And so the Reading Gods and I kissed and made up. After taunting me with a book from 1899, they relented and offered me a novel so exactly what I’ve been hoping for, it was almost scary:
Rosabella; or, A Mother’s Marriage by Catherine Cuthbertson, a five-volume sentimental novel from 1817.
Of Miss Cuthbertson herself, I can learn nothing, beyond a few unsupported assertions that I don’t see any point in repeating. What we do know for sure is that between 1803 and 1830, she wrote seven novels, most of them five volumes (!), and that they were popular in their time – and possibly influential. More than one researcher has contended that Miss Cuthbertson’s early novels were an influence upon Walter Scott in the writing of Waverley and, in particular, Guy Mannering.
The other thing I’ve found out about Miss Cuthbertson, a detail that in my current state of mind is perhaps the most important thing I could have found out about her, is that she was another of Thomas Macaulay’s pet novelists. Our knowledge of Macaulay’s fondness for Miss Cuthbertson comes, as usual, via the text of a letter, in this case one written by his sister, Lady Trevelyan, who once recalled of her brother that:
“…there was a set of books by a Mrs. Kitty Cuthbertson, most silly though readable productions, the nature of which may be guessed from their titles:—‘Santo Sebastiano, or the Young Protector,’ ‘The Forest of Montalbano,’ ‘The Romance of the Pyrenees,’ and ‘Adelaide, or the Countercharm.’ I remember how, when ‘Santo Sebastiano‘ was sold by auction in India, he and Miss Eden bid against each other till he secured it at a fabulous price; and I possess it still…”
In fact, in his subsequent perusal of Santo Sebastiano, Thomas Macaulay was moved to keep a record of just how many times over the course of the story somebody fainted, and wrote his tallies in the back of the book. (FYI: 27 times over five volumes, the heroine 11 times.)
That “Miss Eden”, by the way, is Emily Eden, who was in India visiting her brother George, the Earl of Auckland and Governor-General there between 1835 and 1842. Miss Eden herself, of course, subsequently became a successful novelist; her letters from India to her sister were also published. I’ve never read any of her works, but now, all of a sudden, I really, really want to. (She is on The List.)
And the upshot of all this is that Catherine Cuthbertson has won herself an instant promotion from “Reading Roulette” over to “Authors In Depth”, right alongside Mary Meeke. If it’s good enough for Thomas Macaulay, it’s good enough for me. And astonishingly enough, it appears that all seven of Miss Cuthbertson’s novels are available electronically, so we will be able to do her full justice…one way or the other.