Character Study: Class 1

This blog post, and the three that follow it, will study characters from a novel by Maria Edgeworth called The Absentee (1812). The story begins with Lord Colambre, the hero of the novel, overhearing some of his mother’s supposed friends gossiping about him and his family. Some of the remarks they make are too close to the truth for comfort. When Lord Colambre learns his father may be having financial troubles, he confronts his mother, who admits that they will have to leave London before the coming season, if Lord Colambre does not marry the heiress they (his parents) have picked out for him.

‘Before you put my IDEES out of my head, Colambre, I had something to say to you—Oh! I know what it was—we were talking of embarrassments—and I wished to do your father the justice to mention to you that he has been UNCOMMON LIBERAL to me about this gala, and has REELLY given me carte-blanche; and I’ve a notion—indeed I know—that it is you, Colambre, I am to thank for this.’
‘Yes! Did not your father give you any hint?’
‘No, ma’am; I have seen my father but for half an hour since I came to town, and in that time he said nothing to me—of his affairs.’
‘But what I allude to is more your affair.’
‘He did not speak to me of any affairs, ma’am—he spoke only of my horses.’
‘Then I suppose my lord leaves it to me to open the matter to you. I have the pleasure to tell you, that we have in view for you—and I think I may say with more than the approbation of all her family—an alliance—’
‘Oh! my dear mother! you cannot be serious,’ cried Lord Colambre; ‘you know I am not of years of discretion yet—I shall not think of marrying these ten years, at least.’
‘Why not? Nay, my dear Colambre, don’t go, I beg—I am serious, I assure you—and, to convince you of it, I shall tell you candidly, at once, all your father told me: that now you’ve done with Cambridge, and are come to Lon’on, he agrees with me in wishing that you should make the figure you ought to make, Colambre, as sole heir-apparent to the Clonbrony estate, and all that sort of thing. But, on the other hand, living in Lon’on, and making you the handsome allowance you ought to have, are, both together, more than your father can afford, without inconvenience, he tells me.’
‘I assure you, mother, I shall be content—’
‘No, no; you must not be content, child, and you must hear me. You must live in a becoming style, and make a proper appearance. I could not present you to my friends here, nor be happy, if you did not, Colambre. Now the way is clear before you: you have birth and title, here is fortune ready made; you will have a noble estate of your own when old Quin dies, and you will not be any encumbrance or inconvenience to your father or anybody. Marrying an heiress accomplishes all this at once; and the young lady is everything we could wish, besides—you will meet again at the gala. Indeed, between ourselves, she is the grand object of the gala; all her friends will come EN MASSE, and one should wish that they should see things in proper style. You have seen the young lady in question, Colambre—Miss Broadhurst. Don’t you recollect the young lady I introduced you to last night after the opera?’
‘The little, plain girl, covered with diamonds, who was standing beside Miss Nugent?’
‘In di’monds, yes. But you won’t think her plain when you see more of her—that wears off; I thought her plain, at first—I hope—’
‘I hope,’ said Lord Colambre, ‘that you will not take it unkindly of me, my dear mother, if I tell you, at once, that I have no thoughts of marrying at present—and that I never will marry for money. Marrying an heiress is not even a new way of paying old debts—at all events, it is one to which no distress could persuade me to have recourse; and as I must, if I outlive old Mr. Quin, have an independent fortune, THERE IS NO occasion to purchase one by marriage.’
‘There is no distress, that I know of, in the case,’ cried Lady Clonbrony. ‘Where is your imagination running, Colambre? But merely for your establishment, your independence.’
‘Establishment, I want none—independence I do desire, and will preserve. Assure my father, my DEAR MOTHER, that I will not be an expense to him. I will live within the allowance he made me at Cambridge—I will give up half of it—I will do anything for his convenience—but marry for money, that I cannot do.’
‘Then, Colambre, you are very disobliging,’ said Lady Clonbrony, with an expression of disappointment and displeasure; ‘for your father says, if you don’t marry Miss Broadhurst, we can’t live in Lon’on another winter.’
This said—which, had she been at the moment mistress of herself, she would not have let out—Lady Clonbrony abruptly quitted the room. Her son stood motionless, saying to himself—
‘Is this my mother?—How altered!’
The next morning he seized an opportunity of speaking to his father, whom he caught, with difficulty, just when he was going out, as usual, for the day. Lord Colambre, with all the respect due to his father, and with that affectionate manner by which he always knew how to soften the strength of his expressions, made nearly the same declarations of his resolution, by which his mother had been so much surprised and offended. Lord Clonbrony seemed more embarrassed, but not so much displeased. When Lord Colambre adverted, as delicately as he could, to the selfishness of desiring from him the sacrifice of liberty for life, to say nothing of his affections, merely to enable his family to make a splendid figure in London, Lord Clonbrony exclaimed, ‘That’s all nonsense!—cursed nonsense! That’s the way we are obliged to state the thing to your mother, my dear boy, because I might talk her deaf before she would understand or listen to anything else. But, for my own share, I don’t care a rush if London was sunk in the salt sea. Little Dublin for my money, as Sir Terence O’Fay says.’

Miss Edgeworth offers a little insight into the character of Lord Colambre’s parents:

Whilst Lady Clonbrony, in consequence of her residence in London, had become more of a fine lady, Lord Clonbrony, since he left Ireland, had become less of a gentleman. Lady Clonbrony, born an Englishwoman, disclaiming and disencumbering herself of all the Irish in town, had, by giving splendid entertainments, at an enormous expense, made her way into a certain set of fashionable company. But Lord Clonbrony, who was somebody in Ireland, who was a great person in Dublin, found himself nobody in England, a mere cipher in London, Looked down upon by the fine people with whom his lady associated, and heartily weary of them, he retreated from them altogether, and sought entertainment and self-complacency in society beneath him—indeed, both in rank and education, but in which he had the satisfaction of feeling himself the first person in company. Of these associates, the first in talents, and in jovial profligacy, was Sir Terence O’Fay—a man of low extraction, who had been knighted by an Irish lord-lieutenant in some convivial frolic. No one could tell a good story, or sing a good song better than Sir Terence; he exaggerated his native brogue, and his natural propensity to blunder, caring little whether the company laughed at him or with him, provided they laughed. ‘Live and laugh—laugh and live,’ was his motto; and certainly he lived on laughing, as well as many better men can contrive to live on a thousand a year.

Every character in your novel will have the following:

1. impulses;
2. drives;
3. instincts; and
4. feelings.

Lady Clonbrony is a Irish immigrant, who is endeavoring to gain the good opinion of her snotty English neighbors. She has wasted a good deal of her husband’s money in the attempt and is now applying pressure on her son to marry against his inclination so she can continue her campaign. A feeling of inferiority constrains her speech and her actions. She is easily wounded, when anything goes against her plans. She runs out of the room when her son refuses to follow her advice. His father may be less ambitious, but he has allowed his desire to please his wife to involve him in financial embarrassments. He has also made friends that he would be better off without, merely so he can feel at ease with his company. His wife’s friends make him feel small. Lord Colambre is alarmed at the changes in his parents–for the worse–and motivated to find some means of remedying their situation and his own, without giving up his liberty.

This is an excellent character-driven story, worthy not only of a casual reader’s interest but also an aspiring writer’s imitation.

How many misguided parents have pressured their children to adopt their agendas? And often merely for selfish motives, as above?

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