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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782–1854)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
OF the sprightly Edinburgh novelist Susan Edmonstone Ferrier, it is often said, more affectionately than accurately, that she was a novelist who did for Scotland in her fiction what her contemporaries Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth accomplished in their novels of English and Irish social life and character. It should not be disputed, however, that Miss Ferrier merits a superior place in the circle of British novelists of the first half of the nineteenth century. She wrote only three novels,—‘Marriage’ (1818), ‘The Inheritance’ (1824), and ‘Destiny’ (1831). They are all of the old-fashioned length and minuteness of treatment: but they have the quality of sincerity in every page; and in their ambitious titles and elaborate detail they show that each work was broadly conceived and was meant to illustrate some abstract central thought. Like Miss Burney when giving ‘Evelina’ to the world, Miss Ferrier’s first story was published anonymously; but going further than Miss Burney in her preference for being unrecognized as an author, it was not until a very few years before Miss Ferrier’s death that she allowed her name to appear on the title-page of any of her tales. Professional writing was distasteful to her; and it was only at the entreaty of a friend that she made public her literary gift. ‘Marriage’ had been shown only to intimate friends during eight years before she allowed it to be published. But the success of her stories from the first was complete. They were attributed to authors of high distinction,—Professor John Wilson supposing that the first two at least were by Scott, until it was admitted that a woman had written them.  1
  Miss Ferrier was born in 1782, the youngest of ten children of James Ferrier, a factor and friend of the fifth Duke of Argyll, and for a time associated in a city office with Scott. Susan was an amiable, quiet, and quick-witted girl, who received a careful education. She had much natural vivacity, and in social life the same shrewd humor and tendency toward satire that appears in her books. A French quality suggesting La Bruyère (a special favorite with her) was a note in her conversation as in her pages. But her intellectuality was matched with delightful tact, a warm heart, and delicacy of feeling. She early had access to much of the distinguished society of the Scotch capital, which included such literary men as Scott, Jeffrey, Sir James Mackintosh, Professor Wilson, Joanna Baillie, Sydney Smith, and Macaulay. She also saw a good deal of merely fashionable and wealthy social circles, English and Scotch, at home and in London; making large use of their types in particular in her fictions. Scott took a special interest in her, and she was one of his last visitors at Abbotsford. To him she dedicated her last and perhaps best tale, ‘Destiny.’ Miss Ferrier’s life grew more and more retired as she advanced in years, and a failing eyesight which presently became nearly complete blindness secluded her from all except an intimate group of friends. She died in Edinburgh in 1854.  2
  Aside from her qualities as a literary woman, Miss Ferrier was an amiable, unaffected lady, of high principle and simple and domestic tastes. It is unfortunate that her correspondence, covering the letters of many years, was almost entirely destroyed at her own request.  3
  Miss Ferrier’s novels are classed among “Scotch novels”; and as to many passages, they deal with Scotch types. But they are not in close touch with the Scotch novel as we understand it through Scott and Galt. They offer no remarkable descriptions of Scotch scenery; they have but moderate local color; they are almost entirely lacking in romance; and there is none of the picturesqueness suggesting the stage, which belongs to her contemporaries. She wrote very considerably from the English point of view, describing Scottish family life of the period largely under modish South-British influences. Most of her personages are rich English gentility, or pretentious Scotch persons of quality. She has relatively little to do with distinctive Highland nobility or peasantry; and indeed where the authoress concerns herself humorously with Scotch human nature and life she is satirical. Relatively few of her characters speak in dialect,—even among the middle-class types, where we can suppose that there would have been propriety in Scotch words and phrases. There is seldom opportunity for pathos, though in certain episodes she shows due feeling. She strongly emphasizes religion and the “practice of piety,” in contrast to an irreligious and fashionable use of one’s time,—so much so that she makes in one of her prefaces an almost apologetic reference to this element. As a novelist of plot, Miss Ferrier is little more interesting than Miss Austen. But even in her stiffly didactic analyses we find great clearness of thought as to human nature, and a nice expression of it. Her readers will not be apt to confuse with any other novelist’s delineations such little portraits as the pompous Lord Rossville, the impertinent Miss Pratt, the kindly and devoted Mrs. Macaulay, the coarse and vulgar Rev. Mr. M’Dow, the gossiping good-natured Mr. Ribley and the dictatorial wife of his bosom, the two Misses Douglas, Jacky and Nicky, Mrs. Pullens, strong in domestic economy, or bluff Uncle Adam. There is real force in the longer studies, such as Glenroy, Lady Juliana Douglas, or the frivolous Lady Florinda Waldegrave and her even more frivolous mother, who in some sense anticipates Dickens’s Mrs. Skewton. Of her heroes and heroines it may be remarked that they are sensible and attractive young people, of the sort that even the modern young man or young woman would be glad to marry, though one would not be apt to fall into a frenzy of romantic fire and despair for their sakes. Perhaps the most striking trait in her books is her sharp vignettes of personages,—the study sometimes only a half-page long,—in which she hits out a whole character. She has left behind her in her three books a unique gallery of much variety and of emphatic truth.  4
 
 
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