The title of one of Charlotte Maria Tucker's (a.k.a. the un-Googleable A.L.O.E.) final novels, The Forlorn Hope (1892), is not ironic, but military. The soldiers in question belong to the evangelical Church Militant, and their cause is abolition. Most of the novel's action takes place in the antebellum USA in the 1830s, and the narrative prominently features both the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, whom Tucker turns into an unexceptionably orthodox Christian, and, perhaps more interestingly, Mary Parker, the embattled president of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society (not surprisingly, Tucker skips over the Society's heated divisions and Parker's break with Garrison). While Tucker carefully rewrites her historical figures into exemplars of evangelical purity, her actual protagonist is the fictional Gloria Girling, introduced with an ominous Dickensian echo: "the girl had great expectations" (10). If, unlike Pip, Gloria begins her career already genteel, her plot echoes his in its litany of disappointments and moral failures; the novel is a failed Pilgrim's Progress whose heroine fails to escape Vanity Fair--here, life in the slave-owning South--until late middle age.
In this plot, the single-minded Mary Parker acts as Gloria's foil. Parker, a "Good Samaritan" (28), is introduced helping a drunken female slave, Dido, who has fallen by the roadside, and by unselfconsciously loaning Dido her own clothes, Parker immediately distances herself from the elegant and material-minded Gloria (who will spend most of her life seeking such pleasures). By contrast, Gloria introduces herself to Parker while she is still tending to Dido--"I am Miss Girling, an Englishwoman, a warm supporter of the cause of Abolition" (29)--and this presumption that she has the right to interrupt Parker's charitable work on the basis of her social superiority undercuts Gloria's claim to political radicalism. Unlike Parker, whose politics emerge directly from her absolute devotion to God, Gloria grounds her abolitionist sympathies in a quasi-literary sentimentality that frequently seems disconnected from any actual slaves; when Gloria attends a meeting of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society, she does so got up in a fantastic dress and hat, ornamented by a feather "which, to her romantic imagination, seemed an emblem of defiance to all oppressors" (45). For Gloria, abolitionism is ripe with opportunities (albeit not always conscious ones) for self-display, but also enacting her own fantasies of heroism and heroinism. When the meeting is broken up as part of a (historical) attack on Garrison, she cannot but fall for her rescuer, Pindar Pomfret, who takes the part of a "devoted champion" (77) straight out of historical romance.
By opting for the evil Pindar over the evangelical Henry Alleine (a fictional descendant of Joseph Alleine), Gloria starts down the anti-romance path familiar from legions of realist novels warning female readers of the dangers of excessive sentiment. Amazingly, Gloria marries Pindar not only after he gives her a "serpent-shaped bracelet" (116), which anyone half-awake would realize is Not a Good Sign, but, even worse, is revealed by Mary Parker to be one of the men who put a price on Garrison's head (122). Given that Pindar has already revealed himself to be pro-slavery, Gloria's decision to marry him is yet another instance of romantic folly, in which she gives way to his melodramatic threat of suicide should she desert him. (Moral of the story: choose the Boring Christian over the Exciting Swashbuckler.) To no reader's very great surprise, Pindar turns out to be an emotionally abusive husband and gold-digger, but more importantly from the novel's point of view, he effectively squelches Gloria's initial efforts to convert. Equally, he wrecks her feeble efforts to continue abolitionist work; she is not even able to free Dido, now her slave, without Pindar's permission, and in the end he simply sells Dido out from under her. "I told you before that a wife has no property of her own," sneers Pindar (186), implicitly linking Gloria's legal and moral condition in this bad marriage to slavery. It is no wonder that when Pindar is finally killed many years later at the beginning of the Civil War, he leaves his wife bankrupted morally as well as spiritually.
It should surprise no-one that the novel's fervent support for abolitionism is accompanied by some extremely stereotypical representations of the slaves and freedmen themselves, who are either saints (if saved) or moral dissolutes (if not). The novel insists that freed African-Americans can only establish their moral characters on a sound footing by converting to a combination of evangelicalism and self-help. Arguably, the novel's most heroic figure is Garrison's fictional servant, a freedman named Juba (who, for some reason, insists on calling Garrison "massa"). He sacrifices himself three times over the course of the narrative: first, he is badly injured protecting Garrison; next, he voluntarily gives himself up to slavery to redeem his sister Dido from the Holly plantation (which Gloria was supposed to inherit, and eventually does); and finally, he earns his freedom a second time by saving Cornelius, the son of his abusive new owner, from drowning. As dear Corny points out to readers who might be too dull to pick up on the analogy, sacrifice #2 sounds suspiciously like Christ's (214), which Juba modestly disclaims, but the comparison stands. (Juba's superior sanctity gives his relationship to Garrison something of a Crusoe-Friday flavor.) While Juba's Christian heroism certainly points up Gloria's own moral failures, said heroism is still accompanied by a lot of ow-inducing stereotypes (he's a bit of a trickster, always singing, eternally grateful and deferential to all the white people...). By contrast, Tucker's treatment of the biracial "Dame" Araminta Diggens, who is arguably even more of a racist monster than Pindar, suggests some real anxieties about intermarriage. An unobservant Catholic, in stark contrast to the various types of Protestant otherwise wandering through the text, the highly-fertile Araminta twice marries white men--the second time to Gloria's own grandfather, Mr. Holly. Unlike Juba and Dido, Araminta aspires to cross boundaries of sex, race, and class: she usurps Mr. Holly's role as the head of the plantation, violently separates herself from the Black slaves, and tries to perform the role of genteel lady. First appearing "gorgeously dressed, but in exceedingly vulgar style" (157-58), Araminta parodies Gloria's own performative garb at the abolitionist meeting--but where Gloria dresses symbolically for those who care to notice, Araminta opts for such excess as to signal nothing but her own lack of gentility. Later, as Mrs. Holly, Araminta refurbishes the house in grandiose style, but pinches pennies when it comes to the actual redecorating process--with predictable results. Significantly, her attempt to displace Gloria ultimately fails, for although she inherits the estate from Mr. Holly, it does not descend to her children (it's not clear if any of the children are Holly's). After emancipation, it is not up to the biracial woman to manage an estate of freedmen, but the much-chastened white woman, now fitted to the task after years of extreme suffering and spiritual renewal.