...not a pretty child. A pale, plaintive little face, shaded by soft yellowish hair; the mouth was grave and unsmiling, the great wistful eyes looked at one rather sadly. "What does it mean?" they seemed to ask, and the droop of the lips seemed to demand the same question.
Children and animals never misunderstood Launcelot Chudleigh, though a few of his equals in age called him a hare-brained enthusiast, and accused him of posing as an English Don Quixote. "It is Chudleigh's role to be peculiar," people would say.
She was one of those women to whom a state of obedience was absolutely necessary; power was a matter of indifference to her. If people only loved her, she would be ready to do anything in return for them...She never decided anything without reference to Launcelot; only once had she differed from him [about a holiday in Mentone]. She had triumphed greatly at the time, but all the same she had grown a little weary of her liberty.
The forehead was good and showed intellectual power, but the eyes were rather a cold grey...the firmly-closed lips gave one the impression that Mr Thorpe, though a clever man, was slightly prejudiced in his ideas and given to hold his opinions tenaciously.
She had a refined, sensible face and great dignity of bearing....thin, firmly-closed lips and determined jaw...[an] expression of tenacity, approaching to hardness...[Launcelot] thought less of her as a woman than of Mr Thorpe as a man, and yet she invariably turned her softest side to him.
...she is a kind-hearted creature - by-the-bye, how infatuated they all are about her, even Pauline. I don't mind owning I was a bit fascinated myself! she is very taking. Madella looks vexed when I tell her she is far too handsome for a governess...She was very tall, and her figure was somewhat full...she seemed full of life and energy and buoyant health. Her voice was clear and sweet, and there was something in her laugh that reminded one of a child - a certain abandon and enjoyment that one rarely sees in a grown-up person.
There are several plot lines. That related to the title is the story of a woman who "deserts" her husband, becomes a governess and has to decide if she should "do her duty" and return to him after being frozen out by his coldness and driven out by his spinster sister. The book takes a typically Victorian standpoint on marriage:
"..I did not mean to be wicked. I only wanted my freedom."
"You cannot have that unless God thiniks fit to take your husband; no human power can free you from those solemn vows, which it is now your duty to fulfil."
However, there is some sympathy for the wife:
It was odd that [Launcelot's] first connected thought was "Poor Mrs Thorpe, I pity her!" Strange that in the first instance his sympathy should be with the woman who had plainly deserted her path of duty instead of resting with the deserted husband; but Launcelot was a creature of impulse, and very warmhearted, and he had felt himself repelled by the other man's coldness.
The secondary plot concerns an adopted child, Dossie and her feelings for her guardian, Launcelot - a staple of Victorian fiction. Dossie's father goes to Australia to seek his fortune and Dossie is left in the hands of his sister's family and their governess to be brought up by them.
Other plot threads concern the other members of the Chudleigh family and their various loves and losses connected with the Maxwells and the Hamblyns.
Other staples of Victorian fiction included in the novel are sick-rooms, death beds, self-denial, charitable works, the importance of family and duty, God's goodness and omniscience, and a happy ending.
Above all there is a feeling of brightness and hope that pervades the novel as well as an enjoyable interplay of character. This is one of the most enjoyable of popular Victorian novels to read.
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