Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft
Part 3 out of 3
a fever, which I struggled to conquer with all the energy of my
mind; for, in my desolate state, I had it very much at heart to
suckle you, my poor babe. You seemed my only tie to life, a cherub,
to whom I wished to be a father, as well as a mother; and the double
duty appeared to me to produce a proportionate increase of affection.
But the pleasure I felt, while sustaining you, snatched from the
wreck of hope, was cruelly damped by melancholy reflections on my
widowed state--widowed by the death of my uncle. Of Mr. Venables
I thought not, even when I thought of the felicity of loving your
father, and how a mother's pleasure might be exalted, and her care
softened by a husband's tenderness.--'Ought to be!' I exclaimed;
and I endeavoured to drive away the tenderness that suffocated me;
but my spirits were weak, and the unbidden tears would flow. 'Why
was I,' I would ask thee, but thou didst not heed me,--'cut off
from the participation of the sweetest pleasure of life?' I imagined
with what extacy, after the pains of child-bed, I should have
presented my little stranger, whom I had so long wished to view,
to a respectable father, and with what maternal fondness I should
have pressed them both to my heart!--Now I kissed her with less
delight, though with the most endearing compassion, poor helpless
one! when I perceived a slight resemblance of him, to whom she owed
her existence; or, if any gesture reminded me of him, even in his
best days, my heart heaved, and I pressed the innocent to my bosom,
as if to purify it--yes, I blushed to think that its purity had
been sullied, by allowing such a man to be its father.
"After my recovery, I began to think of taking a house in the
country, or of making an excursion on the continent, to avoid Mr.
Venables; and to open my heart to new pleasures and affection.
The spring was melting into summer, and you, my little companion,
began to smile--that smile made hope bud out afresh, assuring me
the world was not a desert. Your gestures were ever present to my
fancy; and I dwelt on the joy I should feel when you would begin
to walk and lisp. Watching your wakening mind, and shielding from
every rude blast my tender blossom, I recovered my spirits--I
dreamed not of the frost--'the killing frost,' to which you were
destined to be exposed.--But I lose all patience--and execrate the
injustice of the world--folly! ignorance!--I should rather call
it; but, shut up from a free circulation of thought, and always
pondering on the same griefs, I writhe under the torturing
apprehensions, which ought to excite only honest indignation, or
active compassion; and would, could I view them as the natural
consequence of things. But, born a woman--and born to suffer, in
endeavouring to repress my own emotions, I feel more acutely the
various ills my sex are fated to bear--I feel that the evils they
are subject to endure, degrade them so far below their oppressors,
as almost to justify their tyranny; leading at the same time
superficial reasoners to term that weakness the cause, which is
only the consequence of short-sighted despotism.
"AS MY MIND grew calmer, the visions of Italy again returned with
their former glow of colouring; and I resolved on quitting the
kingdom for a time, in search of the cheerfulness, that naturally
results from a change of scene, unless we carry the barbed arrow
with us, and only see what we feel.
"During the period necessary to prepare for a long absence,
I sent a supply to pay my father's debts, and settled my brothers
in eligible situations; but my attention was not wholly engrossed
by my family, though I do not think it necessary to enumerate the
common exertions of humanity. The manner in which my uncle's
property was settled, prevented me from making the addition to the
fortune of my surviving sister, that I could have wished; but I
had prevailed on him to bequeath her two thousand pounds, and she
determined to marry a lover, to whom she had been some time attached.
Had it not been for this engagement, I should have invited her to
accompany me in my tour; and I might have escaped the pit, so
artfully dug in my path, when I was the least aware of danger.
"I had thought of remaining in England, till I weaned my child;
but this state of freedom was too peaceful to last, and I had soon
reason to wish to hasten my departure. A friend of Mr. Venables,
the same attorney who had accompanied him in several excursions to
hunt me from my hiding places, waited on me to propose a
reconciliation. On my refusal, he indirectly advised me to make
over to my husband--for husband he would term him--the greater part
of the property I had at command, menacing me with continual
persecution unless I complied, and that, as a last resort, he would
claim the child. I did not, though intimidated by the last
insinuation, scruple to declare, that I would not allow him to
squander the money left to me for far different purposes, but
offered him five hundred pounds, if he would sign a bond not to
torment me any more. My maternal anxiety made me thus appear to
waver from my first determination, and probably suggested to him,
or his diabolical agent, the infernal plot, which has succeeded
but too well.
"The bond was executed; still I was impatient to leave England.
Mischief hung in the air when we breathed the same; I wanted seas
to divide us, and waters to roll between, till he had forgotten
that I had the means of helping him through a new scheme. Disturbed
by the late occurrences, I instantly prepared for my departure.
My only delay was waiting for a maid-servant, who spoke French
fluently, and had been warmly recommended to me. A valet I was
advised to hire, when I fixed on my place of residence for any time.
"My God, with what a light heart did I set out for Dover!--
It was not my country, but my cares, that I was leaving behind.
My heart seemed to bound with the wheels, or rather appeared the
centre on which they twirled. I clasped you to my bosom, exclaiming
'And you will be safe--quite safe--when--we are once on board the
packet.--Would we were there!' I smiled at my idle fears, as the
natural effect of continual alarm; and I scarcely owned to myself
that I dreaded Mr. Venables's cunning, or was conscious of the
horrid delight he would feel, at forming stratagem after stratagem
to circumvent me. I was already in the snare--I never reached the
packet--I never saw thee more.--I grow breathless. I have scarcely
patience to write down the details. The maid--the plausible woman
I had hired--put, doubtless, some stupefying potion in what I ate
or drank, the morning I left town. All I know is, that she must
have quitted the chaise, shameless wretch! and taken (from my
breast) my babe with her. How could a creature in a female form
see me caress thee, and steal thee from my arms! I must stop, stop
to repress a mother's anguish; lest, in bitterness of soul,
I imprecate the wrath of heaven on this tiger, who tore my only
comfort from me.
"How long I slept I know not; certainly many hours, for I woke
at the close of day, in a strange confusion of thought. I was
probably roused to recollection by some one thundering at a huge,
unwieldy gate. Attempting to ask where I was, my voice died away,
and I tried to raise it in vain, as I have done in a dream.
I looked for my babe with affright; feared that it had fallen out of
my lap, while I had so strangely forgotten her; and, such was the
vague intoxication, I can give it no other name, in which I was
plunged, I could not recollect when or where I last saw you; but
I sighed, as if my heart wanted room to clear my head.
"The gates opened heavily, and the sullen sound of many locks
and bolts drawn back, grated on my very soul, before I was appalled
by the creeking of the dismal hinges, as they closed after me.
The gloomy pile was before me, half in ruins; some of the aged
trees of the avenue were cut down, and left to rot where they fell;
and as we approached some mouldering steps, a monstrous dog darted
forwards to the length of his chain, and barked and growled infernally.
"The door was opened slowly, and a murderous visage peeped
out, with a lantern. 'Hush!' he uttered, in a threatning tone,
and the affrighted animal stole back to his kennel. The door of
the chaise flew back, the stranger put down the lantern, and clasped
his dreadful arms around me. It was certainly the effect of the
soporific draught, for, instead of exerting my strength, I sunk
without motion, though not without sense, on his shoulder, my limbs
refusing to obey my will. I was carried up the steps into a
close-shut hall. A candle flaring in the socket, scarcely dispersed
the darkness, though it displayed to me the ferocious countenance
of the wretch who held me.
"He mounted a wide staircase. Large figures painted on the
walls seemed to start on me, and glaring eyes to meet me at every
turn. Entering a long gallery, a dismal shriek made me spring out
of my conductor's arms, with I know not what mysterious emotion of
terror; but I fell on the floor, unable to sustain myself.
"A strange-looking female started out of one of the recesses,
and observed me with more curiosity than interest; till, sternly
bid retire, she flitted back like a shadow. Other faces, strongly
marked, or distorted, peeped through the half-opened doors, and I
heard some incoherent sounds. I had no distinct idea where I could
be--I looked on all sides, and almost doubted whether I was alive
"Thrown on a bed, I immediately sunk into insensibility again;
and next day, gradually recovering the use of reason, I began,
starting affrighted from the conviction, to discover where I was
confined--I insisted on seeing the master of the mansion--I saw
him--and perceived that I was buried alive.--
"Such, my child, are the events of thy mother's life to this
dreadful moment--Should she ever escape from the fangs of her
enemies, she will add the secrets of her prison-house--and--"
Some lines were here crossed out, and the memoirs broke off
abruptly with the names of Jemima and Darnford.
THE performance, with a fragment of which the reader has now been
presented, was designed to consist of three parts. The preceding
sheets were considered as constituting one of those parts. Those
persons who in the perusal of the chapters, already written and in
some degree finished by the author, have felt their hearts awakened,
and their curiosity excited as to the sequel of the story, will,
of course, gladly accept even of the broken paragraphs and
half-finished sentences, which have been found committed to paper,
as materials for the remainder. The fastidious and cold-hearted
critic may perhaps feel himself repelled by the incoherent form in
which they are presented. But an inquisitive temper willingly
accepts the most imperfect and mutilated information, where better
is not to be had: and readers, who in any degree resemble the author
in her quick apprehension of sentiment, and of the pleasures and
pains of imagination, will, I believe, find gratification, in
contemplating sketches, which were designed in a short time to have
received the finishing touches of her genius; but which must now
for ever remain a mark to record the triumphs of mortality, over
schemes of usefulness, and projects of public interest.
* Presumed to have been written by Godwin [Publisher's note].
DARNFORD returned the memoirs to Maria, with a most affectionate
letter, in which he reasoned on "the absurdity of the laws respecting
matrimony, which, till divorces could be more easily obtained,
was," he declared, "the most insufferable bondage. Ties of this
nature could not bind minds governed by superior principles; and
such beings were privileged to act above the dictates of laws they
had no voice in framing, if they had sufficient strength of mind
to endure the natural consequence. In her case, to talk of duty,
was a farce, excepting what was due to herself. Delicacy, as well
as reason, forbade her ever to think of returning to her husband:
was she then to restrain her charming sensibility through mere
prejudice? These arguments were not absolutely impartial, for he
disdained to conceal, that, when he appealed to her reason, he felt
that he had some interest in her heart.--The conviction was not
more transporting, than sacred--a thousand times a day, he asked
himself how he had merited such happiness?--and as often he determined
to purify the heart she deigned to inhabit--He intreated to be
again admitted to her presence.
He was; and the tear which glistened in his eye, when he
respectfully pressed her to his bosom, rendered him peculiarly dear
to the unfortunate mother. Grief had stilled the transports of
love, only to render their mutual tenderness more touching. In
former interviews, Darnford had contrived, by a hundred little
pretexts, to sit near her, to take her hand, or to meet her eyes--
now it was all soothing affection, and esteem seemed to have rivalled
love. He adverted to her narrative, and spoke with warmth of the
oppression she had endured.--His eyes, glowing with a lambent flame,
told her how much he wished to restore her to liberty and love;
but he kissed her hand, as if it had been that of a saint; and
spoke of the loss of her child, as if it had been his own.--
What could have been more flattering to Maria?--Every instance of
self-denial was registered in her heart, and she loved him, for
loving her too well to give way to the transports of passion.
They met again and again; and Darnford declared, while passion
suffused his cheeks, that he never before knew what it was to
One morning Jemima informed Maria, that her master intended
to wait on her, and speak to her without witnesses. He came, and
brought a letter with him, pretending that he was ignorant of its
contents, though he insisted on having it returned to him. It was
from the attorney already mentioned, who informed her of the death
of her child, and hinted, "that she could not now have a legitimate
heir, and that, would she make over the half of her fortune during
life, she should be conveyed to Dover, and permitted to pursue her
plan of travelling."
Maria answered with warmth, "That she had no terms to make
with the murderer of her babe, nor would she purchase liberty at
the price of her own respect."
She began to expostulate with her jailor; but he sternly bade
her "Be silent--he had not gone so far, not to go further."
Darnford came in the evening. Jemima was obliged to be absent,
and she, as usual, locked the door on them, to prevent interruption
or discovery.--The lovers were, at first, embarrassed; but fell
insensibly into confidential discourse. Darnford represented,
"that they might soon be parted," and wished her "to put it out of
the power of fate to separate them."
As her husband she now received him, and he solemnly pledged
himself as her protector--and eternal friend.--
There was one peculiarity in Maria's mind: she was more anxious
not to deceive, than to guard against deception; and had rather
trust without sufficient reason, than be for ever the prey of doubt.
Besides, what are we, when the mind has, from reflection, a certain
kind of elevation, which exalts the contemplation above the little
concerns of prudence! We see what we wish, and make a world of our
own--and, though reality may sometimes open a door to misery, yet
the moments of happiness procured by the imagination, may, without
a paradox, be reckoned among the solid comforts of life. Maria now,
imagining that she had found a being of celestial mould--was
happy,--nor was she deceived.--He was then plastic in her impassioned
hand--and reflected all the sentiments which animated and warmed
* Two and a half lines of dashes follow here in the original
ONE morning confusion seemed to reign in the house, and Jemima came
in terror, to inform Maria, "that her master had left it, with a
determination, she was assured (and too many circumstances
corroborated the opinion, to leave a doubt of its truth) of never
returning. I am prepared then," said Jemima, "to accompany you in
Maria started up, her eyes darting towards the door, as if
afraid that some one should fasten it on her for ever.
Jemima continued, "I have perhaps no right now to expect the
performance of your promise; but on you it depends to reconcile me
with the human race."
"But Darnford!"--exclaimed Maria, mournfully--sitting down
again, and crossing her arms--"I have no child to go to, and liberty
has lost its sweets."
"I am much mistaken, if Darnford is not the cause of my master's
flight--his keepers assure me, that they have promised to confine
him two days longer, and then he will be free--you cannot see him;
but they will give a letter to him the moment he is free.--In that
inform him where he may find you in London; fix on some hotel.
Give me your clothes; I will send them out of the house with mine,
and we will slip out at the garden-gate. Write your letter while
I make these arrangements, but lose no time!"
In an agitation of spirit, not to be calmed, Maria began to
write to Darnford. She called him by the sacred name of "husband,"
and bade him "hasten to her, to share her fortune, or she would
return to him."--An hotel in the Adelphi was the place of rendezvous.
The letter was sealed and given in charge; and with light
footsteps, yet terrified at the sound of them, she descended,
scarcely breathing, and with an indistinct fear that she should
never get out at the garden gate. Jemima went first.
A being, with a visage that would have suited one possessed
by a devil, crossed the path, and seized Maria by the arm. Maria
had no fear but of being detained--"Who are you? what are you?"
for the form was scarcely human. "If you are made of flesh and
blood," his ghastly eyes glared on her, "do not stop me!"
"Woman," interrupted a sepulchral voice, "what have I to do
with thee?"--Still he grasped her hand, muttering a curse.
"No, no; you have nothing to do with me," she exclaimed, "this
is a moment of life and death!"--
With supernatural force she broke from him, and, throwing her
arms round Jemima, cried, "Save me!" The being, from whose grasp
she had loosed herself, took up a stone as they opened the door,
and with a kind of hellish sport threw it after them. They were
out of his reach.
When Maria arrived in town, she drove to the hotel already
fixed on. But she could not sit still--her child was ever before
her; and all that had passed during her confinement, appeared to
be a dream. She went to the house in the suburbs, where, as she
now discovered, her babe had been sent. The moment she entered,
her heart grew sick; but she wondered not that it had proved its
grave. She made the necessary enquiries, and the church-yard was
pointed out, in which it rested under a turf. A little frock which
the nurse's child wore (Maria had made it herself) caught her eye.
The nurse was glad to sell it for half-a-guinea, and Maria hastened
away with the relic, and, reentering the hackney-coach which waited
for her, gazed on it, till she reached her hotel.
She then waited on the attorney who had made her uncle's will,
and explained to him her situation. He readily advanced her some
of the money which still remained in his hands, and promised to
take the whole of the case into consideration. Maria only wished
to be permitted to remain in quiet--She found that several bills,
apparently with her signature, had been presented to her agent,
nor was she for a moment at a loss to guess by whom they had been
forged; yet, equally averse to threaten or intreat, she requested
her friend [the solicitor] to call on Mr. Venables. He was not to
be found at home; but at length his agent, the attorney, offered
a conditional promise to Maria, to leave her in peace, as long as
she behaved with propriety, if she would give up the notes. Maria
inconsiderately consented--Darnford was arrived, and she wished to
be only alive to love; she wished to forget the anguish she felt
whenever she thought of her child.
They took a ready furnished lodging together, for she was
above disguise; Jemima insisting on being considered as her
house-keeper, and to receive the customary stipend. On no other
terms would she remain with her friend.
Darnford was indefatigable in tracing the mysterious
circumstances of his confinement. The cause was simply, that a
relation, a very distant one, to whom he was heir, had died intestate,
leaving a considerable fortune. On the news of Darnford's arrival
[in England, a person, intrusted with the management of the property,
and who had the writings in his possession, determining, by one
bold stroke, to strip Darnford of the succession,] had planned his
confinement; and [as soon as he had taken the measures he judged
most conducive to his object, this ruffian, together with his
instrument,] the keeper of the private mad-house, left the kingdom.
Darnford, who still pursued his enquiries, at last discovered that
they had fixed their place of refuge at Paris.
Maria and he determined therefore, with the faithful Jemima,
to visit that metropolis, and accordingly were preparing for the
journey, when they were informed that Mr. Venables had commenced
an action against Darnford for seduction and adultery. The
indignation Maria felt cannot be explained; she repented of the
forbearance she had exercised in giving up the notes. Darnford
could not put off his journey, without risking the loss of his
property: Maria therefore furnished him with money for his expedition;
and determined to remain in London till the termination of this affair.
She visited some ladies with whom she had formerly been
intimate, but was refused admittance; and at the opera, or Ranelagh,
they could not recollect her. Among these ladies there were some,
not her most intimate acquaintance, who were generally supposed to
avail themselves of the cloke of marriage, to conceal a mode of
conduct, that would for ever have damned their fame, had they been
innocent, seduced girls. These particularly stood aloof.--Had she
remained with her husband, practicing insincerity, and neglecting
her child to manage an intrigue, she would still have been visited
and respected. If, instead of openly living with her lover, she
could have condescended to call into play a thousand arts, which,
degrading her own mind, might have allowed the people who were not
deceived, to pretend to be so, she would have been caressed and
treated like an honourable woman. "And Brutus* is an honourable
man!" said Mark-Antony with equal sincerity.
* The name in the manuscript is by mistake written Caesar.
EDITOR. [Godwin's note]
With Darnford she did not taste uninterrupted felicity; there
was a volatility in his manner which often distressed her; but love
gladdened the scene; besides, he was the most tender, sympathizing
creature in the world. A fondness for the sex often gives an
appearance of humanity to the behaviour of men, who have small
pretensions to the reality; and they seem to love others, when they
are only pursuing their own gratification. Darnford appeared ever
willing to avail himself of her taste and acquirements, while she
endeavoured to profit by his decision of character, and to eradicate
some of the romantic notions, which had taken root in her mind,
while in adversity she had brooded over visions of unattainable bliss.
The real affections of life, when they are allowed to burst
forth, are buds pregnant with joy and all the sweet emotions of
the soul; yet they branch out with wild ease, unlike the artificial
forms of felicity, sketched by an imagination painful alive. The
substantial happiness, which enlarges and civilizes the mind,
may be compared to the pleasure experienced in roving
through nature at large, inhaling the sweet gale natural to the
clime; while the reveries of a feverish imagination continually
sport themselves in gardens full of aromatic shrubs, which cloy
while they delight, and weaken the sense of pleasure they gratify.
The heaven of fancy, below or beyond the stars, in this life, or
in those ever-smiling regions surrounded by the unmarked ocean of
futurity, have an insipid uniformity which palls. Poets have
imagined scenes of bliss; but, sencing out sorrow, all the extatic
emotions of the Soul, and even its grandeur, seem to be equally
excluded. We dose over the unruffled lake, and long to scale the
rocks which fence the happy valley of contentment, though serpents
hiss in the pathless desert, and danger lurks in the unexplored
wiles. Maria found herself more indulgent as she was happier, and
discovered virtues, in characters she had before disregarded, while
chasing the phantoms of elegance and excellence, which sported in
the meteors that exhale in the marshes of misfortune. The heart
is often shut by romance against social pleasure; and, fostering
a sickly sensibility, grows callous to the soft touches of humanity.
To part with Darnford was indeed cruel.--It was to feel most
painfully alone; but she rejoiced to think, that she should spare
him the care and perplexity of the suit, and meet him again, all
his own. Marriage, as at present constituted, she considered as
leading to immorality--yet, as the odium of society impedes
usefulness, she wished to avow her affection to Darnford, by becoming
his wife according to established rules; not to be confounded with
women who act from very different motives, though her conduct would
be just the same without the ceremony as with it, and her expectations
from him not less firm. The being summoned to defend herself from
a charge which she was determined to plead guilty to, was still
galling, as it roused bitter reflections on the situation of women
SUCH was her state of mind when the dogs of law were let loose on
her. Maria took the task of conducting Darnford's defence upon
herself. She instructed his counsel to plead guilty to the charge
of adultery; but to deny that of seduction.
The counsel for the plaintiff opened the cause, by observing,
"that his client had ever been an indulgent husband, and had borne
with several defects of temper, while he had nothing criminal to
lay to the charge of his wife. But that she left his house without
assigning any cause. He could not assert that she was then acquainted
with the defendant; yet, when he was once endeavouring to bring
her back to her home, this man put the peace-officers to flight,
and took her he knew not whither. After the birth of her child,
her conduct was so strange, and a melancholy malady having afflicted
one of the family, which delicacy forbade the dwelling on, it was
necessary to confine her. By some means the defendant enabled her
to make her escape, and they had lived together, in despite of all
sense of order and decorum. The adultery was allowed, it was not
necessary to bring any witnesses to prove it; but the seduction,
though highly probable from the circumstances which he had the
honour to state, could not be so clearly proved.--It was of the
most atrocious kind, as decency was set at defiance, and respect
for reputation, which shows internal compunction, utterly disregarded."
A strong sense of injustice had silenced every motion, which
a mixture of true and false delicacy might otherwise have excited
in Maria's bosom. She only felt in earnest to insist on the
privilege of her nature. The sarcasms of society, and the
condemnations of a mistaken world, were nothing to her, compared
with acting contrary to those feelings which were the foundation
of her principles. [She therefore eagerly put herself forward,
instead of desiring to be absent, on this memorable occasion.]
Convinced that the subterfuges of the law were disgraceful,
she wrote a paper, which she expressly desired might be read in
"Married when scarcely able to distinguish the nature of the
engagement, I yet submitted to the rigid laws which enslave women,
and obeyed the man whom I could no longer love. Whether the duties
of the state are reciprocal, I mean not to discuss; but I can prove
repeated infidelities which I overlooked or pardoned. Witnesses
are not wanting to establish these facts. I at present maintain
the child of a maid servant, sworn to him, and born after our
marriage. I am ready to allow, that education and circumstances
lead men to think and act with less delicacy, than the preservation
of order in society demands from women; but surely I may without
assumption declare, that, though I could excuse the birth, I could
not the desertion of this unfortunate babe:--and, while I despised
the man, it was not easy to venerate the husband. With proper
restrictions however, I revere the institution which fraternizes
the world. I exclaim against the laws which throw the whole weight
of the yoke on the weaker shoulders, and force women, when they
claim protectorship as mothers, to sign a contract, which renders
them dependent on the caprice of the tyrant, whom choice or necessity
has appointed to reign over them. Various are the cases, in which
a woman ought to separate herself from her husband; and mine,
I may be allowed emphatically to insist, comes under the description
of the most aggravated.
"I will not enlarge on those provocations which only the
individual can estimate; but will bring forward such charges only,
the truth of which is an insult upon humanity. In order to promote
certain destructive speculations, Mr. Venables prevailed on me to
borrow certain sums of a wealthy relation; and, when I refused
further compliance, he thought of bartering my person; and not only
allowed opportunities to, but urged, a friend from whom he borrowed
money, to seduce me. On the discovery of this act of atrocity,
I determined to leave him, and in the most decided manner, for ever.
I consider all obligations as made void by his conduct; and hold,
that schisms which proceed from want of principles, can never be healed.
"He received a fortune with me to the amount of five thousand
pounds. On the death of my uncle, convinced that I could provide
for my child, I destroyed the settlement of that fortune. I required
none of my property to be returned to me, nor shall enumerate the
sums extorted from me during six years that we lived together.
"After leaving, what the law considers as my home, I was hunted
like a criminal from place to place, though I contracted no debts,
and demanded no maintenance--yet, as the laws sanction such
proceeding, and make women the property of their husbands, I forbear
to animadvert. After the birth of my daughter, and the death of
my uncle, who left a very considerable property to myself and child,
I was exposed to new persecution; and, because I had, before arriving
at what is termed years of discretion, pledged my faith, I was
treated by the world, as bound for ever to a man whose vices were
notorious. Yet what are the vices generally known, to the various
miseries that a woman may be subject to, which, though deeply felt,
eating into the soul, elude description, and may be glossed over!
A false morality is even established, which makes all
the virtue of women consist in chastity, submission,
and the forgiveness of injuries.
"I pardon my oppressor--bitterly as I lament the loss of my
child, torn from me in the most violent manner. But nature revolts,
and my soul sickens at the bare supposition, that it could ever be
a duty to pretend affection, when a separation is necessary to
prevent my feeling hourly aversion.
"To force me to give my fortune, I was imprisoned--yes; in a
private mad-house.--There, in the heart of misery, I met the man
charged with seducing me. We became attached--I deemed, and ever
shall deem, myself free. The death of my babe dissolved the only
tie which subsisted between me and my, what is termed, lawful husband.
"To this person, thus encountered, I voluntarily gave myself,
never considering myself as any more bound to transgress the laws
of moral purity, because the will of my husband might be pleaded
in my excuse, than to transgress those laws to which [the policy
of artificial society has] annexed [positive] punishments.--While
no command of a husband can prevent a woman from suffering for
certain crimes, she must be allowed to consult her conscience, and
regulate her conduct, in some degree, by her own sense of right.
The respect I owe to myself, demanded my strict adherence to my
determination of never viewing Mr. Venables in the light of a
husband, nor could it forbid me from encouraging another. If I am
unfortunately united to an unprincipled man, am I for ever to be
shut out from fulfilling the duties of a wife and mother?--I wish
my country to approve of my conduct; but, if laws exist, made by
the strong to oppress the weak, I appeal to my own sense of justice,
and declare that I will not live with the individual, who has
violated every moral obligation which binds man to man.
"I protest equally against any charge being brought to criminate
the man, whom I consider as my husband. I was six-and-twenty when
I left Mr. Venables' roof; if ever I am to be supposed to arrive
at an age to direct my own actions, I must by that time have arrived
at it.--I acted with deliberation.--Mr. Darnford found me a forlorn
and oppressed woman, and promised the protection women in the
present state of society want.--But the man who now claims me--was
he deprived of my society by this conduct? The question is an insult
to common sense, considering where Mr. Darnford met me.--Mr.
Venables' door was indeed open to me--nay, threats and intreaties
were used to induce me to return; but why? Was affection or honour
the motive?--I cannot, it is true, dive into the recesses of the
human heart--yet I presume to assert, [borne out as I am by a
variety of circumstances,] that he was merely influenced by the
most rapacious avarice.
"I claim then a divorce, and the liberty of enjoying, free
from molestation, the fortune left to me by a relation, who was
well aware of the character of the man with whom I had to contend.--I
appeal to the justice and humanity of the jury--a body of men,
whose private judgment must be allowed to modify laws, that must
be unjust, because definite rules can never apply to indefinite
circumstances--and I deprecate punishment upon the man of my choice,
freeing him, as I solemnly do, from the charge of seduction.]
"I did not put myself into a situation to justify a charge of
adultery, till I had, from conviction, shaken off the fetters which
bound me to Mr. Venables.--While I lived with him, I defy the voice
of calumny to sully what is termed the fair fame of woman.--
Neglected by my husband, I never encouraged a lover; and preserved
with scrupulous care, what is termed my honour, at the expence of
my peace, till he, who should have been its guardian, laid traps
to ensnare me. From that moment I believed myself, in the sight
of heaven, free--and no power on earth shall force me to renounce
The judge, in summing up the evidence, alluded to "the fallacy
of letting women plead their feelings, as an excuse for the violation
of the marriage-vow. For his part, he had always determined to
oppose all innovation, and the newfangled notions which incroached
on the good old rules of conduct. We did not want French principles
in public or private life--and, if women were allowed to plead
their feelings, as an excuse or palliation of infidelity, it was
opening a flood-gate for immorality. What virtuous woman thought
of her feelings?--It was her duty to love and obey the man chosen
by her parents and relations, who were qualified by their experience
to judge better for her, than she could for herself. As to the
charges brought against the husband, they were vague, supported by
no witnesses, excepting that of imprisonment in a private madhouse.
The proofs of an insanity in the family, might render that however
a prudent measure; and indeed the conduct of the lady did not appear
that of a person of sane mind. Still such a mode of proceeding
could not be justified, and might perhaps entitle the lady [in
another court] to a sentence of separation from bed and board,
during the joint lives of the parties; but he hoped that no Englishman
would legalize adultery, by enabling the adulteress to enrich her
seducer. Too many restrictions could not be thrown in the way of
divorces, if we wished to maintain the sanctity of marriage; and,
though they might bear a little hard on a few, very few individuals,
it was evidently for the good of the whole."
BY THE EDITOR *
* i.e., Godwin [Publisher's note].
VERY FEW hints exist respecting the plan of the remainder of the
work. I find only two detached sentences, and some scattered heads
for the continuation of the story. I transcribe the whole.
"Darnford's letters were affectionate; but circumstances
occasioned delays, and the miscarriage of some letters rendered
the reception of wished-for answers doubtful: his return was
necessary to calm Maria's mind."
"As Darnford had informed her that his business was settled,
his delaying to return seemed extraordinary; but love to excess,
excludes fear or suspicion."
The scattered heads for the continuation of the story, are as
* To understand these minutes, it is necessary the reader
should consider each of them as setting out from the same
point in the story, viz. the point to which it is brought
down in the preceding chapter. [Godwin's note]
"Trial for adultery--Maria defends herself--A separation from
bed and board is the consequence--Her fortune is thrown into
chancery--Darnford obtains a part of his property--Maria goes into
"A prosecution for adultery commenced--Trial--Darnford sets
out for France--Letters--Once more pregnant--He returns--Mysterious
"Sued by her husband--Damages awarded to him--Separation from
bed and board--Darnford goes abroad--Maria into the country--Provides
for her father--Is shunned--Returns to London--Expects to see her
lover--The rack of expectation--Finds herself again with child--
Delighted--A discovery--A visit--A miscarriage--Conclusion."
"Divorced by her husband--Her lover unfaithful--Pregnancy--
[The following passage appears in some respects to deviate
from the preceding hints. It is superscribed]
"She swallowed the laudanum; her soul was calm--the tempest
had subsided--and nothing remained but an eager longing to forget
herself--to fly from the anguish she endured to escape from
thought--from this hell of disappointment.
"Still her eyes closed not--one remembrance with frightful
velocity followed another--All the incidents of her life were in
arms, embodied to assail her, and prevent her sinking into the
sleep of death.--Her murdered child again appeared to her, mourning
for the babe of which she was the tomb.--'And could it have a
nobler?--Surely it is better to die with me, than to enter on life
without a mother's care!--I cannot live!--but could I have deserted
my child the moment it was born?--thrown it on the troubled wave
of life, without a hand to support it?'--She looked up: 'What have
I not suffered!--may I find a father where I am going!--Her head
turned; a stupor ensued; a faintness--'Have a little patience,'
said Maria, holding her swimming head (she thought of her mother),
'this cannot last long; and what is a little bodily pain to the
pangs I have endured?'
"A new vision swam before her. Jemima seemed to enter--
leading a little creature, that, with tottering footsteps, approached
the bed. The voice of Jemima sounding as at a distance, called
her--she tried to listen, to speak, to look!
"'Behold your child!' exclaimed Jemima. Maria started off
the bed, and fainted.--Violent vomiting followed.
"When she was restored to life, Jemima addressed her with
great solemnity: '----- led me to suspect, that your husband
and brother had deceived you, and secreted the child. I would not
torment you with doubtful hopes, and I left you (at a fatal moment)
to search for the child!--I snatched her from misery--and (now she
is alive again) would you leave her alone in the world, to endure
what I have endured?'
"Maria gazed wildly at her, her whole frame was convulsed with
emotion; when the child, whom Jemima had been tutoring all the
journey, uttered the word 'Mamma!' She caught her to her bosom,
and burst into a passion of tears--then, resting the child gently
on the bed, as if afraid of killing it,--she put her hand to her
eyes, to conceal as it were the agonizing struggle of her soul.
She remained silent for five minutes, crossing her arms over her
bosom, and reclining her head,--then exclaimed: 'The conflict is
over!--I will live for my child!'"
A few readers perhaps, in looking over these hints, will wonder
how it could have been practicable, without tediousness, or remitting
in any degree the interest of the story, to have filled, from these
slight sketches, a number of pages, more considerable than those
which have been already presented. But, in reality, these hints,
simple as they are, are pregnant with passion and distress. It is
the refuge of barren authors only, to crowd their fictions with so
great a number of events, as to suffer no one of them to sink into
the reader's mind. It is the province of true genius to develop
events, to discover their capabilities, to ascertain the different
passions and sentiments with which they are fraught, and to diversify
them with incidents, that give reality to the picture, and take a
hold upon the mind of a reader of taste, from which they can never
be loosened. It was particularly the design of the author, in the
present instance, to make her story subordinate to a great moral
purpose, that "of exhibiting the misery and oppression, peculiar
to women, that arise out of the partial laws and customs of
society.--This view restrained her fancy."* It was necessary for
her, to place in a striking point of view, evils that are too
frequently overlooked, and to drag into light those details of
oppression, of which the grosser and more insensible part of mankind
make little account.
* See author's preface. [Godwin's note]
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