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"Love and Duty"by Anne Marsh (Marsh-Caldwell)

From the book "Tales of the Woods and Fields". First published 1836.

"Love and Duty" focuses on rural innocence and natural beauty, but far from being the pastoral idyll it at first appears, this tale reveals the full extent of human misery created when love is set in direct opposition to duty. 

From a romantic village on the French coast a young man, Victor, is corresponding with his friend, charting the beauties of this spot which lies nestled between coastline and majestic 'lowering cliff's'. Victor's sensitive and idealistic nature is revealed through his response to this landscape and his interest is immediately aroused by its ancient chateau inhabited by a reclusive and misanthropic Marquis; a mysterious figure whose presence connects this novel to its Gothic predecessors. In true Gothic tradition Marsh weaves a tale of guilt, intrigue and oppression, but here the guilty are not irredeemable and love finds its own rewards.

As the story develops Victor is thrown into the company of a beautiful, enigmatic young girl and his curiosity is immediately awakened as to her identity, a curiosity which is heightened when he discoverers her name is Virginie and she is the only child of the mysterious Marquis De Montalembert. It is at this point that we discover Victor too is an aristocrat, son of the late Comte De Vermont and as such a worthy match for Virginie. Nothing can deter Victor from his course to seek the Marquis's blessing on their union, not even the dark intimations of Virginie's loyal, but withered nurse, Therese. But even these mysterious warnings do not prepare Victor for the animosity he encounters on his first meeting with Montalembert.

To protect his interests Montalembert makes his daughter a prisoner within the castle grounds as he prepares to sacrifice her in marriage to another. From this point Marsh reveals the web of intrigue which has surrounded the Marquis's life and informed his reclusive and misanthropic behaviour. It is here that the novel departs from the standard Gothic formula. The Marquis is not presented as an insensitive ogre bent on prosecuting his own will at the expense of others, but as a man tortured by jealousy and haunted by guilt. The demands he makes on his daughter in a bid to protect the family honour are not taken lightly, though he does at first appear insensitive to her pleas. The plot is also complicated by its French setting, as at that time French women were not compelled to comply with parental demands. Virginie must make her own decisions concerning filial duty, a decision which must ultimately destroy the happiness of a loved one.

The arrival of Virginie's proposed husband, M. Guilbert a society dandy, finally precipitates revelations about the Marquis's guilty past. It transpires that Virginie's own mother was betrayed by her family and subsequently sacrificed in marriage to Montalembert, when she had from childhood loved Victor's father, the Comte de Vermont. It is therefore not surprising that Montalembert has a pathological hatred of that family, especially as the Comte's return triggered this woman's violent and untimely death.

But society's sacrifice of women in marriage is not the only form of entrapment examined in this novel. Through her sympathetic portrait of a young Catholic priest Anne Marsh explores the ramifications of celibacy imposed by the Catholic Church on its priesthood. Unlike the negative portrait of Catholicism presented in Father Darcy, M. Bernard is a true Christian soul dedicated to the improvement of the human condition, but he is a soul in torment. His selfless love for Virginie creates a picture of one doomed to a life devoid of domestic happiness, just as the repressive nature of Catholicism denies people the facility to worship God in a free and natural universe. Though this novel may at first appear to be the story of Victor and Virginie it is the picture of this priest that haunts the writing and it is his ability to reconcile love with duty that ends this story.

The above review written by Diane Duffy, 2002.

General Note

The first British edition of "Tales of the Woods and Fields" (1836, Saunders & Otley, London) contains three stories by Ann Marsh-Caldwell: "A Country Vicarage", "Tale of an Oak Tree", "Love & Duty".  However, the American first edition (1836, Harper & Brothers, New York) has the first story titled "Louisa Mildmay", not "A Country Vicarage".  The two stories are in fact the same except for a name change.  In the British edition the name of the key character in the first story is Louisa Evelyn but in the American edition her name is Louisa Mildmay.

"Tales of the Woods and Fields" has the following dedication printed in the front "Dedicated to my dear and honoured father".  Anne Marsh-Caldwell's father was James Caldwell (1759-1838), of Linley Wood, Staffordshire.

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