by Adrianne Morris
As Stuart Sim notes, “[p]oliticians are fond of promoting the virtue of the family unit as a way of establishing the right moral values in the individual […] the assumption is that parents can always be relied upon to have the child’s best interest at heart” (105). A study of literature by woman novelists, however, finds varied representations of the parent figure, specifically the male guardian. When it comes to the adoptive father, Ann Radcliffe, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Nora Roberts provide readers with examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Pierre La Motte in Radcliffe’s The Romance in the Forest and Dorriforth in Inchbald’s A Simple Story arepatriarchal, self-interested guardians who do little to improve their wards, Adeline and Miss Milner. On the other hand, Gwayne in Roberts’ The Witching Hour and Arnaud La Luc in The Romance in the Forest are benevolent guardians, who encourage the training and foster the educations of Aurora and Adeline.
In Caroline Gonda’s Reading Daughters’ Fictions 1709-1834: Novels and Society from Manley to Edgeworth, she argues that early modern novels by women illustrate that “[w]hat daughters have to fear is not the tyrannical exercise of paternal power but the dangerous results of paternal weakness” (176). This quote certainly applies to Pierre La Motte, who, as the narrator explains, “would have been a good man; [but] as it was, he was always weak” (Radcliffe 2). La Motte’s chief weakness is that he is selfish, as is evident in the scene in which, during their travels, Adeline becomes ill in the carriage and must see a physician. Despite the clear hardships already endured by Adeline, La Motte, on the run from his creditors, worries more about himself, concerned with “[being] exposed to destruction by the illness of a girl, whom he did not know, and who ha[s] actually been forced upon him, [all of which he sees as] a misfortune” (12). He cares little about the fact that he has made his family fugitives from the law and pities only himself. La Motte asks his family, “Is it […] so wonderful, that a man, who has lost almost every thing, should sometimes lament his misfortunes [?] […] or so criminal to attempt concealing his grief, that he must be blamed for it by those, whom he would save from the pain of sharing it[?]” (48). But certainly La Motte has not saved the others from grief; he has instead induced them to suffer in exile for his poor financial decisions.
La Motte’s selfishness is also evident in the scene in which Adeline and the entire family are hiding beneath the trapdoor out of fear of being discovered. Adeline offers to go up and explore the grounds for soldiers, an instance that Anne Chandler sees as demonstrating the heroine’s optimistic belief in the renewability of solace. La Motte’s response to Adeline’s act of bravery on behalf of the others is telling. He says, “If you should be seen, you must account for you appearance so as not to discover me” (63). Here La Motte thinks only of his own safety by agreeing to let Adeline proceed into a dangerous situation. In doing so, he clearly denies his responsibility to protect her.
La Motte’s ugliest failure comes when he offers to arrange a sexual tryst between the Marquis and Adeline. La Motte says, “Name your hour, my Lord, you shall not be interrupted […. and] I will be there to conduct you to her chamber” (225). Essentially, La Motte offers to trade Adeline’s body for his own freedom: he hopes that the Marquis will forgive him for the attempted robbery in exchange for Adeline’s virginity. In essence, La Motte only looks out for himself, expecting Adeline to submit to him and to the Marquis, acting in their best interests instead of hers.
Similarly, Inchbald’s Dorriforth is also a bad father figure. He has the ability to be a strong protector except “there [is] in his nature shades of evil—there [is] an obstinacy; such as he himself, and his friends term firmness of mind” (33-34). Caroline Breashers points out that “[i]nstead of prescribing roles,” A Simple Story “explores the consequences of competing masculine ideals” (453). Dorriforth is, Breashears states, “a man of feeling and a man of honour,” but he “illustrates difficulty reconciling these models” (453). He struggles with Miss Milner because she challenges and provokes him.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Dorriforth is a devout Catholic who expects Miss Milner to submit to patriarchal authority and adhere to the Christian tenets of female propriety. He does not like that she attends “[b]alls, plays, [and keeps] incessant company” (27). He orders her to refrain from going out by stating, “[o]nce more shew your submission by obeying me […] and be assured I shall issue my commands with greater circumspection for the future, as I find how strictly they are complied with” (33). Dorriforth reacts harshly to Miss Milner because he believes that he is “deterring her from the evil of disobedience” (30). He also, Breashear suggests, feels threatened by Miss Milner because “too much indulgence in luxury or association with women might render a man weak” (454).
In an effort to assert his authority, Dorriforth attempts to control Miss Milner’s clothing and her spending habits (163). When Miss Milner arrives home from the masquerade having disobeyed Dorriforth and still dressed in her controversial costume, he threatens to separate from her (163). She pleads with him, reminding him of her late father’s wishes that Dorriforth be her guardian, and he responds, pointing to her dress, “[a]ppeal to your father in some other form, in that he will not know you” (165) (italics mine). While Dorriforth does love Miss Milner, he continuously faults her because she is unwilling to obey him.
In both novels, the men act out of their own self-interest. La Motte tries to save himself by arranging for Adeline to submit to the Marquis, and Dorriforth demands that Miss Milner surrender to his commands. Neither young woman is allowed to be her true self with her male guardian and instead feels required to submit in order to gain his approval.
Gwayne and Arnaud La Luc, on the other hand, act as both mentor and protector to Aurora and Adeline, respectively. These men extend support to the heroines even though they are not their biological fathers, performing their roles with integrity, kindness, and fortitude. Gwayne and La Luc contribute to the success of the women by training, protecting, and educating them. Through their adoptive fathers, Aurora and Adeline learn skills and gain the knowledge typically taught only to boys. Gwayne teaches Aurora to fight, to hunt, and to fish, while La Luc fosters Adeline’s love of reading by allowing her access to his library and cultivating an intellectual environment that allows Adeline to thrive. Additionally, both father figures provide the women with affection, which renders emotional security within their relationship.
Aurora’s destiny entails that she become a warrior queen, and, like a good father, Gwayne trains her in the skills she needs in order to fulfill this prophecy. Ultimately, she must win back her family’s land and become ruler of the kingdom of Twylia. Gwayne “teache[s] her what a warrior needs to know” (Roberts 12) in order to fight the evil usurper Lorcan. Gwayne takes pride in the fact that Aurora can “hunt and fight and ride as well as any man he [has] trained” (15). He has attended to Aurora’s formal education as well, and the consequence of this benevolent attention is that Aurora can “think,” “read,” “write,” “cipher,” and “chart” (16). He also exhibits thoughtfulness and concern when determining how he will tell Aurora of her birthright. He wonders how he can “honor his vow to keep her safe and honor his vow to tell her of her birthright” (16). As Aurora relates a dream to him, about a royal beautiful lady weeping for the world awaiting the true one, he realizes that he must inform her of her destiny. Gwayne determines that she is fully prepared to handle the information and tells her, “You are the True One, Aurora, and as I love you, I wish it were another” (19). Each step closer he grieves for her, yet also supports her, all the while considering her well-being and safety. Taken in whole, his care indicates the integrity of a strong father figure, and it is noteworthy that his role in her life is to equip her with the training and education necessary for success.
Similarly, Arnaud La Luc’s temper is both “generous and affectionate” (Radcliffe 254), and he fosters for Adeline an accepting and educational environment that allows her to thrive. According to Caroline Gonda, “La Luc [is] the model image of father as educator: cultivated and knowledgeable himself” (178). He encourages her love of philosophy, law, and, most importantly, poetry. The narrator describes Adeline as having “found that no species of writing had power so effectual to withdraw her mind from the contemplation of its own misery as the higher kinds of poetry” (Radcliffe 261). When she lives with Arnaud, Adeline often opens “a volume of Shakespeare or Milton” to “lull her to forgetfulness of grief” (261). Adeline finds herself pleased in her new home and feels her mind restored, and it is La Luc who contributes to Adeline’s restoration by facilitating the advancement of her already proficient mind.
Not only does La Luc promote the merit of education, but he also offers the crucial parental love and acceptance that Adeline has been searching for when he tells Adeline that she and Clara will “be equally [his] daughters” and pronounces that he is “rich in having such children” (259). Adeline is finally part of a family, something she has never had or felt before (259). Adeline already has strong virtues well before she meets Arnaud, but her heart is empty because she lacks the “affections of a parent” (37). Arnaud restores Adeline’s faith in humanity by accepting her and cultivating a trusting relationship with her. La Luc fills the emptiness and lessens her mournful apprehensions of perceiving herself as “[a]n orphan in this wide world—thrown upon the friendship of strangers for comfort, and upon their bounty for the very means of existence” (101). La Luc envelops her in a blanket of comfort by simply loving her. He provides Adeline with the stability and positive mentoring that she needs. La Luc genuinely cares for Adeline’s well-being because his chief pleasure in life is “to see his children happy” (249). La Luc’s ability to fill the void in Adeline’s heart represents the missing piece of her puzzle. His acts of kindness fulfill her and give her the fortitude to face more difficult challenges with success.
The portrayals of these good guardians are quite remarkable. In each case, we see an adoptive father nurturing a young girl and training her in the traditionally masculine activities of warfare and study. Both men act as protectors and offer the women the necessary support to thrive at critical times in their lives. Taken together, Radcliffe, Inchbald, and Roberts provide representations of male guardians that demonstrate the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of paternal power. At the same time, they question what Gonda calls “the customs of society [and the] industry open to women” (177). Largely because of the support they receive from their adoptive fathers, Aurora emerges as a warrior queen and Adeline as an intellectual and a poet. In this way, Roberts’ short story and Radcliffe’s novel speak volumes about the importance of a benevolent father figure in a young woman’s life.
Breashears, Caroline. “Defining Masculinity in A Simple Story.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 16.3 (April 2004): 451-70. Print.
Chandler, Anne. “Ann Radcliffe and Natural Theology.” Studies in the Novel 38.2 (Summer 2006): 133-53. Print.
Gonda, Caroline. Reading Daughters’ Fictions 1709-1834: Novels and Society from Manley to Edgeworth. Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. A Simple Story. New York: Oxford, 2009. Print.
Radcliffe, Ann. The Romance in the Forest. New York: Oxford, 2009. Print.
Roberts, Nora. The Witching Hour. In Once Upon a Midnight. Contributors Nora Roberts, Jill Gregory, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Marianna Willman. New York: Jove, 2003. Print.
Sim, Stuart. The Eighteenth-Century Novel and Contemporary Social Issues: An Introduction. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh UP, 2008. Print.