An Unconventional Heroine – The Magnificent Miss Fluart

A few days ago I was in a second hand bookshop, and chanced upon the Folio Society edition of Hermsprong, vaguely remembering the title I opened it, saw it had been originally published in 1796, and glanced through it, reading the odd pages. Then I saw one of the illustrations which surprised me, I therefore bought the book and so discovered the magnificent Miss Fluart.

Hermsprong is a philosophical novel, which means that the hero, the eponymous Hermsprong, is constantly philosophising. The characters can be divided into four groups, the good who are generally irritating, the bad who are universally wicked, the unfortunate who exist for the bad to oppress and the good to aid, and Miss Fluart.

The basic story is as follows, Hermsprong appears in the village owned and ruled by the wicked Lord Grondale, who has one daughter (beautiful and oppressed) who naturally falls in love with Hermsprong. Miss Maria Fluart, beautiful, independent and rich (£20,000) is the daughters close friend and, in order to keep a close watch on the girl to make sure she isn’t persuaded into an unsuitable marriage, allows Lord Grondale to court her. On a walk in the gardens of Lord Grondale’s house she discovers this might not be as safe as she thought.

Lord Grondale, soon after his accession to the estate, had built a sort of pleasure-house, an octagon, on an artificial mount. It had obtained the name of the Pavilion. In his earlier years, his lordship made of it a sort of temple of Fame, and adorned it with the portraits of his own best hunters and racers. This taste declining, these portraits had given place to paintings of another species,-capital, no doubt, his lordship having been considered as a connoisseur.

A few yards from the pavilion, turning a walk, Miss Fluart almost ran against Lord Grondale. The good peer said, with a tone of good nature, ‘Have I the pleasure to see Miss Fluart here, and alone?’

‘Caroline is indolent,’ Miss Fluart answered; ‘she chose the zephyrs of her own apartment, rather than the zephyrs of your lordship’s groves. Oh dear!’-she continued-‘now I think of it, I have long had a desire to take a peep into your lordship’s pavilion, where you have never yet invited me.’

‘I invite you now, then,’ said Lord Grondale, hobbling up the steps, and unlocking the door.

‘I hear,’ says she, ascending, ‘it is a little palace of paintings.’

The first object which struck her view, was herself, her beauteous self, many times multiplied. This was fascinating, no doubt; but she got rid of it as soon as she could, and threw her eye on a lovely piece representing Jachimo taking notes of the mole cinque-spotted on the beauteous bosom of Imogen. The next was Atalanta straining to recover the ground she had lost by the golden apples; her bosom bare, her zone unloosed, her garments streaming with the wind. From the four following pieces, the pavilion might not improperly have been denominated the temple of Venus. The first gave the goddess rising from the sea. The second, asleep ;-a copy of Titian. The third, accompanied with Juno and Minerva, appealing to Paris. The fourth, in Vulcan’s net with Mars.

However capital these might be, they were such as ladies are not accustomed to admire in the presence of gentlemen. There was, however, a superb sofa, on which a lady might sit down with all possible propriety. Miss Fluart did sit down; but the prospect from thence rather increased than diminished a little matter of confusion which she felt on the view of the company she seemed to have got into.

She was rising to leave the pavilion, when his lordship, in the most gallant manner possible, claimed a fine, due, he said, by the custom of the manor, from every lady who honoured that sofa by sitting upon it. I know not why, the lady seemed to feel an alarm; and was intent only upon running away, whilst his lordship was intent only upon seizing his forfeit. A fine muslin apron was ill treated upon this occasion; a handkerchief was ruffled, and some beautiful hair had strayed from its confinement, and wantoned upon its owner’s polished neck. She got away, however, from this palace of painting, and its dangerous sofa.

‘Upon my word, my dear Miss Fluart,’ said his lordship, getting down after her as fast as he was able, ‘you are quite a prude today: I thought you superior to the nonsense of your sex,-the making such a rout about a kiss.’

‘A kiss! Lord bless me,’ said Miss Fluart, ‘I thought, from the company your lordship had brought me into, and the mode of your attack, you had wanted to undress me.’

Hermsprong a

Even after escaping from his clutches in his pornographic pavilion, Miss Fluart continues to stay at Lord Grondale’s, in order to protect Caroline (the daughter), though perhaps she takes additional precautions.

Everything comes to a head when Lord Grondale finally decides to force his daughter to marry the disgusting (but rich) Sir Philip Chestrum. Miss Fluart deliberately quarrels with Lord Grondale and is ordered from the house. Weeping, she leaves the house, her face buried in a handkerchief. The wedding proceeds, as the bride removes her veil she is discovered to be Miss Fluart! Caroline had escaped pretending to be Miss Fluart.

Lord Grondale is understandably furious;

‘Out of this house you shall not stir, till I deliver you up to due course of law.’

‘And pray, my lord, by what authority do you pretend to confine me? Watson{Caroline’s servant}, you are my servant now: I order you to follow me. We are under the necessity of leaving this hospitable house by force.-Stand off, my lord.’

His lordship now began to bawl out for his servants. The butler ran, the cook, and two footmen.

‘Stop this woman,’ said his lordship; ‘stop her, I charge you!’

‘Let me see who dare,’ said Miss Fluart, producing a pistol, and almost overturning his lordship as she passed. ‘Seize them, I command you,’ said the enraged Lord Grondale.

No one obeyed; and the intrepid Miss Fluart walked on to the hall-door, which she opened herself unimpeded even by the porter.

Hermsprong b

It was the illustration of Miss Fluart fully armed that so surprised me.

But Maria Fluart was to remain unconventional to the end (of the novel). Lord Grondale dies when Hermsprong is proved to be the rightful heir of his estate. Hermsprong marries his daughter and everybody else is duly married off …. And Miss Fluart.

She settles down with a girlfriend!

So raise a glass to the wonderful Miss Maria Fluart, the most unconventional heroine of any Georgian novel.

 

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3 Comments

Filed under Georgian, Literary puzzle

3 responses to “An Unconventional Heroine – The Magnificent Miss Fluart

  1. Maybe you have inadvertently stumbled upon, and introduced us to, the first female super hero 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a gal! She deserves a wider audience!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Phantom Coach, or Miss Fluart’s Relations | The Curious Archaeologist

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