In Gertrude, Elizabeth Missing Sewell, who largely concerns herself with issues of women's education, personal piety, and family life, has Mr. Dacre, the veteran of service in India, try to caution Edward against running for Parliament, despite the assurances made to him by a local politician, who has assured him that the campaign will cost very little. "General Forester assures me," Edward tells his older friend,
that the expenses of the election shall cost me nothing. The gentlemen of the county he is certain will guaranty them."
"I would not distrust the gentlemen of this or any other county," replied Mr. Dacre; "but experience is against the fact of any man's obtaining a seat in Parliament without expenses. And then the consequences — the frequent residence in town, and the perpetual claims, and the exertions to maintain popularity." [126-27]
To this argument, the wealthy young man, in many ways the embodiment of High Church political views, responds, "Ah! but I should make no exertions. . . . No person can be less inclined than myself to pay court to that 'many-headed monster thing,' the people" (127). The worldly-wise, yet pious older man responds with yet an additional warning:"So much the worse," continued Mr. Dacre, "as far as your expenses are concerned. You may pay court to the little farmer and the petty tradesman with tobacco and small beer, but your supporters in the highest ranks will require ices and champagne" (127). Dacre, Gertrude's great friend and confidant, of course turns out to be correct, for the young man, who has made several disastrous blunders (including misleading his new wife about the size of his income and yet spending extravagantly), in the end not only falls into such debt that he must sell the prized family estate and its furnishings because he is too honorable to betray the beliefs that, along with his pride, prompts him to run in the first place. As he tells Dacre in the conversation before he runs for Parliament,
"something must be done. If men of property, and educated in good principles, do not sacrifice themselves, the country will infallibly be ruined. Just look at the manufacturing districts — the abject misery of the poor, and the enormous fortunes of the rich, — look at the statistics of crime — at the rapidly increasing population, and the misery occasioned by the New Poor Law; and then turn to the colonies — see the mass of vice which is daily accumulating in our convict settlements, with scarcely a hope of improvement, and almost destitute of a church; and then consider for one instant the condition of that church in England — deprived of all power by the state, forbidden to assemble in convocation, and illegally robbed of the means of providing for her children."
Edward, Edith's beloved and too-idolized elder brother, does have good intentions — that's in part Sewell's point — but intentions and actions are very different. And in the end, he doesn't build the much-needed church that had so long occupied his thoughts. Moreover, his actions indirectly mean that his sister, the saintly Gertrude, cannot do so either, because she gives her inheritance to Edward's extravagant, misled wife. Too bad that Edward ignored Mr. Dacre, listened to General Forester, and ran for Parliament! Of course, if he didn't we wouldn't have this novel.
Sewell, Elizabeth Missing. Gertrude. London: Longmans, 1845; rpt. 1886.
Last modified 6 March 2008