The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 4.

“Feels every vanity in fondness lost,

And asks no power but that of pleasing most.”

On Sunday evening a large company assembled at our heroine’s summons. They were all seated in due form: the reader with his book open, and waiting for the arrival of the bride, for whom a conspicuous place was destined, where the spectators, and especially Mrs. Nettleby and our Griselda, could enjoy a full view of her countenance.

“Lord bless me! it is getting late: I am afraid — I am really afraid Mrs. Granby will not come.”

The ladies had time to discuss who and what she was: as she had lived in the country, few of them had seen, or could tell any thing about her; but our heroine circulated her opinion in whispers, and every one was prepared to laugh at the pattern wife, the original Griselda revived, as Mrs. Nettleby sarcastically called her.

Mrs. Granby was announced. The buzz was hushed and the titter suppressed; affected gravity appeared in every countenance, and all eyes turned with malicious curiosity upon the bride as she entered. — The timidity of Emma’s first appearance was so free both from awkwardness and affectation, that it interested at least every gentleman present in her favour. Surrounded by strangers, but quite unsuspicious that they were prepared to consider her as an object of ridicule or satire, she won her way to the lady of the house, to whom she addressed herself as to a friend.

“Is not she quite a different person from what you had expected?” whispered one of the ladies to her neighbour, as Emma passed. Her manner seemed to solicit indulgence rather than to provoke envy. She was very sorry to find that the company had been waiting for her; she had been detained by the sudden illness of Mr. Granby’s mother.

Whilst Emma was making this apology, some of the audience observed that she had a remarkably sweet voice; others discovered that there was something extremely feminine in her person. A gentleman, who saw that she was distressed at the idea of being seated in the conspicuous place to which she was destined by the lady of the house, got up, and offered his seat, which she most thankfully accepted.

“Oh, my dear Mrs. Granby, I cannot possibly allow you to sit there,” cried the lady of the house. “You must have the honours of the day,” added she, seizing Emma’s hand to conduct her to the place of honour.

“Pray excuse me,” said Mrs. Granby, “honours are so little suited to me: I am perfectly well here.”

“But with that window at your back, my dear madam!” said Mrs. Nettleby.

“I do not feel the slightest breath of air. But perhaps I crowd these ladies.”

“Not in the least, not in the least,” said the ladies, who were on each side of her: they were won by the irresistible gentleness of Emma’s manner. Our heroine was vexed to be obliged to give up her point; and relinquishing Mrs. Granby’s hand, returned to her own seat, and said in a harsh tone to her husband,

“Well! my dear, if we are to have any reading to-night, you had better begin.”

The reading began; and Emma was so completely absorbed, that she did not perceive that most of the audience were intent upon her. Those who act any part may be ridiculous in the playing it, but those are safe from the utmost malignity of criticism who are perfectly unconscious that they have any part to perform. Emma had been abashed at her first appearance in an assembly of strangers, and concerned by the idea that she had kept them waiting; but as soon as this embarrassment passed over, her manners resumed their natural ease — a degree of ease which surprised her judges, and which arose from the persuasion that she was not of sufficient consequence to attract attention. Our heroine was provoked by the sight of this insolent tranquillity, and was determined that it should not long continue. The reader came to the promise which Gualtherus exacts from his bride:—

“Swear that with ready will, and honest heart,

Like or dislike, without regret or art,

In presence or alone, by night or day,

All that I will, you fail not to obey;

All I intend to forward, that you seek,

Nor ever once object to what I speak.

Nor yet in part alone my wish fulfil;

Nor though you do it, do it with ill-will;

Nor with a forced compliance half refuse;

And acting duty, all the merit lose.

To strict obedience add a willing grace,

And let your soul be painted in your face;

No reasons given, and no pretences sought,

To swerve in deed or word, in look or thought.”

“Well, ladies!” cried the modern Griselda, “what do you think of this?”

Shrill exclamations of various vehemence expressed with one accord the sentiments, or rather feelings, of almost all the married ladies who were present.

“Abominable! Intolerable! Insufferable! Horrible! I would rather have seen the man perish at my feet; I would rather have died: I would have remained unmarried all my life rather than have submitted to such terms.”

A few young unmarried ladies who had not spoken, or who had not been heard to speak in the din of tongues, were appealed to by the gentlemen next them. They could not be prevailed upon to pronounce any distinct opinion: they qualified, and hesitated, and softened, and equivocated, and “were not positively able to judge, for really they had never thought upon the subject.”

Upon the whole, however, it was evident that they did not betray that natural horror which pervaded the more experienced matrons. All agreed that the terms were “hard terms,” and ill expressed: some added, that only love could persuade a woman to submit to them: and some still more sentimental maidens, in a lower voice, were understood to say, that as nothing is impossible to Cupid, they might be induced to such submission; but that it must be by a degree of love which they solemnly declared they had never felt or could imagine as yet.

“For my part,” cried the modern Griselda, “I would sooner have lived an old maid to the days of Methusalem than have been so mean as to have married any man on earth upon such terms. But I know there are people who can never think ‘marriage dear-bought.’ My dear Mrs. Granby, we have not yet heard your opinion, and we should have had yours first, as bride.”

“I forgot that I was bride,” said Emma.

“Forgot! Is it possible?” cried Mrs. Nettleby: “now this is an excess of modesty of which I have no notion.”

“But for which Mr. Granby,” continued our heroine, turning to Mr. Granby, who at this moment entered the room, “ought to make his best bow. Here is your lady, sir, who has just assured us that she forgot she was a bride: bow to this exquisite humility.”

“Exquisite vanity!” cried Mr. Granby; “she knows

“‘How much the wife is dearer than the bride.’”

“She will be a singularly happy woman if she knows that this time twelvemonth,” replied our heroine, darting a reproachful look at her silent husband. “In the mean time, do let us hear Mrs. Granby speak for herself; I must have her opinion of Griselda’s promise to obey her lord, right or wrong, in all things, no reasons given, to submit in deed, and word, and look, and thought. If Mrs. Granby tells us that is her theory, we must all reform our practice.”

Every eye was fixed upon Emma, and every ear was impatient for her answer.

“I should never have imagined,” said she, smiling, “that any person’s practice could be influenced by my theory, especially as I have no theory.”

“No more humility, my dear; if you have no theory, you have an opinion of your own, I hope, and we must have a distinct answer to this simple question: Would you have made the promise that was required from Griselda?”

“No,” answered Emma; “distinctly no; for I could never have loved or esteemed the man who required such a promise.”

Disconcerted by this answer, which was the very reverse of what she expected; amazed at the modest self-possession with which the timid Emma spoke, and vexed by the symptoms of approbation which Emma’s words and voice excited, our heroine called upon her husband, in a more than usually authoritative tone, and bid him — read on.

He obeyed. Emma became again absorbed in the story, and her countenance showed how much she felt all its beauties, and all its pathos. Emma did all she could to repress her feelings; and our heroine all she could to make her and them ridiculous. But in this attempt she was unsuccessful; for many of the spectators, who at her instigation began by watching Emma’s countenance to find subject for ridicule, ended by sympathizing with her unaffected sensibility.

When the tale was ended, the modern Griselda, who was determined to oppose as strongly as possible the charms of spirit to those of sensibility, burst furiously forth into an invective against the meanness of her namesake, and the tyranny of the odious Gualtherus.

Could you have forgiven him, Mrs. Granby? could you have forgiven the monster?”

“He repented,” said Emma; “and does not a penitent cease to be a monster?”

“Oh, I never, never would have forgiven him, penitent or not penitent; I would not have forgiven him such sins.”

“I would not have put it into his power to commit them,” said Emma.

“I confess the story never touched me in the least,” cried our heroine.

“Perhaps for the same reason that Petrarch’s friend said that he read it unmoved,” replied Mrs. Granby: “because he could not believe that such a woman as Griselda ever existed.”

“No, no, not for that reason: I believe many such poor, meek, mean-spirited creatures exist.”

Emma was at length wakened to the perception of her friend’s envy and jealousy; but —

“She mild forgave the failing of her sex.”

“I cannot admire the original Griselda, or any of her imitators,” continued our heroine.

“There is no great danger of her finding imitators in these days,” said Mr. Granby. “Had Chaucer lived in our enlightened times, he would doubtless have drawn a very different character.”

The modern Griselda looked “fierce as ten furies.” Emma softened her husband’s observation by adding, “that allowance should certainly be made for poor Chaucer, if we consider the times in which he wrote. The situation and understandings of women have been so much improved since his days. Women were then slaves, now they are free. My dear,” whispered she to her husband, “your mother is not well; shall we go home?”

Emma left the room; and even Mrs. Nettleby, after she was gone, said, “Really she is not ugly when she blushes.”

“No woman is ugly when she blushes,” replied our heroine; “but, unluckily, a woman cannot always blush.”

Finding that her attempt to make Emma ridiculous had failed, and that it had really placed Mrs. Granby’s understanding, manners, and temper in a most advantageous and amiable light, Griselda was mortified beyond measure. She could scarcely bear to hear Emma’s name mentioned.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54