The Victim of Prejudice
Who knew that stealing grapes could have such terrible repercussions? The young Mary Raymond (beautiful according to the custom of such novels) misappropriates the fruit to gratify the hunger of her childhood companion (and later, of course, beloved) William; she is, however, caught by the owner of the grapes, Sir Peter Osborne, who takes a fancy to her (tho’ she was only twelve at the time…). One would need to be blind not to see where this story is going. So poor Mary (poor, put-upon, thieving Mary) is, at a later date, obligingly raped by the wicked Sir Peter, who had gone through much trouble and expense to get her guardians out of the country (her father having conveniently died without leaving her much money). Poor Mary (poor, sweet Mary) then makes mighty efforts (friendless in a wicked world) not to become a prostitute as all ravaged women invariably do. She, being virtuous and intelligent as well as beautiful (being beautiful is such a nuisance, isn’t it?), of course succeeds and lives in modest contentment after her guardians return from two years of ‘exile’, but:
The vigorous promise of my youth has failed. The victim of a barbarous prejudice, society has cast me out from its bosom. The sensibilities of my heart have been turned to bitterness, the powers of my mind wasted, my projects rendered abortive, my virtues and my sufferings alike unrewarded, I have lived in vain! unless the story of my sorrows should kindle in the heart of man, in behalf of my oppressed sex, the sacred claims of humanity and justice (174).
I shouldn’t be so flippant about such a serious topic, but poor Hays uses so many of the same phrases and quotations from her earlier book – The Memoirs of Emma Courtney, about a woman who becomes infatuated with a man who cannot reciprocate, not least because he is (secretly) married – that it seems as though she writes by recipe. Still, for those who enjoy eighteenth century women’s novels, there’s much scope for interpretation, criticism, and feminist delight in the book, replete as it is with a heartless male villain, an oppressive society, &c.