The Gypsies of Austen’s Emma (1816)

Throughout the six volumes that comprise the canonical masterworks of Jane Austen, so much creative effort is devoted to the gentry classes that when we encounter something as out of place as a roving band of gypsies, it becomes quite the source for a moment of fascination. The scene comes to us from Emma, Book III, Chapter III, where the young Harriet Smith and her friend Miss Bickerton encounter a “party of gipsies,” and there was a child “who came towards them to beg.” Miss Bickerton reacts by screaming and running away, leaving Harriet to fend for herself. Harriet was approached by more children, a grown woman and a large boy, but after giving them money, the situation becomes terrifying considering that she was then “surrounded by the whole gang, [who are] demanding more.” By the time the text refers to these gypsies as “such a set of people in the neighbourhood,” the critical reader realizes that we are dealing with the “other” in ways that don’t get any more “other” than that.

As is standard for an Austen novel, people are divided into social strata; the plot itself is hinged on the notion that Harriet should not marry a lowly farmer. We’re to understand that Emma and her father are at the top of the novel’s hierarchy, with George Knightley considered an equal; the Eltons, the Westons, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are below them; mother and daughter Bates are situated down low. People below the Bates don’t even get a name; Emma pays a “charitable visit” to a “poor sick family” that lives in a “detached cottage.” At the very bottom, the gypsies are not only nameless, they’re barely human; they are “trampers…all clamorous, and impertinent in look…loud and insolent.” That Miss Bickerton screams at the sight of the gypsy child suggests that we’re dealing with some sort of monster species.

Emma’s charitable visit serves to foreshadow the gypsies as the “other.” When she is with Harriet during the visit, she mentions the act of giving from her “purse,” which sets a distinction to be made between the types of people who are eligible to receive donations. The gypsies are keenly aware of this in that the need to force money out of people to survive has become a required portion of their behavior. In real life, the gypsies of England are known as Romanichal (Romani), and as Austen describes, they are quite clearly the victims of xenophobia.

Geraldine Chaplin portrays the gypsy fortune teller Maleva in the remake of The Wolfman (2010).

Encyclopedic sources have the Romanichal arriving in England around the 15th Century, much to the dismay of Henry VIII. His Egyptians Act (1530) “banned Romanies from entering the country and required those living in the country to leave within 16 days. Failure to do so could result in confiscation of property, imprisonment and deportation. During the reign of Mary I the act was amended with the Egyptians Act (1554), which removed the threat of punishment to Romanies if they abandoned their ‘naughty, idle and ungodly life and company’ and adopted a settled lifestyle, but on the other hand increased the penalty for noncompliance to death” (Source).

During Austen’s time, laws against the Romani had been eased, but as Susannah Fullerton points out, life was obviously still a struggle; people were simply not ready to accept the Romani as citizens of the country, to the extent that to be seen with them, or even conversing with them, meant consequences for an English subject. Miss Bickerton’s fear of the Romani child may very well be related to a fear of these consequences and not of the child or the group itself. Fullerton describes a situation in which, “In 1782 a fourteen-year-old girl, desperately protesting her innocence, was hanged for being found in the company of gypsies” (Source). This of course doesn’t change the fact that such consequences are based on a fundamental un-acceptance of the “other.” Non-Romani people such as Emma’s poor family are entitled to charitable acts, but the Romani are despised because of the difference that defines them.

Actual Romani explain to Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) the supernatural dangers of the Borgo Pass in Nosferatu (1979).

As it turns out, scholarly research, as well as a basic hunch of humane thought, brings to light the nature of the Romani, which tends to make the people who look down on them look like the monsters. As David Cressy tells us, “Despite accusations of idleness and fecklessness, they [the Romani] were mostly busy. Far from being mindless wanderers, they were purposeful travellers who filled a niche in the economy of itinerancy. The men handled logistics, and dealt in animals and games of chance, while Gypsy women earned pennies from fortune-telling. Common folk were said to have flocked to them, when they arrived in their midst, though local authorities disapproved of their predations. Even in gaol, one Jacobean writer reported, certain Gypsies contrived to exploit ‘the simplicity of many of the townsmen’s wives, daughters and servants’ with fraudulent divinations. People allegedly ‘wondered at them, and gave them money, sent them meat every day to dinner and supper, saying it was pity such skillful people as they should not be provided for’ – a generosity not extended to common vagrants. Unlike other itinerants and the ordinary roving poor, the Gypsies owned horses, baggage, and supplies of goods and money, and were rarely associated with begging. If it is true that Gypsies sometimes picked pockets, then that was work too, as some modern Roma attest” (Source).

Of course, this knowledge has been gathered and presented to us in a modern sense, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Austen was out to thoroughly bash gypsies. They’re hardly the subject of focus. She knew of their existence and as a storyteller, she makes use of them both as a plot point — the means by which Emma contrives another scheme for match-making — and as a kind of meta-textual reference, such that the story of the gypsies becomes a source of exhilaration for Emma’s nephews, who continuously seek to be told of the tale of Harriet and the gypsies, “tenaciously setting her right if she varied in the slightest particular from the original recital.” Austen describes later on a state of peskiness in which some poultry-yards in Emma’s neighborhood were pilfered (hinted to be the work of gypsies), and so it adds to the character of her novel, such a valuable resource for what life was like during the late-18th-Century.

To be sure, the latest Hollywood rendition of Jane Austen’s Emma is in theaters now, starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the beloved Emma herself.

Reading The Great Chain of Being

In the back of my copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1817), the study questions do more than draw interest to the text, they draw attention to the social landscape of the day. One question asks, “Does Jane Austen ridicule a particular set of people with her wit?” The question is alarming because it situates judgment on the authoress herself, painting her with a bit of conceit.

In our modern age, creative writers are urged to “show” their stories scene after scene, which is a means to allow readers to arrive at their own conclusions concerning subtext. In Austen’s day, marked rules and distinctions between showing and telling did not exist, where it was for our lady genius in her free form prose to stumble upon what literary theorists know as “free indirect discourse,” a form of literary expression that in essence allows readers to know what a character is thinking.

The result of this form bleeds into our initiating question, that people stand be ridiculed as Austen’s story unfolds. We know what people are thinking about others because Austen spells it out. But we can’t judge her for how she sounds in her writing, because the question is as much a historical inquiry as it is a textual study. Austen’s thoughts are a reflection of an English paradigm stretching centuries into the past, in which her psyche functions at the mercy of that very paradigm.

Just before the long eighteenth century, the vestiges of Feudalism lingered with great tenacity. Feudal social structures are likened unto the Great Chain of Being, that unbreakable hierarchy in which all creatures large and small fit in at some level. And I mean UNBREAKABLE! God himself sits at the very top of this hierarchy, and from this point comes the monarchy and nobility, followed by the peerage and on down into the peasant classes and so forth. Wherever a person was born within this Great Chain of Being, society at the time recognized the position as permanent. In 1563 The Statute of Apprentices embodied this concept, “for it assumed the moral obligation of all men to work, the existence of divinely ordered social distinctions, and the need for the state to define and control all occupations in terms of their utility to society” (Source). A peasant couldn’t dream of becoming a baron and a baron wouldn’t think of becoming king unless certain rare conditions were to arise. This understanding of the structure was embedded so deeply that to imagine life otherwise was incomprehensible.

The Great Chain of Being

The Great Chain of Being can be understood even better when we observe the moment in time when it suffered the rudiments of disruption. London trade exploded into the open during the early 1700s, and a new class of people came into being that had people scratching their heads. A person could develop a business based on the sale of goods and become successful. Social mobility had arrived. The middle-class had been created, destabilizing that Great Chain of Being.

Yet the social consciousness created by the Great Chain of Being did not dissipate so easily. Social mobilization was like a shock wave of which its effects took time to deal with. In Austen’s work the aftershocks of this disruption pop up throughout her text like Freudian slips, yet they are to the contemporary reader, a part of fleshing out this glacial force of change.

For example, Sir Walter has strong opinions about social mobility via time served at sea:

— “Yes; it [The English Navy] is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of” (Austen 19).

Obscure birth? His use of the word “undue” comes off as harsh even for the day, and the element of social mobility disrupting the Great Chain of Being is well-defined in the insistence that it could never be “dreamt of.” As modern readers we might ask: Why shouldn’t someone of obscure birth be allowed the chance to come into their own?

The Great Chain of Being is subject to dismantling by Captain Wentworth’s intention to succeed, so as to raise his station in life. This longing is pivotal to the plot in that he had lost his romantic chance with Anne because of his lower level in the social hierarchy:

— “But he was confident that he should soon be rich: full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted” (26).

Personalities and character defects are no match for status when we consider the power Miss Carteret has over her peers in light of her natural place in the Great Chain of Being:

— “Miss Carteret, with still less to say, was so plain and so awkward, that she would never have been tolerated in Camden Place but for her birth” (143).

Birthright has been cemented deeply in the social consciousness so that it is like pulling teeth trying to remove it from the authoress’s mind.

— “But Mary did not give into it very graciously, whether from not considering Captain Benwick entitled by birth and situation to be in love with an Elliot” (124-25).

Even when specific examples fall to the wayside and subtle everyday language is applied do we find the gradation functioning within Austen’s psyche, found in her application of the word “superiority” (emphasis mine).

— “…save as we all are by some comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments” (40).

Even inanimate objects are assigned a measure of station in the Great Chain of Being:

— “Their house was undoubtedly the best in Camden Place; their drawing-rooms had many decided advantages over all the others which they had either seen or heard of, and the superiority was not less in the style of the fitting-up, or the taste of the furniture” (131).

In the modern age we don’t go around commenting about the life-cards a person has been dealt, not in the ridiculing sense we hope. In movies sometimes we will find politicians insisting to their children who will marry who, as they revel in the glee of their lack of poverty. And so far as we know, those who’ve been divined to claim standing within that fabled “one percent” probably have thoughts and they make comments about who is who in this world, and where they stand in relation to them. As for the potential of Austen’s work to sound as though she is ridiculing others, at the very least, and from her perspective, her work serves to suggest to the reading public at the time, and in our modern era, that a person does not necessarily have to remain in the situation into which they were born. As Captain Wentworth’s ambitions suggest: How much are you willing to work for a better life?

Serfs locked into the Great Chain of Being by their overlord.


Austen, Jane. Persuasion. 1817. Barnes & Noble, Inc, 2003.

Characters of Millenium Hall (1762)

M Hall 1

Sir George Ellison: Sir George Ellison is the writer of the letter that comprises the novel. Though he remains anonymous as he writes, his name is revealed in the novel’s sequel. He is an aging man from England’s north country, and he is in need of travel (to the “west” towards Cornwall) to help with the “ill effects” of a prolonged commercial venture in Jamaica. He is cousins with Mrs. Maynard.

Mr. Lamont: As a twenty-five year old young man, he is Sir George’s traveling companion. Having a “very generous father” has allowed him to live the life of a coxcomb. Though this appellation is not entirely respectable, he has redeemable attributes to his character that allow for Sir George to take him as a companion.

Mrs. Maynard: A woman who is between “forty and fifty years of age,” Mrs. Maynard is a black-haired, black-eyed woman who comes off as vivacious and serene. A reunion of sorts reveals that Mrs. Maynard is Sir George’s cousin. When her husband died, he had left her a “small jointure,” and in her immediate widowhood, it was through Miss Trentham that she was introduced to the society of the Hall. Mrs. Maynard is the one who initiates the storytelling aspect of the novel, and is subsequently the one who recites the eleven “principle articles” governing the Hall.

Miss Louisa Mancel: A tall beauty with brown hair and blue eyes, as a child Louisa had been the ward of her father’s sister. Upon her aunt’s death during her adolescence, she was by chance taken into custody by Mr. Hintman, a wealthy landowner. Here she was placed into a “French boarding school,” where she was partnered with Miss Melvyn as a roommate, and the two become best friends. Ultimately, Mr. Hintman had plans to make Louisa his mistress as soon as she came of age, but his sudden death saves her from debauchery. The situation is still tragic because he leaves her nothing in his will. She finishes school and moves to Miss Melvyn’s neighborhood into the lodgings of a “reputable farmer’s.” After Miss Melvyn becomes Mrs. Morgan, Louisa is taken in by Lady Lambton, where she becomes acquainted with the woman’s grandson, Sir Edward Lambton. After rejecting his hand in marriage, she goes to work for Mrs. Thornby, who turns out to be her real mother. Unfortunately, Mrs. Thornby dies; in the process, Louisa reunites with her old best friend, Miss Melvyn/Mrs. Morgan. Because Mrs. Morgan’s husband dies as well, they make the house he left her into the foundation of Millenium Hall, where they “now live.”

Mrs. Morgan (Miss Melvyn): A plump woman who is “upwards of fifty,” Mrs. Morgan is the kind who emits “universal and tender benevolence.” Her biological mother instilled in her the greatest of piety, and was a sound parent until her death when Mrs. Morgan, then Miss Melvyn, was fourteen years old. Miss Melvyn’s father, Sir Charles Melvyn, remarried to a wicked woman and thus, the girl became subject to something of a Cinderella story. The new Lady Melvyn sent her to boarding school where she met Miss Mancel. Shortly after Miss Mancel’s move, Miss Melvyn returned home, happy to know that her best friend was living close by. Lady Melvyn, not being pleased with their relationship, stages a fixed marriage between Miss Melvyn and the wealthy Mr. Morgan: the plan succeeded, for it was to vindicate the poor girl from a framed love affair with a boy named Simon that would have ruined her reputation. Miss Melvyn becomes Mrs. Morgan on very unhappy terms, additionally because her new husband refuses to allow her to associate with Miss Mancel. Life at home is troubling for her until, ultimately, Mr. Morgan dies, leaving her the estate.

Lady Mary Jones: A woman who is described as genteel and pleasing with a “pair of the finest black eyes,” because of a history that denotes ill-health, she is also described as “thin and pale.” She was the daughter of the Earl of Brumpton and his second wife, who died at childbirth. At age ten, the earl died as well; he did not provide for her in a will and was taken by her father’s sister, Lady Sheerness. In this carefree and patrician setting the fifteen-year-old Lady Mary drew attention within fashionable circles, prompting an encounter with gentleman Mr. Lenman. Though the two were nearly able to connect, she finds that he is married. Back in London, in continuance of her fashionable lifestyle, she then meets Lord Robert St. George; he makes a sexual advance on her, and from this encounter she begins to think about her life. When Lady Sheerness dies, leaving Lady Mary with nothing, she hears from her dead half-brother’s widow, Lady Brumpton, a woman who’s inherited the Brumpton wealth. Lady Mary is invited to live with her, though she finds discomfort in the intellectual community of the woman’s lifestyle. When Lady Brumpton dies, Lady Mary inherits the wealth, and in seeking refuge from fashionable and intellectual scenes, she meets the best friends Mrs. Morgan and Miss Mancel at Tunbridge, where she joins her fortune to their cause at the Hall.

Miss Harriot Selvyn: Described as sensible, delicate and elegant, there is something about her, alternatively, that renders her too irregular to be handsome. Harriot’s adoptive mother died when she was three and her father cared for her in the country after a failed tradesman venture. Her father being a “sceptical,” she was educated by him in many matters including philosophy, though she eventually learns Christianity by age seventeen. After moving back to London, Mr. Selvyn dies and she is taken under the wing of Lady Emilia Reynolds. Here she encounters the London scene, with the inclusion of meeting Lady Mary Jones. After certain time period, Harriot and Lady Emilia move to the country, where they find that Lord Robert St. George lives close by, staging the scene of her rejection of his advances. Eventually she learns that Lady Emilia is her biological mother in a death bed confession. Having known Lady Mary Jones, she was able to connect with the women and their fledgling society.

Miss Harriot Trentham: Bearing the vestiges of beauty, she is a tall woman who has survived smallpox. Her mother died a month after child birth and her father died when she was eight, who left her with a considerable fortune in the care of her grandmother, Mrs. Alworth. Here she is raised with the woman’s other grandchildren and becomes good friends with one, Master Mr. Alworth. She is “traduced” by the other female grandchildren, making her bond with him stronger, yet when they are on the verge of marriage, his gaze strays to the coquette Miss Melman, whom he marries instead. Eventually he grew sad about his decision, and his lament causes Harriot to seek relief in the form of “many lovers” and general dissipation. Later, in the process of helping Mrs. Tonston, she acquires smallpox which nearly kills her, but ruins her beauty.  She ventures into the Cornwall area where she encounters the ladies of the Hall, who extend an invitation for her to join; from her fortune added, the society initiates the carpet and rug manufacturing business.

Mr. Hintman: An older man who owns land, he takes advantage of adopting Miss Mancel for the purposes of raising her to be his mistress, since his favorite vice is the “love of women.” This knowledge is hinted to her through Miss Melvyn acting on what Mr. d’Avora has learned, and thus makes her extremely uncomfortable because he is a father figure. Luckily for her, he dies before he can make his advances.

Mr. d’Avora: A traveled man who has seen misfortune, he is the Italian master to the best friends Miss Mancel and Miss Melvyn during their stay at boarding school. He becomes better acquainted with Miss Melvyn, though he helps Miss Mancel on more than one occasion: warning about Mr. Hintman, and helping Miss Mancel find a place when she finishes school. Eventually he becomes a part of the society as “a valuable friend and a useful assistant in the management of their affairs.”

Sir Charles Melvyn: Miss Melvyn’s father, he is a man who allows himself to be controlled, because he is an “easy-tempered, weak man who gave no proof of good sense but the secret deference he had to his wife’s judgement.” When Miss Melvyn’s mother dies, he remarries a woman who takes advantage of this defect of character to the extreme.

Lady Melvyn (mother): Miss Melvyn’s biological mother, she was a good woman who united with Sir Charles as the result of a planned marriage. Though she was not happy about the matter, she went on to teach her daughter the principles of “true religion” before her untimely death.

Lady Melvyn (step-mother): The second wife of Sir Charles. She was the kind who excited the “admiration of some, but pleased none”; a confident woman with traits of coquetry, she schemes against Miss Melvyn primarily out of jealousy, for the young woman is very pretty and smart, which threatens to lessen Lady Melvin’s panache. When Miss Melvyn returns home from school, Lady Melvyn seizes the opportunity to ruin her through a plot of a fixed marriage: she induces the rumor that Miss Melvyn has been in liaison with a young farmer named Simon; to prevent the possibility of scandal, the poor girl is coerced into marrying the old man Mr. Morgan. After the Hall has been formed and Lady Melvyn is widowed by the death of Sir Charles, she pays a visit to the society, only to be off-put by the dynamic of their endeavor. This does not keep the now Mrs. Morgan from helping the two daughters and son Lady Melvyn had with her father, since naturally, they are her half-siblings.

Mr. Morgan: The aged man of wealth who participates in the fixed marriage to Miss Melvyn. “Such a lover could excite no emotion in his mistress’s heart but disgust.” In his fear of being talked about behind his back, he insists that the now Mrs. Morgan cease her associations with her best friend, Miss Mancel. He lives with his sister Susanna Morgan, he always “drank hard,” and he eventually dies from complications of a “paralytic disorder,” leaving his wife with much wealth and estate which becomes the Hall.

Susanna Morgan: Sister to Mr. Morgan, she is fifty-five and cares for the home of her brother. She had many lovers in her youth, because her aunt had endowed her with wealth, but she eventually came to possess a penchant for being mean, so that “horrid grin then distorted her features, and her before lifeless eyes glistened with malice and rancorous joy.” When Mrs. Morgan moves in with her new husband, Susanna despises her. After many years of difficult living, Susanna bestows herself on a “young ensign” since she has wealth of her own, where the young man essentially sees no other option for life.

Simon: “The farmer where Miss Mancel lodged had a son”; this is the young man Simon of whom Lady Melvyn stages her deceit against Miss Melvyn. Much to Miss Melvyn’s dismay, Simon participates in the scheme under the offer of a type of bribery (“promising the farm”).

Lady Lambton: When Miss Mancel decides to move away from the now Mrs. Morgan, she is discovered by Lady Lambton, a woman who “piqued herself upon the opulence of her family and a distinguished birth, but her good sense, and many virtues, so qualified this one blemish, that it did not prevent her being a very amiable woman.” She gives affection to Miss Mancel, but the arrival of her grandson, Sir Edward, causes discomfort for the situation. He can only marry a woman of rank, a requirement that Lady Lambton will not let slide. Her persistence in the matter causes great distress for this couple who has fallen in love, where the tension forces Miss Mancel to move without him knowing.

Sir Edward Lambton: The twenty-three year old grandson of Lady Lambton, he comes home after Miss Mancel had been living with the woman for a year. Because his estate is burdened with debt (for reasons unstated), Lady Lambton requires that he marry a woman of substantial fortune; her real reason for not consenting to his desire to marry Louisa, however, is due to the “obscurity of her birth.” In this situation Lady Lambton stages a plan for Louisa to depart while Edward is away for a day on business. Upon his return he is filled with “rage and grief,” prompting him dramatically to join the military, where he ultimately dies in battle. The scene is tragic, for Louisa’s newly found biological mother had offered the money needed to situate Louisa as worthy of the match.

Mrs. Thornby: Taken by her beauty, Mrs. Thornby takes Miss Mancel as an employee, who disguises herself under the name of “Menil.” Mrs. Thornby digs for information about her until the conversations reveal, that Mrs. Thornby is Louisa’s real mother. Mrs. Thorby gained wealth from a second marriage (Louisa’s father died in America), and this wealth is transferred to Louisa upon a sudden illness and death.

Earl of Brumpton: The father to Lady Mary Jones with his second wife, who died of this childbirth. He himself died when Lady Mary was ten years old, leaving her with nothing because of financial complications with his first marriage.

Lady Sheerness: Sister to the Earl of Brumpton, she takes Lady Mary in to raise as her own. She was a widow with money who became engaged in the fashionable life and was possessed of a considerable sense of wit. Long after instilling her lifestyle into her niece, in London she becomes sick with “incurable disorders,” dying and leaving Lady Mary with nothing.

Mr. Lenman: During Lady Mary’s venture into the fashionable life, she develops an intrigue with Mr. Lenman. On a trip to Berwick she is injured in a horse riding accident; in this condition she learns that Mr. Lenman is a married man, his attempt at seducing her founded in the prospect of a “private marriage.”

Lord Robert St. George: After learning the truth about Mr. Lenman, back in London, Lady Mary meets Lord Robert amid the fashionable society. During a gambling adventure, he makes a sexual advance on her, claiming that her manners provoked his behavior. Later, he falls for Miss Selvyn, who rejects him for his general demeanor and his past with Lady Mary.

Lady Brumpton: Lady Mary’s step-half-sister, she helps Lady Mary when Lady Sheerness dies. Lady Brumpton cultivated a lifestyle of part repartee and wit, and part high intellect and education, a scene that becomes too extravagant for Lady Mary. Because she inherited the Brumpton wealth, Lady Mary becomes the next inheritor when she dies.

Lady Emilia Reynolds: When Miss Selvyn’s father dies in London, Lady Emilia gives her a home. A series of events and conversations reveal that she is Miss Selvyn’s biological mother. She had met Lord Peyton and they were destined to marry, but because his military service forced him into a hasty departure to Ireland, he desired to marry with undue expedience. Lady Emilia’s father would not consent to such a departure from tradition. In Lord Peyton’s endeavor to solve the problem by desiring an unorthodox private marriage, she felt shameful and declined for her father’s sake. Her pregnancy with him became an obvious illegitimacy, in which she had the baby at the Selvyn’s home; and since Mrs. Selvyn’s own baby had died, she gave her baby to Lady Emilia to raise as her own.

Lord Peyton: Miss Selvyn’s biological father. He was an army officer having to deal with being stationed in Ireland.

Mrs. Alworth: Harriot Trentham’s grandmother, she experiences some melancholy “having outlived all her children.” She takes care of her other grandchildren, who often give Harriot a hard time. She notices the trouble Harriot goes through in this and therefore takes particular notice of her. Eventually she dies leaving Harriot a fortune, and she also dies as a great-grandmother.

Master Alworth: Cousin to Miss Trentham, they are like brother and sister, for he is one of the grandchildren who does not taunt her. Later they become enamored of each other, but his attention becomes diverted by the coquettish Miss Melman. He marries this woman, only to regret having lost Miss Selvyn.

Miss Alworth (Mrs. Parnel): Another of Mrs. Alworth’s grandchildren, she gives Miss Trentham trouble because she, like the Denham sisters, suffers from a bit of jealousy. Her marriage to Mr. Parnel produces two children, the great-grandchildren of Mrs. Alworth, significant because they were born before she died.

Miss Melman: A “complete coquet, capricious and fantastical.” She singles out Master Alworth for his looks and money, and eventually they marry. She goes on to make him miserable with her coquettish ways, much to the extent that he has to venture to Bath, to gain a hold on his mental health.

Mr. Parnel: A man who falls for Miss Trentham, she rejects him while suggesting he turn his attention to her cousin Miss Alworth. Though he never truly loved her, through the marriage counseling of Miss Trentham, he eventually finds “peace and amity” in his marriage to Miss Alworth.

The Denham Sisters: Also Mrs. Alworth’s grandchildren, one becomes Mrs. Tonston, the other gets married as a result of being forgiven by Miss Trentham. Mrs. Alworth had denied Miss Denham the money she needed to fulfill her marriage plans, but when Harriot offers to pay, Mrs. Alworth is surprised by her spirit of generosity and forgiveness, and decides to provide the funds after all.

Neighbors Susan, Rachel and Jane: Women who have benefited from the philanthropy of the society of the Hall.

M Hall 2

The Conscious Lovers

The Conscious Lovers (1722) by Richard Steele

Act I

Scene I Sir John Bevil’s House

Sir John Bevil is a bit dismayed when he discovers during an odd encounter at a masquerade that his son, Bevil Jr., has been entertaining an unknown woman. Bevil Jr. has been fixed to marry the daughter of Mr. Sealand, the connection of which would unite two vast estates. Mr. Sealand learns of the incident and breaks off plans for the union. Sir John instructs his servant, Humphrey, to chat with Bevil Jr.’s servant, Tom, in the hopes of acquiring information; Bevil Jr. was supposed to have married on that very day. Humphrey leaves and Phillis enters.

Servant Tom seems to have eyes and heart for Phillis, maidservant to Bevil Jr.’s bride-to-be, Lucinda, but she’s a little skeptical of his interest. In spite of all this, he instructs her to deliver a letter to Lucinda on behalf of Bevil Jr.

Scene II Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings

Sir John and Bevil Jr. conduct a father and son discussion. Sir John’s riotous marriage from his past is conveyed during the conversation. Bevil Jr. retains a reserved yet uncanny air about his fixed marriage, though he understands that somehow, Sir John is trying to make up for his mistake of marrying carelessly by having his son marry properly, to marry a woman of wealth and decency.

Afterwards, Humphrey and Bevil Jr. talk alone, where Bevil Jr.’s story of love — what is really eating at him — is revealed as a “secret” between the two. The story inspires in Humphrey the desire to help. The scene ends with an essence of discomfort and worry about the future of love.

Act II

Scene I Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings cont.

Bevil Jr.’s friend Myrtle loves Lucinda, and he arrives to talk with the former about this. Bevil Jr. assures him he does not want to marry her, but Myrtle informs that the coxcomb Cimberton is a possible threat; Lucinda’s mother wants her to marry him for his money. Cimberton, however, cannot act without consent from his uncle, and this is the case to be put before “her counsel,” lawyers Bramble & Target.

Scene II Indiana’s Lodgings

Isabella, Sealand’s long lost sister, and Indiana, Sealand’s long lost daughter, chat about Bevil Jr.’s behavior. Indiana is in love, but Bevil Jr.’s betrothal to Lucinda has Isabella rendering him nothing more than a pig, a hypocrite.  Indiana professes his sincerity, yet a bad relationship from her past has Isabella down on him; she trusts no one.

Isabella leaves, and Bevil Jr. enters to speak with Indiana, who’s suddenly skeptical. He talks of his love for her, how devout he is. She toys with the subject. They talk of opera and project themselves in line with characters, then out of the blue, he has a musician serenade Indiana. They discuss ulterior motives, but he ultimately leaves her feeling confident about him. Isabella returns to shower doubt on the matter, but Indiana refuses to agree with her.

Act III Sealand’s House

Phillis, servant to Lucinda, talking with Tom, wants to know of his love for her. He is trying to get feedback on his master’s letter, but is sidetracked by this activity. Nevertheless, he professes a deep love for her, and talks of the sadness of being a servant while in love; his hope is that their masters may endow them with a meager place to live someday. She finally gives him Lucinda’s response letter, and after he declares his sincerity for her, he kisses her!

Lucinda enters after Tom leaves, and talks to her about love without contracts in the servant world. She talks of herself and the bartering that occurs over her for marriage. After learning of the newest impending deal with Cimberton, Phillis leaves and her mother and Cimberton enter. He cracks his cold, calculating remarks of cynicism of which Mrs. Sealand is overtly thrilled by. He begins to survey Lucinda like a product — she departs in a rage. Cimberton and her mother continue discussing the deal that is to come, and of the lawyers involved. Myrtle and Tom then arrive disguised as “the counsel.” Between the two they spew forth meaningless rhetoric that sounds legal, therefore successfully deterring any immediate union between Lucinda and Cimberton.

Act IV

Scene I Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings

Bevil Jr. is questioning Tom about his encounter with Myrtle. Tom has inadvertently revealed to Myrtle about the exchange of letters between Bevil Jr. and Lucinda. This exchange has made Myrtle aggressively jealous, and has demanded a duel between Bevil Jr. and himself. Myrtle appears at his house and a heated argument unfolds. Myrtle, truly unaware of the nature of the letter to his love, Lucinda, pushes Bevil Jr. to the point of accepting the duel, though all along Bevil Jr. has been level headed about the matter. He recovers only to learn that Myrtle would just assume Bevil Jr. to be innocent. He shows Myrtle the letter; Myrtle goes red with embarrassment, but is quickly forgiven. The renewed friends discuss the problem of rash decisions vs. maintaining patience and virtue.

Scene II St. Jame’s Park

Sir John and Mr. Sealand discuss Bevil Jr.’s disposition. Sealand can’t forget seeing the young man with Indiana, and persists in thinking him a Rake. Sir John is adamant in defending his son as a man of honor, though he avoids the nature of his relationship to Indiana. Sealand is pointed in his disdain for Bevil Jr.’s behavior and therefore decides to address Indiana personally.

Humphrey enters after Sealand leaves, admitting he knows information about matters. He speaks on behalf of Bevil Jr.’s love for Indiana, and the discussion puts Sir John in a state of mental agitation. Sir John knows of the immense wealth a marriage to Lucinda will bring, and to think of a union otherwise, torments him.

Scene III Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings

Phillis endeavors to help Lucinda by addressing Myrtle personally. She proposes that he disguise himself as Sir Geoffrey, who is to arrive soon to seal matters between Cimberton and Lucinda. Myrtle accedes to the plan of which, Phillis does not openly convey her role in. Her words are simply, “Leave the rest to me,” and Myrtle is left hoping that he will ultimately be with Lucinda.

Act V 

Scene I Sealand’s House

Myrtle-as-Geoffrey begins by pointing out that Lucinda is of the “merchant” class, the truth of which does not bother Cimberton. Phillis then endeavors to get Lucinda to notice the trick that is unfolding. In another room, Myrtle exposes himself to her. Phillis then notifies Mrs. Sealand that Mr. Sealand still intends to wed Lucinda to Bevil Jr.

Mrs. Sealand is frustrated over the notion of who controls her daughter, and declares that the matter will be settled once and for all, by taking everyone to confront Sealand.

Scene II Charing Cross

Humphrey encourages Sealand to seek Indiana, yet stresses the need for propriety in the matter. At Indiana’s, old Sealand bribes the young boy Daniel to gain entrance.

Scene III Indiana’s House 

Isabella notices her brother Mr. Sealand automatically. She doesn’t tell him but rather, allows him to speak with Indiana personally. She is willing to hear him, though she declares the lowliness of her class and situation, deeming herself unworthy. Indiana suspects he is there to solidify the union between Bevil Jr. and Lucinda, to discourage her from interfering. Sealand, on the contrary, wants to know more about Bevil Jr.’s relationship with her. She discloses their passionate love, of his virtue, and Sealand begins to relinquish the idea of a fixed marriage. Indiana, ashamed of herself, pleads that he persist in his plan, to ignore her, insisting she must deal with the matter as is, yet in so doing, she reveals her troubled past.  The thought of losing Bevil Jr. hurts her incredibly, and as she feels the onset of her pain — that her life continues to experience emotional disillusionment — she drops a bracelet that once belonged to Sealand.

Isabella enters to clarify the situation, that she is Sealand’s sister, and that Indiana is his lost daughter. The three of them embrace, and the first order of business becomes to wed Bevil Jr. and Indiana. Isabella departs then returns with the entire gang. When Cimberton learns Lucinda has become worth only half the estate, he takes his leave of her. The group is surprised when Myrtle then reveals himself from his disguise. The two couples are thus free to marry who they please, and Sir John ends the play by attributing the course of events to the power of Providence.