Two more of my distant cousin Amy Dillwyn’s novels today, a natural pairing.
Jill is in my view the best of Amy Dillwyn’s seven novels (or at least of the six that I have read). It was published in 1884, the same year as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
We were making a tour through Holland and Friesland, and, when at Amsterdam, happened to make acquaintance with a Mrs. Grove, a widow, accompanied by two daughters, who were respectively two and three years older than me. I did not take to her at all, and thought she seemed a flattering, lying, pushing, cringing, vulgar individual; but having carelessly thought that much of her, I dismissed her from my mind as a person with whom I had nothing to do, and whose character was quite immaterial to me – little thinking what a bête noire she was to prove to me afterwards!
Gilbertina Trecastle, known as Jill, flees her abusive stepmother and stepsisters and disguises herself as a lady’s maid in order to get close to the woman she loves. She has numerous adventures, including burning the whiskers off an amorous valet, a hilarious but unsuccessful stint as a dog-walker, and getting locked up in a Corsican charnel-house with the object of her affections. She is cheerfully amoral and doesn’t let herself get ground down by adverse circumstances. It would make a great TV mini-series – the story is pretty episodic, and well-told. I found the (electronic) pages turning really quickly. I hope someone recommends it to Russell T. Davies.
There was one plot point that I found legally questionable: at the end, Jill is financially redeemed because her father forgot to change his will when marrying her stepmother. I know that under current British law, a will is invalidated upon a later marriage, and I’d be a bit surprised if that wasn’t already the case in 1884.
Jill and Jack, the sequel, came out in 1887, the same year as A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy, and Allan Quatermain and She by H. Rider Haggard. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
For a right comprehension of Lady Wroughton’s attitude it must be explained that she was quite incapable of having set her heart as she had done on the match if she had not really entertained a sufficiently good opinion of the proposed bride to justify this conduct; and that she was not one of those heartless , unscrupulous mothers who care only for worldly advantages , and could be so destitute of right feeling and true regard for a son’s happiness as to have desired him to marry any one whom she thought seriously objectionable. On the contrary, such a marriage would have been abhorrent to her; and she did really and honestly believe Miss Trecastle to be a person possessing merits enough to render her likable and estimable, and worthy the high honour of becoming the wife of Sir John.
Here Jill and her friend, Sir John Wroughton (an eligible young baronet), get together to rescue a friend who is being victimised by her guardians in house nearby both of theirs. There are frightful threats, intricate knowledge of local train timetables, and a daring rescue mission with one of the villains plunging to an awful doom. It’s non-stop melodrama and very entertaining if not quite up to the level of Jill on her own. Meanwhile Sir John’s mother, who starts by thinking of Jill as excellent daughter-in-law material, finds out what she got up to in the previous book and changes her mind; but it’s okay, as Sir John’s own views change in the opposite direction, and there is a happy ending all round. It would make a decent single episode of the Russell T. Davies mini-series, or maybe a two-parter.