Group read: Millenium Hall by Sarah Scott

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Group read: Millenium Hall by Sarah Scott

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Mar 31, 2015, 6:33pm

Millenium Hall by Sarah Scott (1762)

Edited: Mar 31, 2015, 7:44pm

Welcome to the group read of Sarah Scott's Millenium Hall - or, to give the novel its full title:

A Description Of Millenium Hall And The Country Adjacent. Together With The Characters Of The Inhabitants And Such Historical Anecdotes And Reflections As May Excite In The Reader Proper Sentiments Of Humanity, And Lead The Mind To The Love Of Virtue. By 'A Gentleman On His Travels'

This is our second entry in the Virago chronological read project, an attempt to read through the Virago back-catalogue by original publication date. It follows on from a tutored read of Aphra Behn's Love-Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister, which was undertaken towards the end of last year.

Millenium Hall is a pseudo-epistolary novel, by which I mean that although its content is presented in the form of letters, it is really a first-person narrative; no actual correspondence takes place.

The novel is an important work of fiction in several ways (some of them possibly not intended by its author):
- it provides a fascinating snapshot of 'advanced ideas' in 1762, meaning that although some of its content may strike the modern reader as uncomfortable, clearly at the time it was an example of fairly radical thinking
- it shows how a rigidly upheld class system and Christian principles can be reconciled
- at a time when women were progressively being stripped of ancient legal rights and being pressed into the "marriage or nothing" situation which (at least in the middle and upper classes) would dominate women's lives for the next two hundred years, it offers a vision of an alternative lifestyle based upon female autonomy.

Furthermore, in her introduction to the Virago edition of the novel, Jane Spencer suggests that unlike other didactic fiction of the time, which (whether by male or female authors) was overwhelmingly intended for a female audience, Millenium Hall is an example of didactic fiction intended for a male audience.

Edited: Apr 1, 2015, 5:52pm

As was the case with Love-Letters, Millenium Hall is an unstructured work, without conventional chapters, and with lengthy, interpolated narratives.

Can I please ask those participating to indicate whether they are reading the Virago edition, or a different source?

Mar 31, 2015, 7:43pm

I have the Virago edition. Really appreciate the context in >2 lyzard:!!

Mar 31, 2015, 7:45pm

Welcome, Laura - thanks!

Mar 31, 2015, 7:50pm

Also I was glad to read elsewhere that we may not start right away. I have a longer-term read on the go and just started another really good book. But I could easily read this one next.

Apr 1, 2015, 2:52am

I will be reading the Virago edition - I'm picking it up from the library on Saturday so will probably start reading at some point over the bank holiday weekend.

Edited: Apr 1, 2015, 3:25am

I have a kindle version, from Project Gutenberg. I will be following this thread but, as with Love-Letters, I won't commit myself to actually reading the book!

Apr 1, 2015, 4:13am

Getting hold of a copy might be hard, but I shall follow and try to join in if I can! :)

Apr 1, 2015, 4:39am

I will be reading the Virago edition.

Apr 1, 2015, 1:42pm

>2 lyzard: Liz - a question on the gap between Love-Letters (published 1680s) and Millenium Hall (published 1762). Were there other female authors writing in this time period? What sort of things did they write?

>9 kaggsy: I couldn't find any cheap used copies either Karen :-(

Apr 1, 2015, 2:08pm

>11 souloftherose: way to keep the conversation going, Heather, while we all put off actually reading the book. :)

I lucked out and found a used copy on Abebooks back in December. I can't remember what I paid for it, but it couldn't have been very much because I knew I could use Project Gutenberg if need be. I'm not sure how this happened, I don't usually have lucky finds like this -- Karen/kaggsy has that market cornered!

Apr 1, 2015, 2:46pm

>12 lauralkeet: So I'm blaming you for there being no cheap used copies available now? :-)

Apr 1, 2015, 2:59pm

>13 souloftherose: yes I bought the only one on the planet!!

Apr 1, 2015, 3:44pm

>11 souloftherose: >12 lauralkeet: I've taken a punt with a cheap copy off the Big River - it will probably be falling to bits and I'll be sorry..... (the title was spelled wrongly and I nearly missed it on my first search)

Edited: Apr 1, 2015, 5:54pm

Welcome, Heather, Kerry, Karen and Claire!

I am working from the Virago edition, but it is a library book; I was fortunate that my academic library holds a copy.

>11 souloftherose:

Funny you should say that as I was already mentally drafting a mini-rant about Virago's neglect of female authors from this period (and afterwards, since once we're done with Millenium Hall we skip 25 years to our next book...)

Female authors were not hugely prolific during the first half of the 18th century, particularly not prose authors, partly because of the level of female illiteracy, and partly because of strong social disapproval. However, three notable women writers we might highlight are Penelope Aubin, who was important in the gradual shift from the "dog eat dog" mentality which we saw in Aphra Behn's writing, and which was the predominant tone through the early decades of the 18th century, to a more sentimental / compassionate world view; Eliza Hayward, who followed a fascinating career trajectory from writing outrageous sexually-focused "amatory fiction" during the 1720s, to writing didactic fiction during the 1740s (her career interrupted following a vicious public attack upon her by Alexander Pope); and Sarah Fielding, first of the career didacticists, who helped make writing novels respectable.

Ironically it was Samuel Richardson with his mid-century female-centric duo of novels, Pamela and Clarissa, who altered the perception of the novel and the worth of female characters, and paved the way for later female authors. (Ironically not least because Richardson publicly condemned both Behn and Hayward for their "immoral" writing, while being influenced by the former in his own epistolary novels, and making good money out of re-printing the early works of the latter.)

Apr 2, 2015, 5:11am

>11 souloftherose:, >16 lyzard:

There's also Charlotte Lennox, whose best-known novel The female Quixote was published in 1752.

Edited: Apr 2, 2015, 6:21am

Another bit of information about the early female writers which may be of interest:

In the 1980s, Pandora Press published a series of books by early women writers. The series was called ‘Mothers of the Novel’. Dale Spender wrote a history of their literature entitled Mothers of the Novel: 100 good women writers before Jane Austen.
She mentions Lady Mary Wroath and Katherine Philips as two of the early 17th century writers. She also lists Anne Clifford, Lucy Hutchinson, Anne Fanshawe and Margaret Cavendish as early biographers. Spender also mentions Delariviere Manley as an early 17th century author.

Some of the early authors republished in the series were:
Mary Brunton; Mary Hamilton; Maria Edgeworth; Charlotte Smith; Lady Morgan; Amelia Opie; Harriet & Sophia Lee and Mary Sheridan.

Apr 2, 2015, 8:36pm

There were plenty of earlier female writers, and it was okay for a woman to write as long as she confined herself to certain kinds of writing, particularly poetry or biography. Non-fiction dealing with history, science, philosophy or religion was often disapproved because that was viewed as intruding on male territory; women weren't supposed to be knowledgeable enough to write anything worthwhile (though of course, many did!).

But women writing fiction and plays was viewed with suspicion. It was the combination of Richardson and Fielding in the mid-18th century that began to make novel-writing respectable, and Sarah Fielding who made it respectable for women - as long as the novel was heavily didactic. Most of the novels by women that appeared around mid-century followed Sarah Fielding in that respect, including The Female Quixote; most of them deal with the consequences of inadequate female education (moral as well as knowledge-based).

I sometimes think that the reason Evelina went through the roof was because, even though it was still didactic, it was the first of these novels to subsume the didacticism to the story. After Burney, more women were willing to write that way and, as the century progressed, some quite radical stories about women's lives began to appear.

Apr 3, 2015, 7:50pm

I thought some information about Sarah Scott's life might be helpful in interpreting Millenium Hall.

Scott was born Sarah Robinson, a member of a family that was good but not prominent. She was very attached to her older sister, Elizabeth, who married the wealthy Edward Montagu and became an important public figure as a patron of the arts and a "bluestocking" (at a time before that was a term of abuse). However, Elizabeth became so caught up in her new life that she began to neglect and even ignore her sister, who suffered another severe blow when she caught smallpox at the age of twenty and had her looks damaged.

Sarah's life became even more difficult following the death of her mother. Her father began living openly with his mistress, forcing Sarah to find another home; furthermore, her father would not give her any money, so she ended up living on the charity of various relatives. The obvious solution of Sarah living with her wealthy sister did not occur, for reasons unknown.

In 1751, Sarah married George Lewis Scott. Something untoward happened - we do not know what - and the two were very publicly separated less than a year later. It had taken Sarah literally years to get her father to hand over the marriage settlement that was due to her, and of course this went to George Scott. When the legal separation was arranged, Scott returned half of Sarah's fortune - to her father - and agreed to pay Sarah an allowance of one hundred pounds a year, which he was generally late in paying when he paid it at all.

(Female financial dependence is a recurrent theme in Sarah's writing, for obvious reasons.)

In 1747, Sarah met Lady Barbara Montagu (no direct relation of her brother-in-law), the daughter of the Earl of Halifax. The two became the closest of life-long friends, and after Sarah's separation from her husband, they took a house in Bath and lived together until Barbara's death in 1765. The two became members of a circle of female intellectuals and social reformers, which included Sarah Fielding and Jane and Mary Collyer. The group wrote both fiction and non-fiction addressing the existing social structure and women's position in society. After Barbara died, Sarah began an experiment in communal living with a group of female relatives and friends, like herself in restricted financial circumstances, which reflected the theories put forward in Millenium Hall.

Inevitably there has been some speculation about whether Sarah and Barbara were in a lesbian relationship, although consensus of opinion is not; and likewise some sources co-attribute Millenium Hall to Barbara Montagu, though it seems more likely that Sarah wrote the novel while drawing upon the social theories of her friends. Sarah had already witten one novel (The History Of Cornelia, 1750) when Millenium Hall was published, and would go on to write three more, one a translation from the French, as well as several works of biography.

Apr 4, 2015, 1:06am

...the only other remark I'll make at this point is that, given how Scott harps on the "neatness" and "cleanliness" of the various characters, I'm guessing that life in 1762 was generally anything but neat and clean. :)

Apr 5, 2015, 4:52pm

I will probably start reading this evening ...

Apr 6, 2015, 5:32am

>16 lyzard:, >17 Sakerfalcon:, >18 mrspenny:, >19 lyzard: Thanks for the background and author lists to explore. I like the sound of the Mothers of the Novel series (Liz - future project?!?)

>19 lyzard: 'But women writing fiction and plays was viewed with suspicion.'

Would this have been why Millenium Hall was published as written by 'A gentleman on his travels' rather than by 'A lady' or by Sarah Scott?

>21 lyzard: Yes, I noticed that particularly when they were describing the small cottages and their occupants.

I've read the first secion (p1-24 in the Virago edition ending at The History of Miss Mancel and Mrs Morgan) and I'm already finding the extraordinary goodness of all the characters a little bit annoying. I don't think this bodes well for the rest of the book.

Apr 6, 2015, 7:45am

>22 lauralkeet: well I didn't start reading it after all, because a library Kindle loan I had requested finally became available (Hilary Mantel's The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher), so I started that instead. I usually find it best to read short stories along with something else so I'll read Millennium Hall alongside the Mantel. It just means setting another long-term read aside for a bit, but that's OK.

>23 souloftherose: I'm already finding the extraordinary goodness of all the characters a little bit annoying. I don't think this bodes well for the rest of the book.
I'm curious now. I will let you know my reactions after I read a bit tonight! If nothing else we can be annoyed together.

Apr 6, 2015, 7:37pm

>23 souloftherose:

Liz - future project?!?

Yes, yes - the moment we wrap up the chronological Viragos, I promise! :)

Millenium Hall was originally published anonymously, simply with that "By A Gentleman On His Travels" tag. It was actually quite unusual at the time for an author to write from the perspective of the opposite gender (even Samuel Richardson pretended to be the editor of Pamela's letters, not to be Pamela herself). I suspect that Scott chose to put her narrative into a man's mouth - even though much of that narrative is him repeating what women have said to him - in order to give weight to the ideas which are being put forward in this novel, and invest them with male approval.

I'm already finding the extraordinary goodness of all the characters a little bit annoying

I did warn you that this book is heavily didactic! Some less perfect characters do wander in later but by and large the women whose stories are told are on the more perfect (or at least, perfectible) side of the ledger. Furthermore, I think we can take Mrs Morgan and Miss Mancel as sketches of Sarah Scott and Lady Barbara Montagu.

>24 lauralkeet:

Take your time with the read, Laura - it's only a short book and there's no hurry. Just go at your own pace, or read when it suits you, and add any comments as they occur.

Apr 7, 2015, 5:37am

>25 lyzard: 'I did warn you that this book is heavily didactic!' You did :-) I'm finding the history of Miss Mancel and Mrs Morgan less annoying. I think it was the expectations of gratitude that were bothering me in the first section. Interesting to hear Mrs Morgan and Miss Mancel can be taken as sketches of Sarah Scott and Lady Barbara Montagu

Edited: Apr 7, 2015, 8:53am

I started reading last night and read about 15 pages. Not annoyed yet lol, but still getting used to the style.

Liz, can you explain what "didactic" means? I'm not familiar with the term.

Apr 7, 2015, 12:13pm

>27 lauralkeet: Laura, I'm glad to hear that I didn't put you off. I think I must have been feeling particularly grumpy when I started reading as I'm now nearly halfway through and I'm no longer annoyed. Hopefully my grumblings haven't put everyone else off.

Liz will know more of the background to this type of fiction but didactic means 'intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive'. The examples I can think of tend to be 19th or early 20th century children's books like Pollyanna, A Little Princess, What Katy Did and some of Louisa M Alcott's books like Rose in Bloom but I think it was very common in 18th century fiction. Perhaps Richardson's Clarissa and Pamela could also be considered didactic novels?

Edited: Apr 7, 2015, 12:52pm

On p65 of the Virago edition Mrs Maynard explains the rules of the society the ladies of Millenium Hall have set up in a nearby house to afford a place of protection for any gentlewoman 'who from scantiness of fortune, and pride of family, are reduced to become dependent, and to bear all the insolence of wealth from such as will receive them into their families'. I thought it might be worth sharing the rules here for discussion. From reading books like Ruth Brandon's Other People's Daughters and Amanda Vickery's The Gentleman's Daughter and Behind Closed Doors it certainly seemed as if a single woman in Georgian times who is forced to live with some part of her family might very often have to bear 'the insolence of wealth' from her family.

Even today I might be tempted to sign up to the society below - no housework, a good table, some money for clothes and expenses (and remember, books are already provided), your own room and educated company if you want it :-)

The Rules

They drew up several regulations, to secure the peace and good order of the society they designed to form, and sending a copy of it to all their acquaintance, told them that any gentleman's daughter, whose character was unblemished, might, if she desired it, on those terms be received into that society.'

I begged, if it was not too much trouble, to know what the regulations were.

'The first rule,' continued Mrs Maynard, 'was that whoever chose to take the benefit of this asylum, for such I may justly call it, should deposit in the hands of a person appointed for that purpose, whatever fortune she was mistress of, the security being approved by her and her friends, and remaining in her possession. Whenever she leaves the society, her fortune should be repaid her, the interest in the mean time being appropriated to the use of the community. The great design of this was to preserve an exact equality between them; for it was not expected that the interest of any of their fortunes should pay the allowance they were to have for their clothes. If any appeared to have secreted part of her fortune she should be expelled from the society.

'Secondly, each person to have a bed-chamber to herself, but the eating-parlour and drawing-room in common.

'Thirdly, all things for rational amusement shall be provided for the society; musical instruments, of whatever sort they shall choose, books, tents for work, and in short conveniences for every kind of employment.

'Fourthly, they must conform to very regular hours.

'Fifthly, a housekeeper will be appointed to manage the household affairs, and a sufficient number of servants provided.

'Sixthly, each person shall alternately, a week at a time, preside at the table, and give what family orders may be requisite.

'Seventhly, twenty-five pounds a year shall be allowed to each person for her clothes and pocket expenses.

'Eighthly, their dress shall be quite plain and neat, but not particular nor uniform.

'Ninthly, the expenses of sickness shall be discharged by the patronesses of this society.

'Tenthly, if any one of the ladies behaves with imprudence she shall be dismissed, and her fortune returned; likewise if any should by turbulence or pettishness of temper disturb the society, it shall be in the power of the rest of them to expel her; a majority of three parts of the community being for the expulsion, and this to be performed by ballotting.

'Eleventhly, a good table and every thing suitable to the convenience of a gentlewoman, shall be provided.

Edited: Apr 7, 2015, 6:34pm

>27 lauralkeet: & >28 souloftherose:

Thanks for responding to Laura's question, Heather. I would only add that there was fairly intense pressure for women only to write, and women and children only to read, material that was considered "improving"---this was the one acceptable excuse for women and children to be writing / reading at all. In addition, women were never supposed to be "idle" - hence the eternal piece of needlework that no-one wanted but was always at hand - and reading just for entertainment was very strongly disapproved. (The constant accusation against novel-reading as leading girls away from their duty into idleness and immorality is all tied up with this attitude.)

This is the point I was making about the popularity of Evelina. It is still didactic - the letters between Evelina and her guardian are exactly the kind of material that made up much didactic fiction, with a young woman being instructed in her duty and correct behaviour - but they are only one aspect of a story that also offers more general entertainment in the form of a girl's first entry into society, and of course a love story.

>29 souloftherose:

"The insolence of wealth" was exactly the basis upon which reformers pushed for more options and opportunities for women, who effectively became unpaid servants if they didn't marry, and often married simply to avoid being in that position.

(We're seeing in Mansfield Park the kind of attitude that poor relations could expect to encounter, though Fanny isn't expected to do the housework or similar; and poor women forced to take whatever they can get abound in Trollope's novels---for example, the unfortunate Miss Macnulty in The Eustace Diamonds, caught between Lizzie Eustace and Lady Linlithgow.)

Edited: Apr 7, 2015, 6:48pm

There are several interesting aspects to Millenium Hall, which we might want to consider and discuss going forward, particularly in light of Jane Spencer's suggestion that this novel was meant as didactic fiction for men:

- the different positions represented by Sir George Ellison and Mr Lamont: it is significant that Sir George has been living out of England for many years and has therefore not been "tainted" by society. Mr Lamont, conversely, clearly represents mainstream opinion, and it is he that the ladies argue with and whose position on various topics they dispute. Sir George lends the authority of his approval to the ladies' conduct, while Mr Lamont is repeatedly shown the error of his ways. While various of the ladies do have lessons to learn in the course of their lives, as we hear from their individual stories, it is male attitudes that are most stringently corrected.

- there is a suggestion that women are most suited for the performance of "Christian duty", but further that they can only perform it fully if they first remove themselves from the confines of patriarchal society. The conflict between "society" and "duty" is quite clear.

- we know that Sarah Scott had a very selfish and neglectful father, and we may note that inadequate and even actively harmful fathers and father-figures abound in Millenium Hall. Many of the stories show the damage done to young women by fathers not meeting their responsibilities, and both Mrs Morgan and Miss Mancel suffer badly from bad parenting. (Miss Mancel's guardian having "plans" for her is a shocker, and is possibly meant as a riposte to the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which were hugely influential but ran counter to conventional religious and social ethics in their suggestion that "morality" was instinctive until corrupted by society and its institutions, including conventional religion.)

Apr 7, 2015, 6:58pm

Thank you for the definition Heather and Liz!

Interesting insights as well. The question about women being most suited for "duty" call to a mind a modern-day woman's issue in the workplace: subtle expectations that women will handle the care taking roles and "office housework" while men are assigned work with direct impact on financial performance.

Apr 7, 2015, 7:05pm

Yes, interesting point, Laura - though we should also note that one explicit consequence of the Millenium Hall arrangement (and, we imagine, one of its main attractions for its residents) is that the women not only have control of their own money, they are able to prove themselves both competent and trustworthy in the handling and use of it. But again, they have to separate themselves from conventional society to get the chance to show what they can do.

Apr 9, 2015, 6:48pm

I am currently reading an epistolary novel from 1771, The History Of Lady Barton by Elizabeth Griffith, and I found its preface interesting in terms of our discussion on didactic fiction, the expectations put upon female writers, and the supposed influence (for good or evil) of fiction.

In a very matter-of-fact way, Griffith states at the outset:

    Works of this kind are in general of so captivating a nature to young readers, that let them run through bu a few pages of almost any Novel, and they will feel their affections or curiosity so interested, either in the characters or the events, that it is with difficulty they can be diverted to any other study or amusement, till they have got to the end of the story.
    From the experience then of this species of attraction, such sort of writings may be rendered, by good and ingenious authors, extremely serviceable to morals, and other useful purposes in life---Place the magnet low, and it will degrade our sentiments; hold it high, and it elevates them...

Apr 11, 2015, 6:46am

I appreciate your insights Liz. I have been reading but am not as far along as I hoped I would be -- I'm up to p70. The reading seems easy and I move along but then realize I haven't really taken anything in, so I have to go back. Odd. Not sure "didactic" is a style I want to read a lot more of ... :)

Edited: Apr 11, 2015, 7:00pm

Well, this is the thing about didactic literature - the story gets subsumed in the moral lessons, which can make it a bit of a slog. It was, of necessity, a prominent style of female writing well into the 19th century; though as the novel itself became more respectable and women needed less of an excuse for writing at all, heavy-handed didactism became more confined to children's literature. (Poor kids, it was MUCH later in the game before anyone was willing to concede that reading just for fun was okay!)

Apr 11, 2015, 7:03pm

I was going to make a few specific remarks on the text, but I don't want to get spoilery---can those reading along let me know where they're up to (and how they're getting along with it)?

Apr 11, 2015, 7:30pm

Well I managed to read quite a bit today and am up to page 107. The story turned a bit more novelish and while still full of moral lessons for which I am of course grateful, it made for more interesting reading.

Apr 13, 2015, 10:59am

I've finished the first part of Mrs Morgan and Miss Mancel, which I've been enjoying despite finding the opening section rather a slog. The first sentence of the book being a whole paragraph long is quite a test of the casual reader!

Edited: Apr 13, 2015, 11:26am

I've finished the story of Miss Mancel and Mrs Morgan and the founding of Millenium Hall, and I'm just starting on the story of Lady Mary Jones.

Apr 13, 2015, 1:01pm

>39 Sakerfalcon: >40 CDVicarage: I finished the Mancel/Morgan section last night as well, and read a few pages of Lady Mary Jones' story before bedtime.

Apr 13, 2015, 2:40pm

Sorry, I meant to catch up here at the weekend but..... Anyway, I've finished! Without spoilers I found the personal histories of the ladies more interesting to read than the descriptions of Millenium Hall itself (although I tend to have that problem with utopias in general) and I found the personal histories made me appreciate how much of a refuge Millenium Hall must have been to the various ladies after reading their histories especially in light of the comments in >31 lyzard: & >33 lyzard: (thank you Liz).

Apr 13, 2015, 6:33pm

>38 lauralkeet:

...and while still full of moral lessons for which I am of course grateful...


>39 Sakerfalcon:

Run-on sentences were almost an art-form during the 18th century!

Apr 13, 2015, 6:38pm

Just as a general observation, I think the main utopia / fantasy aspect of Millenium Hall is not the community itself, but that (i) the women all have money, (ii) they have control of that money; and (iii) no-one has a guardian of any kind to interfere with their choices.

A lot of this novel seems to stem from the frustrations associated with a lack of female autonomy. We know, for example, that it took Sarah Scott literally years to get the marriage portion to which she was legally entitled out of her father; and then when she and George Scott were separated, he gave back half of her fortune to her father while she was given an inadequate allowance.

Of course the prevailing "wisdom" was that women couldn't be trusted, or didn't have the capacity, to manage their own affairs, and much of this book seems devoted to refuting those assertions.

Apr 13, 2015, 6:44pm

Since everyone seems to be past that point, I'd like to hear some reactions to the "refuge" provided for the dwarfs and giants?

Apr 14, 2015, 5:20am

>45 lyzard: I felt uncomfortable to some extent, partly to do with the language used (I think nowadays we would avoid words such as deformity or wretches) but I think the ladies' intentions were good and in some ways showed (I feel I should write 'shewed') more consideration than I would have expected - for example, the freedom to refuse visitors and the emphasis on integrating them into the local community.

The other thing that made me uncomfortable with all the good works the ladies did was the emphasis on the obligation the receivers of the good works were under. I felt there was the suggestion that the ladies were going above and beyond by showing these people such kindness rather than the people deserving such kindness in their own right as any person does.

p21 of the Virago edition:

'This tenderness to persons who were under such high obligations, charmed me.'

Edited: Apr 14, 2015, 7:28pm

>45 lyzard:

Yes, I found myself ambivalent too. I think the first impulse is to feel resentful that these people are being "hidden away", but we do need to appreciate that they are given a large amount of control over their circumstances by the ladies. Also coming out of a past as sideshow freaks, being hidden away might be exactly what they want---while the ladies' intervention on their behalf is one of those advanced ideas I mentioned at the outset, at a time when people such as these were effectively considered subhuman. I did find it a bit worrying that they were also hidden at church, though from the point of view of the other church-goers, who really should have their minds on "higher" things. :)

The obligation-relationship you highlight is another slightly uncomfortable aspect of the novel, I agree, but it reflects the contemporary idea of Christian society done right. The accepted idea was that everyone was "placed" by God and that each strata of society had its particular responsibilities, which we see in the interactions of the ladies and their beneficiaries. The upper classes were supposed to oversee and mentor their "inferiors", and those "inferiors" were supposed to be open and responsive to being instructed. Of course the class assumptions and the language in which the relationships are framed make it uncomfortable reading today but at the time this was thoughtful stuff.

When you say "people deserving such kindness in their own right as any person does", we need to understand that there was really no such idea at the time. Those sorts of notions developed over the second half of the 18th century. During the so-called Age of Reason, if a family was starving in a gutter there were two likely reactions: (i) "Let 'em starve"; and (ii) "It is God's will that they starve." The idea that those in better circumstances had a broad social obligation to those in want emerged over the latter part of the century (although the feeling that charity to the poor was contravening God's will persisted across the 19th century and was an argument often advanced in opposition to the founding of formal, institutionalised charities).

The other bit you quote---This tenderness to persons who were under such high obligations---indicates that poor relations were not the only people subject to "the insolence of wealth". The ladies' efforts to give their charity cases a fair amount of control of their own lives (albeit under watch) and so allow them to maintain their dignity is a fairly advanced situation, when most people in receipt of charity were barely allowed to breathe without permission from their "benefactors".

Apr 15, 2015, 1:13pm

I've finished. I could cope with the 'different times, different ways' for the first three ladies' stories but not for Miss Selvyn and Miss Trentham. I understand why Sarah Scott thought herself better off unmarried but someone has to replenish the human race...

Apr 15, 2015, 1:20pm

I finished the Miss Selvyn section last night. While the book has held my interest at times (primarily the Mancel/Morgan story), I am now officially ready to be done with it. The didactic style is wearing on me, as are the repeated instances of someone being taken in by a benefactor who later dies but unlike most people is totally aware of their impending death and able to take action to influence future events. Like the Aphra Behn we read previously, if it weren't for the context Liz has provided, I would have lost interest early on and abandoned this book.

Apr 15, 2015, 4:43pm

>47 lyzard: Yes, it's hard to completely put aside 21st century thoughts and not judge their actions by our standards. It did strike me that by the standards of the time the ladies were probably far more considerate than their contemporaries would have expected them to be.

>48 CDVicarage: & >49 lauralkeet: I found the story of Lady Emilia (contained within Miss Selvyn's story) very interesting.

First that although it was made clear that the pregnancy itself was a bad thing, I felt Lady Emilia was still held up as a good lady despite her illegitimate pregnancy which surprised me from a novel of this time. She ended up having a period of happiness which they don't normally allow to fallen women. And similarly, illegitimate birth didn't seem to reflect badly on Miss Selvyn in the author's mind which seemed unusual.

Secondly, because there seemed to be nothing in the text to indicate sexual intercourse had taken place between Lady Emilia and Lord Peyton. They were unchaperoned (and I imagine that would have been very shocking and very wrong for the time) but when did anything happen? I did wonder if some poor young girls would read this and worry that just having dinner with a man might lead to pregnancy!

'My father was obliged to go out of town on particular business, the day before that appointed for Lord Peyton's departure. It is natural to suppose we passed it entirely together. The concern we were both under made us wish to avoid being seen by others, and therefore I was denied to all visitors. Lord Peyton dined and supped with me; and by thus appropriating the day to the ceremony of taking leave, we rendered the approaching separation more afflicting than in reason it ought to have been, and indeed made it a lasting affliction; a grief never to be washed away.

And then the way Lady Emilia managed to hide her pregnancy until she reached the Selvyns, just one day before giving birth.

Miss Trentham's account I found quite funny (I don't think I was supposed to) although she personally annoyed me a lot. She really reminded me of Austen's Emma Woodhouse - always trying to matchmake and I did think that some of the ensuing marital problems ought to be laid at her door for encouraging the individuals to marry in the first place.

Apr 15, 2015, 6:57pm

Kerry and Heather, you both touch upon something I found very interesting about this novel as a whole: at no point are children or motherhood mentioned as a distinct entity, nor as an inducement to marriage.

We saw in Love-Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister how very casually pregnancy was treated some eighty years before this, and how lightly the characters' babies were dismissed from their lives. It seems to me that in Millenium Hall we are still very much in the mindset of children being "just something that happened", rather than something that should motivate choices. There's no hint of the focus upon, and sentimentalisation of, motherhood that creeps progressively into novels over the next one hundred years, let alone a suggestion that children ought to compensate a woman for whatever might be lacking in her marriage.

Even granting that Scott's ideas were not mainstream, the fact that she doesn't even feel compelled to pay lip-service to the thought of children, as she does to the thought of marriage, is very interesting.

Apr 15, 2015, 7:08pm

>50 souloftherose:

Heather, I agree with your remarks about Lady Emilia. The whole handling of that subplot is unexpected, particularly the resolution of it, with the sinning woman essential allowed to repent and move on, although not without sacrifice.

But yes, you do have to do some fancy reading between the lines! :D

There's something else that's important about this subplot:

The bit about Lady Emilia refusing to let Lord Peyton "make an honest woman of her", on the grounds that sooner or later he would learn to think badly of her for her sin and reject her.

This is a very common touch in late 18th century literature, particularly in some of the more "radical" novels. Again and again, either as a conscious decision or in a moment of "weakness", two young people have sex---and then the man rejects the woman on the grounds that if he can seduce her, anyone can seduce her, so he'll never be able to trust her. That she was in love with him makes no difference whatsoever. It is of course is the fact that the woman never blames the man for anything, or rejects him on the same grounds---but obviously it was a strongly prevailing belief. Here, with Lady Emilia, we get a pre-emptive strike, with her accepting that it is only a matter of time before Lord Peyton reaches this mindset.

Edited: Apr 15, 2015, 7:18pm

>49 lauralkeet:

To be fair, Laura, slow death from chronic illness was pretty common at the time so that isn't out of the question. It's the inheriting young women given direct control of their money that baulks me.

I agree that didactic literature can be a hard nut to swallow and pretty indigestible once you have!---but consider this: many women and children were never allowed to read any other kind of fiction...

Shall we pause here for a general counting of blessings?? :D

Apr 15, 2015, 7:49pm

* nodding in appreciation of spoiler comments and our many blessings as 21c women! *

Apr 16, 2015, 6:31am

I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive..... but anticipating being morally educated and trying to avoid the spoilers! :))))

Apr 16, 2015, 6:35pm


Millennium Hall is a book that is hard to discuss except in broad thematic terms, so we haven't really been marking specific pages, etc...but hopefully that makes it harder to spoil, too! :)

Edited: Apr 16, 2015, 8:04pm

...and having observed that we're mostly keeping to generalities, I will now highlight a specific! :)

I couldn't let this pass without comment:

VMC edition, pp18-19:

    Lamont, not less curious, and more importunate, observed that the inclosure bore some resemblance to one of Lord Lamore's, where he kept lions, tigers, leopards, and such foreign animals, and he would be hanged, if the ladies had not made some such collection, intreating that he might be admitted to see them; for nothing gave him greater entertainment than to behold those beautiful wild beasts, brought out of their native woods, where they had reigned as kings, and here tamed and subjected by the superior art of man. It was a triumph of human reason, which could not fail to afford great pleasure.
    "Not to us, I assure you, Sir," replied Miss Mancel, "when reason appears only in the exertion of cruelty and tyrannical oppression, it is surely not a gift to be boasted of. When a man forces the furious steed to endure the bit, or breaks oxen to the yoke, the great benefits he receive from, and communicates to the animals, excuse the forcible methods by which it is accomplished. But to see a man, from a vain desire to have in his possession the native of another climate and another country, reduce a fine and noble creature to misery, and confine him within narrow inclosures whose happiness consisted in unbounded liberty, shocks my nature. There is I confess something so amiable in gentleness, that I could be pleased with seeing a tiger caress its keeper, if the cruel means by which the fiercest of beasts is taught all the servility of a fawning spaniel, did not recur every instant to my mind; and it is not much less abhorrent to my nature, to see a venerable lion jumping over a stick, than it would be to behold a hoary philosopher forced by some cruel tyrant to spend his days in whipping a top, or playing with a rattle. Every thing to me loses its charm when it is put out of the station wherein nature, or to speak more properly, the all-wise Creator has placed it. I imagine man has a right to use the animal race for his own preservation, perhaps for his convenience, but certainly not to treat them with wanton cruelty, and as it is not in his power to give them any thing so valuable as their liberty, it is, in my opinion, criminal to enslave them in order to procure ourselves a vain amusement, if we have so little feeling as to find any while others suffer."

This is the earliest instance I know of, of a general protest against animal cruelty in a piece of fiction. Writers often used the way someone treated a dog or a horse to delineate character, but this sort of broad statement, and particularly its highlighting of animal cruelty as entertainment, which was very prevalent at the time (and sadly would remain so for many years), is remarkable.

Apr 17, 2015, 6:53am

Well, my copy has now appeared and as soon as I've finished with The Voyage Out I shall try to get on to it! :)

Apr 17, 2015, 7:41am

>57 lyzard: I noticed this too and it pleased me. I'd guess that the next literary condemnation of cruelty to animals might have been Black Beauty, which wasn't written until 1877.

Apr 17, 2015, 8:02am

>57 lyzard: well that's quite interesting!

Edited: Apr 25, 2015, 2:11am

Sorry, all! - didn't mean to drop off and leave you hanging like that, but it's been a bit of a difficult week at this end (including, as some of you may have heard, a cyclone!?).

Regarding the attitude to animals, there's an anonymous novel from 1797 called Milistina; or, The Double Interest, in which the author (female, I'm pretty sure) suddenly goes into a rant about the treatment of working horses. It wasn't an exclusively female thing, though: around the same time, "Courtney Melmoth" (Samuel Jackson Pratt) produced two short works called Liberal Opinions, Upon Animals, Man And Providence (later reworked as Liberal Opinions; or, The History Of Benignus) and Pity's Gift: A Collection Of Interesting Tales, To Excite The Compassion Of Youth For The Animal Creation. Kindness to animals was an aspect of the "sentimental movement" which was so dominant in the late 18th century.

Apr 24, 2015, 11:06pm

>58 kaggsy:

Karen, how are you getting on?

Apr 25, 2015, 1:45am

I have yet to start (have been finishing a re-read of The Voyage Out). I hope to start soon...

Apr 27, 2015, 6:33am

I finished the story of Miss Selvyn last night, so the end is near!

Apr 27, 2015, 7:41am

Keep hanging in there, you two! :D

Apr 27, 2015, 7:53am

I don't dislike it, but it won't be one of my favourites.

Apr 27, 2015, 8:09am

>66 Sakerfalcon: Amen, sister.

Apr 27, 2015, 6:26pm

I would agree that's it's not a book to be "enjoyed", exactly, but I think it is an important one both in the development of women's fiction and as a reflection of a societal shift towards a sense of broader responsibility for the poor and otherwise disadvantaged. Though the "sentimental movement" eventually went over the top and became rather ridiculous, it was the source of a lot of ideas about compassion and charity that today we (hopefully) take for granted.

It's not something you'd turn to for a re-read, but a good one to have under the belt.

Apr 27, 2015, 7:43pm

And Amen to that as well, Liz! I truly did appreciate the experience and your excellent tutelage.

Apr 28, 2015, 5:40am

>68 lyzard: Yes, it's a book I admire and respect, which is more lasting than enjoyment really.

Apr 28, 2015, 7:35pm

Thanks, Laura!

Yes, I think that's a good summation, Claire.

May 2, 2015, 12:21pm

I have begun! Well actually I'm more than halfway through thanks to looooooong train journeys today and I'm actually enjoying it a lot and finding it a fascinating picture of the lot of women at the time. The moral aspect doesn't bother me at because it seems to me to reflect the mores of the time. More thoughts when I've finished but everything here has been most helpful - thanks, all!

May 2, 2015, 6:14pm

Good to hear, Karen - I look forward to your final thoughts. :)

May 3, 2015, 3:06am

Finished the book this morning and found it so much more enjoyable than I expected. yes, the didactic moral tone grates a bit - but the individual women's stories were fascinating. I agree that there was an element of repetition with the constantly passing away of ageing relatives, leaving a convenient fortune; but what interested me was the fact that the women felt the need to withdraw from the world to live a rational and intellectually, artistically stimulating life.

It seemed to me that it was much of the current modern life which was being criticised here, with its coquetry, cards and shallow behaviour (which I kind of imagine as a Vanity Fair world, even though I haven't read that book)

I was also struck by the fact that women have often withdrawn from the world - in convents, in utopian settings and more recently in communes (though the latter tend to be mixed) as if the world as created by men will never treat them fairly.

There's also much emphasis on education which I tend to concur with -not just in a knowledge sense but in a moral kind of sense, and I do feel nowadays that with the rotten examples set by the media young people (and particularly women) get no real guidance about what is a good way to behave. We're all independent women who can theoretically make our own lives the way we want them - but we're still judged by the behaviour of all women and until that changes those of us who behave in a Miley Cyrus kind of way affect how we're all viewed!

Sorry about all that rambling -but it's a thought provoking book!

May 3, 2015, 7:39pm

Not rambling at all, Karen---a very thoughtful and interesting response, thank you!

Jun 4, 2015, 3:18am

Finally got my review of this done - here:

I loved my read of this in the end, and probably wouldn't have picked it up if it hadn't been for the group read - so thanks for the impetus!