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The Modern Griselda
    (Review / The Modern Griselda: a Tale, by Maria Edgeworth)
  Annual Review /JAS, 1804
  vol. 3 (1804): 553-4.
Art. VII. The Modern Griselda; a Tale. By Miss Edgworth [sic], 8vo. pp. 170.

The modern Griselda is the exact opposite of the ancient one. Possessed of youth, beauty, wit, and every fashionable accomplishment, she imagines herself entitled to rule with absolute command a husband who adores her. At first her imperious disposition only manifests itself in a restless and captious fear of not being sufficiently beloved; in a jealousy of every person and thing capable of diverting, for a moment, the attention of her husband, or affording him the slightest pleasure of which she is not the source. By degrees, 'this monopolising humour' meeting with no opposition, encreases to absolute tyranny - disputes ensue, and her husband's assertion of his own free agency is resented sometimes by reproaches, sometimes by sullen silence. Griselda gradually loses the power she has abused; as a last and only expedient for recovering her past ascendancy, and reducing her ill fated partner to complete submission for the future she proposes a separation, little thinking that the man whom she still 'loves better than any thing in the world, except her power,' can ever bear to live without her. No conciliatory offers, however, ensue on his side, his love was irrecoverably gone, pride and a delusive hope of final victory, preclude all submissions on hers, and at length they part - for ever. Such is the outline of this little tale - to say that it is filled up with sprightliness, with grace, with brilliancy of wit, and richness of simile and allusion, is only to say that it is Miss Edgworth's [sic], and that it is worthy of its author. One thing, however, struck us as unworthy of Miss Edgworth, and very unlike the general strain of her writings. In several passages of the tale before us, her own sex are treated with harshness, and we think with injustice. Mrs Granby, a most amiable and complying wife, who serves as a foil to Mrs Bolingbroke, the heroine of the story, incurs her ill will by gaining the esteem of Mr Bolingbroke, and the admiration of a company where she had attempted, preposterously enough, to turn her into ridicule: Griselda is at length provoked to aim at the unoffending lady a gross and palpable sarcasm. 'Emma,' continues the narrative, 'was at length awakened to the perception of her friend's envy and jealousy; but

'She mild forgave the failing of her own sex.'

Surely had any male writer of this enlightened age brought so foul an accusation as that of a general propensity to envy, against the female sex, all women of generous dispositions and cultivated minds would have felt themselves justly hurt at the charge, as illiberal and unfounded; what then must be their feelings when a female, of high literary reputation, and endowed in an eminent degree with the power of pourtraying character, and revealing the human heart, wantonly and apparently without being aware of its heinousness, alludes to this odious vice as an acknowledged failing of the sex, which has the honour to reckon herself among its numbers! By the quotation from Milton, which appears to be given as the moral of the tale, the ladies, we apprehend, will feel themselves almost as much aggrieved.

--- Thus shall it befall
Him who to worth in woman overtrusting
Lets her will rule; restraint she will not brook,
And left to herself, if evil thence ensue,
She first his weak indulgence will accuse.

Surely it is ungraceful in a woman to take arms against the liberties of the sisterhood!

Several apt and original similes embellish this tale, we shall cite two.

Griselda excites envy, and though she may not have more faults than her neigh-[554]bours, they are more noticed, because they are in the full light of prosperity. Did you ever remark the number of mots [sic] that swarm in a single ray of light, coming through a shutter of a darkened room? There are not more mots in that spot than in any other part of the room, but the sun-beams show them more distinctly. The dust that lives in obscurity, should consider this, and have mercy upon its fellow dust.

Who ever has seen a balloon - The reader, however impatient, must listen to this allusion - Whoever has seen a balloon, may have observed, that in its flaccid state it can be folded and unfolded with the greatest ease, and it is manageable even by a child; but when once filled, the force of multitudes cannot restrain, nor the art of man direct its course. Such is the human mind - so tractable before, so ungovernable after it fills with passion: By slow degrees, unnoticed by our heroine, the balloon had been filling. It was full; but it was yet held down by strong cords: it remained with her to cut or not to cut them.

Miss Edgeworth seems to confess that she has in some degree, imitated 'The Art of Tormenting.' [complete]

Provided by Julie A. Shaffer, January 2000