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Natalie Neill, Synopsis of Mrs Bullock, Susanna; or, Traits of a Modern Miss; a Novel (London: Lane, 1795)

 

Susanna Bridgeman leaves school at age seventeen graced with many accomplishments, such as dancing and making filigree baskets. When she and her parents move to their estate in Northamptonshire, she subscribes to a circulating library and soon has her head turned by romance. Her father suggests a match with a shy young man named Charles Kirkman, but Susanna bridles against what she considers to be an exercise of parental tyranny. She vows never to marry Charles, who she protests is the most hateful example of his sex.

At a ball Susanna meets the indolent Lord Morven, who appears to her to be the image of a hero of romance. Morven's wily servant Mr Thomson learns of Susanna's romantic notions about Morven from her maid Lucy, and begins sending her love letters signed with Morven's name. Susanna carries on this furtive correspondence, but meanwhile gives in to her father's wishes and becomes engaged to Charles. However, she experiences cold feet and forms plans to elope with Morven… or so she thinks. In fact, Thompson is hatching a plot to separate her from her friends so he can trick her into marrying him. Susanna runs away from home on the morning of her wedding day. When she arrives at the meeting place, she encounters Lord Morven, who is astonished to see her. She then learns that he did not write the letters, and that she has been deceived by Thompson.

Susanna returns home to find her father sick with anxiety over her disappearance. He dies shortly afterwards and Susanna inherits a great deal of money. It is settled that she will spend half the year with her mother, and the other half in London, under the care of her new guardian, Mr Martin. Susanna leaves her grieving mother and sets out for the city. Mr Martin arranges for Susanna to live with Mr and Mrs Benfield and their three daughters. Susanna wants to come and go as she pleases, and treats Mr and Mrs Benfield rudely. After running into an old school friend, Miss Dawson, at the theatre, she begins sneaking out of the house to spend time at Miss Dawson's elegant house, in the company of her seemingly well-bred friends. But unbeknownst to Susanna, Miss Dawson is no better than she should be: she is the mistress of a dissolute peer, who keeps her in high style. Miss Dawson leads Susanna to falsely suspect Mr Benfield of plotting to steal her money. Under the pretences of receiving a summons from her mother, Susanna leaves the Benfields's and moves in with her friend. Soon after her arrival, she discovers Miss Dawson's true situation, and throws herself into the protection of Lord Pearson, an old gentleman of Miss Dawson's acquaintance. The bankrupt Lord proposes to Susanna. She deliberates because he is old and ugly; however, believing him to be very rich, she finally accepts. They marry without the consent of Susanna's mother or Mr Martin, and retire to Lord Pearson's Gothic castle.

Having read many Gothic novels, Susanna imagines that Pearson Castle is haunted, and soon stirs up the superstition of the servants. One day she sees a figure hiding behind an old tapestry. It emits a hollow groan and orders her, in a ghostly voice, to leave the room. Susanna retails this story among the servants with much embellishment, and for several subsequent nights the whole household keeps watch. On the fourth night there is a commotion in the great hall. Susanna and the servants listen in terror to what appears to them to be a gang of ghosts, rattling chains and knocking over suits of armour. Eventually, Lord Pearson, who has been away for several days, comes home to discover that the castle has been pillaged, and that his wife and servants are huddled upstairs. One of the stable boys had informed his ne'er-do-well friends of Susanna's superstitions, which they exploited in order to rob the castle.

Lord Pearson is not above trying to seduce other women, and is much away. Deeply in debt, he is waiting impatiently for Susanna to come of age, so he can take possession of her money. For her part, Susanna is bored and unhappy. However, a handsome stranger she spies through her bedroom window soon occupies her attention. She manages to steal out to the park to meet him. He is secretive about his identity and speaks like the heroes she reads about in her romances. Susanna and the young man, "Celadon," take every occasion to meet or exchange secret billets. When Lord Pearson eventually discovers his wife in Celadon's arms, he is not persuaded by her protestations that theirs is a purely Platonic friendship. It then comes to light that Celadon is in fact none other than Lord Morven's artful valet, Mr Thompson.

Out of patience, Lord Pearson sends Susanna back to her mother's house, where she is to stay until her birthday. Humbled by her discovery of Celadon's true identity, and by her husband's rage, Susanna trades in her fashionable clothing for Quakerish garb, and assumes the role of a repentant wife. However, her transformation is short-lived: she soon becomes reacquainted with Lord Morven, and they become friends. Under his influence, she abandons her pinched hat and hood for a scarlet riding habit, and begins to comport herself with the bravado of a modern sportswoman. When her husband arrives in the neighbourhood, he is furious to discover that Susanna has purchased an expensive chariot and set of ponies. She balks at his complaints and treats him in a dismissive and satirical manner. Her spirit of independence further enrages Lord Pearson, so he drags her back to the castle. Susanna is now forced into the role of a Gothic heroine. She is locked in her room, which is stripped of all its elegant objects, and given only plain food to eat. Susanna at last manages to effect an escape by giving laudanum to the servant girl who stands guard at her door. She and Lucy flee through the rain, which causes Susanna to become ill and delirious. Upon recovering, she feels regretful of her past follies and imprudent marriage.

Meanwhile, Lord Pearson departs for the Continent, where he spends the last of Susanna's fortune. He writes to her, offering a separation if she will send him a sum of money, which she quickly arranges. Shortly thereafter, Susanna's mother dies, and Susanna receives a large inheritance. Thus, at the age of twenty-two, she finds herself independently wealthy. Determined to reform, she becomes a Methodist. It is a role more lasting than those she earlier assumed, but one entered into with equal enthusiasm.

 

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