Regency Woman Wednesday – Mary Brunton

Mary Brunton
(1 November 1778 – 7 December 1818)

Mary Brunton was a Scottish novelist. She started to write her first novel, Self-Control in 1809 and it was published in 1811. Jane Austen had reservations, describing it in a letter as an “excellently-meant, elegantly-written work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it.” Self-Control was widely read and went into its third edition in 1812. A French translation (Laure Montreville, ou l’Empire sur soimême) appeared in Paris in 1829. The anonymous novels Things by their Right Names (1812) and Rhoda by Frances Jacson were initially ascribed to her as well.

The other novel that Mary Brunton completed was Discipline (1814). Like Walter Scott’s Waverley, published in the same year, it had Highland scenes that were much appreciated. It went into three editions in two years. The Bruntons spent some time in London in 1815 and Mary began to learn Gaelic in the same year. She then planned a series of domestic stories, of which one, Emmeline, was far enough advanced when she died for her husband to include it in an 1819 memorial volume, along with a Memoir and extracts from her travel diary. The story described with a sympathy unusual in that period how a divorced woman’s marriage is destroyed by her feelings of guilt and the ostracism she suffers.

The success of Brunton’s novels seems to have lain in combining a strongly moral, religious stance with events that stretched or broke the rules of society.

The Works of Mary Brunton appeared in 1820 and further editions of her first two novels in 1832, 1837 and 1852. However, the popularity of her novels was immediate but somewhat short-lived: “They rose very fast into celebrity, and their popularity seems to have as quickly sunk away,” as her husband put it in retrospect. Modern editions have appeared of Self-Control (London: Pandora, 1986), Discipline (London: Pandora, 1986; Boston, MA: Unwin Hyman, 1987) and Emmeline (London: Routledge, 1992, facsimile of 1819 edition).

Alexander Brunton had a volume of Sermons and Lectures published in 1818, Outlines of Persian Grammar in 1822, and Forms of Public Worship in the Church of Scotland in 1848. He was appointed moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 1823, and served also as convenor (chair) of the Indian Mission Committee in 1834-47. He died at Coupar Angus, Perthshire on 9 February 1854.

Mary Brunton, Wikipedia

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