Mary Winter's Alton Park; Or Conversations on Religious and Moral Subjects; Chiefly Designed for the Amusement of Young Ladies (1830) conceals a Catholic novel beneath its carefully-worded title. The "conversations" in the title indicates its participation in a long eighteenth-century tradition, both in England and on the Continent, of framing educational texts as dialogues amongst a variety of characters (parents, siblings, etc.); this particular genre was crucial to the development of the controversial novel, which relied heavily on conversational, debate, and trial frameworks to elucidate doctrine. Alton Park is, moreover, a quite early example of overtly Catholic English Catholic novels (title aside).
Unfortunately, it's also terrible. It would be a great subject for distant reading--as in, I would love to maintain a distance of several miles between myself and this novel. Alas, that cannot be. I will therefore momentarily drop any pretenses of being an Absolutely Serious Scholar[TM] and engage in a snarky live blog, because I cannot see how else I'm going to slog my way through this monstrosity. That is, I could, but I might frighten the kittens with my frequent snarls of rage.
Here we go.
5:05 PM: We meet three young girls, Teresa, Frances, and Maria, one of whom is celebrating the fact that mama has just canned their governess.
5:06 PM: Characters have interjected "hastily" twice in two pages. Such repetitions are always a bad sign.
5:07 PM: Frances is "very unhappy," which somehow tempts the reader to go all Carlyle on her.
5:07 PM: Sibling rivalry!
5:09 PM: Sir James, aka Daddy, enters. He coos condescendingly over Jane, an orphan, who "felt I had no right to obtrude myself on your notice, though my heart longed to express its grateful acknowledgments" (14).
In case you're wondering: yes, all the dialogue reads this way.
All of it.
5:10 PM: Frances proceeds to be a jerk to Jane. I take it that this child is being set up to suffer a terrible humiliating disease, or something of the sort.
5:11 PM: It's chapter III, and the author remembers that perhaps some backstory is in order.
5:12 PM: Except that the author is starting off with someone whose relationship to the characters is undefined (grandpa? cousin? older brother? what?).
5:13 PM: It's the old "guy wrecks himself with partying, finally remembers the existence of God" plot, I see.
5:14 PM: Fortunately, he's now "happy, because he was virtuous" (17). Keep that in mind, party animals.
5:14 PM: Our new friend Sir William is having one of those "my identity is a total secret, I'll just lead this servant on" conversations. In literature, these always end well. In reality, you'd think that somebody would wind up with a broken nose, or something.
5:16 PM: Servant: "Cool! It's the guy I've just been insulting! Hugs all around!"
5:17 PM: After informing us that Sir William is totes happy and virtuous, the author now has him insist that he's lost all his religious know-how, the poor wretch. This seems like...a contradiction?
5:19 PM: Now Sir William complains of being beset by permanent "remorse and misery" (25). Apparently, characters in this book suffer from rapid mood swings.
Incidentally, we still have no clue who Sir William is.
5:21 PM: Lecture on the nature of divine mercy in process.
5:22 PM: Servant: "Help! This guy is treating me as an equal! I must abase myself before any readers get dangerous ideas about egalitarianism!"
5:23 PM: Oh dear--Sir William is ill.
5:24 PM: Finally, now that Sir William is kaput, we find out that he's Sir James' cousin.
5:25 PM: Can tears actually "inundat[e]" someone's face? (33) I have visions of a veritable flood.
5:27 PM: "Ah, why [...] are not all mankind of the same religion?" (33) The character is dying, so I think we lack time to cover several dozen monographs' worth of material here.
5:28 PM: Another "hastily." I am hastily coming to conclusions about the range of adverbs at this author's disposal.
5:30 PM: The character, Jane's father, is dying (hastily?) and therefore is capable of carrying on conversations at remarkable length.
5:31 PM: The Anglican clergyman can't be bothered to put in an appearance at the deathbed, as he's eating. I...I think the author is implying something here. I'm sure it will come to me shortly.
5:32 PM: Mr. Mordaunt clearly needs to remain alive and talking long enough to discuss Catholicism with Sir William's (now Sir James') servant Joseph.
5:33 PM: Mr. Mordaunt elects to die while "embrac[ing] with my whole soul every article of the Catholic faith" (37), even though it's not clear he knows what any of those articles are. This is not, perhaps, the most convincing deathbed conversion scene I've encountered.
5:36 PM: It's not immediately clear why Lady Alton refuses to allow Jane to sit with her father's corpse.
5:37 PM: Young Frances is vain. I detect a deadly sin!
5:37 PM: Time for a lesson on pedagogy.
5:39 PM: Insert animadversions on modern governesses here.
5:40 PM: Little Maria makes converting Jane to Catholicism her pet project.
I think I need a break to eat some ice cream and pet kittens.
5:49 PM: Kittens have been petted, but the ice cream needs to warm up a bit.
I shall return to our regularly scheduled programming.
5:50 PM: And now to justify the decoration of Catholic chapels.
5:51 PM: Apparently, once you've been to a Catholic service, all Protestant services are deadly dull.
5:53 PM: Meanwhile, young Frances describes her governess' practices as "tyranny" (52)...while the governess is standing right there. Clearly a rebel in the making, this one.
5:54 PM: I wonder if there have been any controlled studies on the effectiveness of "this hurts me more than it hurts you."
5:55 PM: Maria is awfully huggy.
5:56 PM: I love how gracious the governess is about being fired, even though the novel has previously represented her as being ineffective and rather obnoxious.
5:57 PM: The author likes the adjective "amiable" just a tad too much.
Gee, I wonder if the ice cream has defrosted enough yet.
6:08 PM: I have now eaten ice cream and petted the kittens again. Contemplated other household tasks, but I'm resolved to get to page 100, at least.
6:10 PM: More discussion of the qualifications for being a governess. Also, a justification for teaching wealthy girls needlework: we've all gotta toil, right?
6:10 PM: Lady Alton: "I need a woman perfect in all respects to be a governess. Oh, let's not talk about money."
6:12 PM: Assault with a deadly "amiable."
6:12 PM: "I'm a lonely orphan. Excuse me while I abase myself before you once again."
6:13 PM: Two amiables on one page?
6:13 PM: Er, wow, Frances is a real brat.
6:16 PM: WHEN AMIABLE ATTACKS
6:17 PM: BE CAREFUL OF THE AMIABLE/IT LEAPS, AND CREEPS, AND SLIDES, AND GLIDES ACROSS THE PAGE...
6:17 PM: I'm not sure that calling someone an "unworthy daughter" (64) qualifies as good twenty-first century parenting technique, but I could be wrong.
6:23 PM: I've been silent for the past several pages while Frances acts like a teenager, despite being only twelve. Tweens these days...
Hang on, my PDF reader has suddenly stopped working. It's providence!
Well, no, it's a glitch of some sort.
In the meantime, I'll pay my gas bill.
6:28 PM: OK, the PDF reader is back. Frances is now contemplating her sins against our amiable orphan. Can she apologize? Tune in next week!
Or, at least, in the next minute or so.
6:29 PM: I groan hastily at the sight of yet another "hastily."
6:30 PM: FRIDAY THE XIII PART XLV: AMIABLE MEETS HASTILY
6:30 PM: Characters are certainly spending a lot of time humbling themselves on the ground.
6:32 PM: Whole lot of scheduling going on.
6:34 PM: And people complain that modern children are over-scheduled...
6:35 PM: More lessons on pedagogy.
6:36 PM: Oh, dear--Frances doesn't like poor people.
6:37 PM: Poor boys are encouraged to grow fruits and vegetables; poor girls are encouraged to grow flowers. Hmmmm.
6:39 PM: We're in the middle of a long excursus on the deserving vs. undeserving poor.
6:41 PM: So if your condition is partially the result of parental neglect, you...don't deserve any charity? Um...
The PDF reader just died yet again, no doubt overwhelmed by the book.
6:45 PM: Rebelling against parental authority also means you don't deserve any charity.
6:47 PM: THE AMIABLE IN THE WOODS
6:48 PM: Guys, it's really important to wake up early in the morning.
6:49 PM: My goodness, this "early to bed, early to rise" spiel is going on for quite some time.
...and that's page 100. Until tomorrow...