Marriage by Susan Ferrier, the “Scottish Jane Austen”

Information

Goodreads: Marriage
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1818

Summary

Marriage is a novel in two parts.  The first contrasts the marriage of the foolish Lady Juliana with that of Mrs. Douglas.  While Lady Juliana follows all her caprices and elopes for love, Mrs. Douglas follows instead the path of virtue.  The second volume tells of the daughters of Lady Juliana, one taught to follow only her own inclinations and the other taught to find happiness in God alone.

Review

I first picked up Susan Ferrier when I read an article naming her the “Scottish Jane Austen.”  A contemporary of Sir Walter Scott and wildly popular in her own day, Ferrier has since seemingly all but disappeared in literary history.  However, I was interested in a woman who was so acclaimed by her contemporaries that she received a larger advance for her novels than did Austen.  Why doesn’t anyone talk about her today?  Will her books still hold interest, as do Austen’s?  There was only one way to find out.

Personally, I find Marriage to be closer to a blend of Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë.  In fact, it reminded me of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters as it contrasts, in both volumes, the characters of two women, one raised to value virtue and the other to value her own amusement; the virtuous one is, of course, rewarded with happiness in marriage and the other punished with scandal and discontent.  It also has a bit of a flair for melodrama with its elopements and other little scandals–a taste, which seems more in like with Brontë than with Austen, who tends to make her scandals a little more subtle.

The comparison with Austen, however, is perhaps best seen in Ferrier’s penchant for describing foolish characters.  We have three aunts who are remarkably ill-bred and ignorant, but convinced that they move in the best society and possess wisdom no one else does.  There is also the woman who must contradict everyone, the woman who hosts a literary circle where the ladies do nothing but try to out-quote one another, and the woman of charity who gives none of her own money or time to the poor, but instead hits up all her guests for their money.  These characters, I admit, did not amuse me.  They drove me crazy and I was glad to be rid of them all (except the aunts, who must keep popping up).

The most vivid character is not one of the protagonists, but Lady Emily.  She possesses a keen and sparkling wit, and loves to point out the foibles of the society around her.  Of course, she has been raised in a haphazard manner and so lacks the virtue of her cousin Mary.  She can’t conceive why Mary must go to church, even against her mother’s wishes, but won’t rebel against her mother to go to a ball.  But she’s still far more interesting, far more lively than Mary.  Mary is certainly admirable and everyone, I am sure, wishes her little romance to go well.  But she does not sparkle.

Fans of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, or Charlotte Brontë will likely find this book of interest.  Others who prefer more modern fare will probably not.  It is not plot-driven, as is most of YA and much genre fiction.  Rather, it focuses on the characters, depicting them for readers’ amusement or education.  I enjoyed it, even when it was slow-paced, but I can imagine others will find Ferrier’s work to be an acquired taste.

4 stars

16 thoughts on “Marriage by Susan Ferrier, the “Scottish Jane Austen”

  1. alilovesbooks says:

    I’ve spotted Ferrier being promoted in my local bookshop (think it’s an anniversary) but have to admit I hadn’t heard of her. As a fan of Austen and Bronte I’m thinking I need to read this. Thank you for such a great review.

    Like

  2. eloisej says:

    Interesting! I’ve never heard of her but like you the title of “the Scottish Jane Austen” does intrigue me. Maybe someday I’ll try one of her books.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I got this one free on Kindle. I imagine her other books are somewhere like Project Gutenberg, but I haven’t checked yet. At any rate, it’s easier to convince myself to try a book when it’s free. 😀

      Like

  3. Analee @ Book Snacks says:

    I’ve never heard of this author, but I did like the books of Jane Austen that I read in the past so I’m intrigued! I’m not much of a fan of classics though, so I may not actually enjoy this one as much. But I’m definitely curious! Lovely review, Krysta! 😊

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    • Krysta says:

      I would say that this book is longer and slower-paced than Jane Austen. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but maybe calling her the “Scottish Jane Austen” could cause confusion for readers who want similar books.

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  4. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Very curious- not only because she’s been called the Scottish Austen, but also because you’ve compared her to Gaskell and Charlotte Bronte. It’s a pity that the only similarity with Austen seems to be the foolish characters (while somewhat entertaining in Austen books, they’re hardly what makes me so attached to her books) Still, I’m definitely interested in checking this out- great review!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Maybe other people see more Austen in her than I do. I don’t know. But I think the more blatant moralizing is more in line with Gaskell. Austen has values and likes to reward virtue, yes, but I’m not sure she’d actually juxtapose the virtuous maiden with the flirtatious one who wants money so obviously. Lydia doesn’t get a whole book to herself so we can see her life choices play out in all their misery. She’s a little more in the background so the juxtaposition is a little more subtle.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      That was my hope, too! I think the action was a little slower than Austen’s tends to be, but I do want to pick up one of Ferrier’s other two novels sometime.

      Like

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