ludovico, returning home, falls ill.
As he recovers he meets some ladies who knew him of old. They explain to his father that the boy has interested them in his favour and that they can offer Lewis a job as teacher. Lewis accepts, but wants money to buy a suit of clothes for his new job. Though the tailor who helped them before (and gaoled Lewis) would provide the clothes on credit, Lewis is too haughty to use him. He tires to cajole, then almost coerce, Ludovico into handing over some of the money he has saved to repay Mr Higgins of Thorpe Farm. Ludovico refuses. His father storms out, calling his son disobedient. He returns drunk, for the first time in his life, having spent the little money he and his wife have saved. The very next morning Higgins appears, asking for his bank note. It is lucky Lewis had not been allowed by Ludovico to spend the money. Higgins generously deducts from the bill the price of the advertisements Ludovico had been impelled to buy in order to find Higgins. Ludovico can pay most of this amount, but needs a little from his parents to make up the balance. Lewis has spent this on drink. To protect his feelings Agnes silently offers Higgins a pair of new gloves to make up the difference, which he accepts. Higgins then lectures Ludovico for not keeping the bank note intact, but spending it. He says that had the bill been kept whole, he would have given Ludovico a reward of a guinea. Ludovico acknowledges his error (even though the money had been spent on releasing his parents from gaol!). Even Lewis is ashamed. However, Higgins pays for the damage he caused to Ludovico's pictures during the original altercation. For the return of the receipt which Ludovico had also found Higgins gives a reward of 2 guineas. Should he take it, asks Ludovico. His father proudly thinks no, but his mother says yes, seeing that Higgins is happy to give it and that it should be regarded as the gift of Providence.
Higgins introduces Lewis to other patrons, and soon they are well-off and genteel again. Ludovico is to be sent to the Moravian school. His father's increased teaching load means he cannot attend to his own art. He quits the job, taking on private pupils instead, but when his magnum opus is poorly hung at the Royal Academy he vows to give up art. He turns to mechanics, and designs a small machine to enhance efficiency in the textile industry. He is just completing the machine when he hears from London that his great painting has been sold and that the purchaser has judged it a shame that the painter should live in obscurity in the provinces. Lewis hastens to London with his family, having sold the unfinished machine for a trifling amount. Ludovico is removed from school. When they arrive in London, they find the potential patron at his Irish seat and no-one who will commission pictures. Lewis is forced to collaborate with a dubious dealer, Mr Sinister, and he loses all credibility.
The Lewis family gets poorer once again. This is the time at which the book opened, with Ludovico commended as an artistic genius. His father is also congratulated for his poetry, long put aside, and the family make attempts to publish it. They find the publishing industry unhelpful, and end up publishing the poem themselves. This drives them into debt and the edition is too shabbily printed to sell well. Lewis gives up writing. His painting is going badly too, and he is on the point of arrest, when Ludovico is sent to negotiate with Mr Sinister for the sale of some paintings. Sinister proposes an underhand agreement whereby Sinister will buy Lewis's paintings at a knock-down price, and then Lewis will be declared bankrupt, thus defrauding his creditors. Ludovico indignantly refuses to cooperate with this fraud. During the negotiations some Irish servants walk in. They have been in the service of the man who bought Lewis's great painting from the Royal Academy. They promise to introduce Ludovico to anther Irish buyer, General Villar. Ludovico sells one painting for 18 guineas. But while this has been going on, Lewis has had to run out into the rain to escape his creditors, and he has fallen ill and died, repentant, at the last, of his folly.
Lewis's creditors now besiege the family. One threatens to take away Lewis's body until the debts are paid, and only the intercession of a kindly Quaker, Mr. Young, prevents this. They agree a means by which the debts can be cleared. Mr. Young, who turns out to be related to one of the former patrons of Ludovico's drawings, is an engraver. Approving of Ludovico and Agnes's religious and commercial attitudes, he offers to take Ludovico as an apprentice and to arrange for Agnes a post as governess to a family in Hampstead. They agree. A Yorkshireman arrives offering to pay £200 for the machine which Lewis had designed. Mr Young divines that it must actually be worth much more than this. Also, Lewis's poem is at last to be publicly published.
Time passes. Ludovico has grown up. He has become a successful engraver and also painter, having enrolled at the British Gallery (or British Institution - both are used). He purchases a house in London for his mother, who had returned to Cumberland and her own family, and he provides a portion for his sister Constantia out of the money raised by the publication of his father's poem - some £1200! The book ends with the author addressing the 'dear young reader', whether rich or poor. If the former, Hofland hopes that they will read and be charitable. If the latter, she hopes that, even if they have a parent who by misfortunate or misconduct is ruining them, they will be patient for God does not fail to send help to little children in their hour of need.
0134: The Daughter of a Genius
Maria and Belle are the two oldest daughters of the Henville family. Whilst Belle is sensible and a great help to her mother, Maria is witty, quick, animated, but with a dislike of qualities like perseverance, hard work and homeliness. She can quote poetry but not wind wool. She takes after her father, who admires her wit, whilst her mother chides her for her lack of 'womanly' virtues. Mr. Albany comes to the vicinity of the Henville's home. Albany and Maria meet and soon marry. His house is entailed - that is to say it will revert to a distant relative if he should die without a male heir, but nevertheless Maria plans to rebuild it lavishly. They have a daughter.
While actually engaged in rebuilding the house, Maria receives a note from her family saying that her father is ill. She seems about to faint so Albany joins her on the scaffolding, which, under their combined weight, falls to the ground. Albany breaks his leg. Maria is bled, but is not seriously hurt and, against all advice, rushes to see her father. She deluges his bed in blood when her bandage breaks in the violence of their embrace, and her father takes a turn for the worse. Maria faints from loss of blood. She is taken home, but within the week Mr. Henville dies. Maria has caught his fever, and though in time she recovers, her husband become infected, and soon dies.
Astonishing her mother, Maria decides to carry on building her late husband's house even though it now belongs to his distant relative. Maria is certain the new owner will pay her for the improvements, but, as her mother predicted, he does not. Maria and her daughter are evicted and have to find new accommodation. While she is searching, she finds that there is a run on the bank in the town. All the savings of her late husband, as well as those of her mother and sister, are invested in the bank. Nevertheless, Maria does not apply to save some money from the ruin that morning because she does not want to lower herself to asking for cash. In fact, the banker was indeed paying out money that morning, but within the day he is declared a bankrupt and is unable to pay them anything afterwards.
Meanwhile, after the death of Mr. Henville, the Henville house and estate has passed into the ownership of Maria and Belle's young brother. To save themselves from the wreck of the bank, Belle will try to be a farmer. Maria will go to France to learn music (a note tells us that this is during the brief Peace of Amiens, 1802). On the way she visits Southampton, where a septuagenarian spinster relative of her late husband lives - Aunt Margaret Albany. Maria's daughter, also called Maria, is to stay with Aunt Albany while her mother is in France. This turns out to be a much longer stay than is expected for Maria is incarcerated while in France, presumably when hostilities between France and Britain broke out again in 1803. The young Maria's guardian is strict and wholly opposed to all artistic expression. Maria is deprived of the fun, and the knowledge, she craves. Under pressure from Belle, Aunt Albany relents a little, and sends young Maria to school.
Eleven years after Maria was left with Aunt Albany, her mother returns to Britain and collects her now fourteen year old daughter. The older Maria (Mrs. Albany) decides to establish a boarding school, near to where Belle, now Mrs. Maynard, lives. But Maria senior has no notion how to teach, and she imposes no regularity on her pupils. They do not learn well, and even fall ill. In reality, it is only Maria junior, sensible and organised, who is keeping the school running. It is she who discovers that the cook is defrauding her mistress, for instance, and arranges a solution. Maria senior mismanages her debts too. One day, when her creditors are pressing her particularly severely, she seems about to faint. Maria junior rushes to find smelling salts, but instead discovers a large amount of cash. This, her mother explains, is the interest on a sum which was entrusted to her by Mrs. Spencer, the wife of the bankrupted banker from earlier in the story. Maria was entrusted with the cash so that she could pass it on to the banker's children, if they should ever return from the West Indies. So far, he has not, but Maria senior is still adamant that, having promised the banker's wife to look after the money, she cannot spend it to relieve her own needs.
Maria senior receives news from France than a great friend of hers is very ill. She rushes off, even though Maria junior is at that time away from the school, attending the dying Aunt Albany. Maria returns to the school to find her mother gone and the establishment in disarray. She is able to impose some order, even though the parents want to remove their children, and even though her mother periodically sends word that she needs more money (there is none) and that she is going on to Italy with her French friend. Aunt Albany dies, leaving a substantial fortune to Maria.
Comfortably rich now, she sells off the school, but she is still anxious about her mother, still abroad. Two men visit Maria junior. One is the descendent of Mrs Spencer, the banker's wife, for whom Maria senior had been keeping the money. Maria can now pay it back. The second man is Frederick Albany, a great-nephew of Aunt Albany. Her will left him certain jewels plus a letter urging him to repay Maria senior for the alterations and improvements she made to her husband's house before it was transferred to Frederick's father by the entailment. He does so, settling on Maria senior a £400 per annum estate.
Maria senior eventually returns. She tells her story. She was too willing to give in to the wild desires of her sick friend, and she moved, eventually, to an inaccessible mountain abode. There her friend died, and Maria herself was kidnapped by banditti. She escaped, begged her way to Rome, and was rescued by a servant sent by Frederick. Now she has returned she is utterly contrite, anxious to depend upon her daughter's firm judgement, and she is 'no longer ambitious of being thought a woman of genius' (p.184). Maria junior marries Frederick, and they live in the house Maria senior had improved.
Ramsay, Thomas, The Life and Literary Remains of Barbara Hofland, London, 1849
Butts, Dennis (ed.), Stories and Society. Children's Literature in is Social Context, Basingstoke, Hants., 1992
Darton, F. G. Harvey, Children's Books in England: Five centuries of social life, Cambridge: CUP, 1932; third edition, revised by Brian Alderson, 1982
Butts, Dennis (ed.), Stories and Society. Children's Literature in is Social Context, Basingstoke, Hants., 1992
Butts, Dennis (ed.), Stories and Society. Children's Literature in is Social Context, Basingstoke, Hants., 1992
Lee, Stephen (ed.), Dictionary of National Biography, London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1892 and after