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"A novel of manners" this is how the novel Kelroy is described by Kathryn Derounian in her article "Lost in the Crowd: Rebecca Rush's Kelroy (1812)." Throughout the novel, characters such as; Mrs. Hammond, Mr. Manley, Mr. Kelroy, and especially the Gurnet family, show how people are treated differently regarding their wealth, status and mannerisms. Kelroy shows us these relationships and how one is viewed solely on the way in which they present themselves.
Culture, at the time Kelroy was written, was much different than culture today. Most women in the early eighteenth century served an ornamental function rather than a domestic function. Most of the women in Kelroy were the ornamental type. The men in the eighteenth century married, not for someone to cook and clean for them, but to have someone pretty and proper to attend social gatherings with. Rush shows some of this culture when she describes Lucy and Emily at a gathering hosted by Mrs. Hammond:
The two sisters were dressed exactly alike in white satin and silver. Their fans, gloves and shoes were also white; and
the delicacy of their complexions, contrasted with the simple elegance of their attire, and heightened by the glow
of youthful animation, rendered them lovely beyond description. (Rush 15)
This shows the importance of appearance in this time period. It was typical for wealthy women to dress so elegantly at parties or other social events. This description of attire also shows, to some extent, the practice Mrs. Hammond used in the exaggerated display of her daughters.
Not only did the young ladies need to dress elegantly to obtain a wealthy husband, they also had to have appropriate manners. Mrs. Hammond, after the death of her husband, devoted her life to educating her daughters in how they are to properly conduct themselves. Her reasoning for this was a typical one: to make others believe they were an established family of wealth.
Mr. Marney's story is a bit different although his goal was similar.
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Rush also ads a character who seems to be that of a backward idiot whom Helen also doesn't like. Dr. Blake, who is very fond of Helen, pushes his way into the social atmosphere by waiting around after Charles was to leave for an event. Helen was very displeased with her brother's invitation to Dr. Blake, but he explained, "when I told him I was engaged, he put on one of his odd looks and said he was entirely at leisure." (60) Dr. Blake is an annoying to everyone because of such actions. His purpose in the novel is to show the reader that if you have wealth and at least know how manners work, you can be part of the high class clique.
Kelroy became part of this clique through Walsingham, who is very well established. Kelroy, being only a mere poet, would not have been invited to the Hammond's social events otherwise. Mrs. Hammond would not allow such a pauper in her home, for fear of the inevitable: Emily, the one who thinks with her heart, would fall for such a character.
Mrs. Hammond is a very interesting character. Through her we view Kelroy as a low class individual because he is not wealthy, nor is his family wealthy. Although Kelroy is a well mannered gentleman, Mrs. Hammond must be assured wealth through the marriage of her daughters.
Mrs. Hammond's good friend, Mrs. Cathcart, knew just what Mrs. Hammond wanted for her daughters and was a willing participant in the finding of a mate for Emily. In one instance she called for Emily to "come here! Quick!" Outside the window where she had been sitting, Mr. Marney had been pacing about, waiting to catch a glimpse of her. Mrs. Cathcart, after noticing that Emily was not at all pleased with this, said "Emily, don't look so shy about the matter...Mr. Kelroy is no there to know it." (108) This shows how Mrs. Cathcart wanted to please Mrs. Hammond, but did not want to displease Emily in doing so. Mrs. Cathcart and her family were well mannered and also wealthy. They were important to Mrs. Hammond to keep as friends to help her apperence.
On the other hand The Gurnets who have tried to obtain manners through schooling and the like are still at a loss when it comes to social acceptance. This dysfunctional family shows that even if you can obtain wealth, you cannot obtain the status of someone who is taught manners throughout their life. Even after being schooled, Rush tells us that, "after three years tuition Miss Polly could scarcely write her own name...and Miss Nelly found a difficulty in spelling out of book words of two syllables." (153) Their manners were also as horrendous. Miss Catharine Gurnet says to her sister, "Eh! You nasty spiteful brat! A'nt you ashamed to behave like such a hog?" (159) Although Emily and company find the Gurnet family humorous, they are more than ready to escape at first chance. Mrs. Hammond would not even give the Gurnets the satisfaction of her presence stating that she "had a headache" (she of course didn't need the company of such people). This shows the feeling that one of her class should not mix with those of the lower class.
Throughout the entire novel, Rush portrays characters from many different classes. Some characters have wealth and no manners, some have manners and no money, and some have both. It all depends on how and when one obtains their status and whether or not Mrs. Hammond can benefit from their presence to determine whether or not they can marry the Hammond girls. Rush's idea of the culture of her time and the high class society she herself is a part of, gives us the intriguing eighteenth century novel Kelroy.
Rush, Rebecca. ed. Davidson, Cathy N. Kelroy. 1992: Oxford University
Derounian, Kathryn Zabelle. ìLost in the Crowd: Rebecca Rush's Kelroy
(1812).î The American Transendental Quarterly. (issue unknown)