Title Information At the Circulating Library
Author and Title: Matilda Charlotte Houstoun. Recommended to Mercy: A Novel
First Edition: London: Saunders and Otley, 1862. 3 volumes, post 8vo., 31s. 6d.
Summary: The novel begins on Sir Philip Thornleigh's deathbed: he leaves his fortune to his mistress, Helen Langton, with the understanding that she pass on his fortune to his wife, Gertrude, if she is found innocent of betraying him. Helen, the daughter of a country doctor, fell in love with Philip (then an army officer) years earlier. Because of her ethical scruples about the institution of marriage, she declines to marry Philip but agrees to live with him as a mistress. They live in India for a number of years where Helen passes as "Mrs. Vaughan" and the other Englishwomen ostracize her. On the couple's return to England, Philip, the heir to a baronetcy, reconsiders his relationship and decides to marry Gertrude Maitland. Helen spurns any financial help and goes off to work—first as a teacher then a lady's companion—losing her position each time her past as a fallen woman comes to light. After the birth of two children, the marriage between Sir Philip and Gertrude fails because he comes to suspect she may not be faithful due to mysterious letters and assignations with a stranger. Confronted, Gertrude refuses to explain her behavior and Sir Philip throws her out of his home and she goes to live quietly in France. Helen accidently meets the miserable man in London and she goes to live with him again. After his death, Helen as a newly rich woman works out the mystery of Gertrude's past. As a young girl, Gertrude entered into a precipitous marriage with Henry Considine, the English-Cuban-Spanish Catholic son of a miserly father. The marriage was kept strictly secret so as to not offend Considine's father. Henry abandons Gertrude and she has a mentally handicapped son who is adopted by the sinister Peters who reports to her that Henry has died in Cuba. (It is he who Sir Philip sees meeting his wife and who sends her letters.) However, there is no record of Henry Considine's death so the marriage between Gertrude and Sir Philip may have been bigamous. A cousin of Sir Philip instigates a charge of bigamy against her: at the trial it is revealed that Henry Considine died in Spain a few days before Gertrude's marriage to Sir Philip. Helen passes her fortune on to Gertrude and she lives her life performing philanthropic works. The title of the novel refers to the narrator's moral judgement of Helen's life, where her numerous good works outweigh her fallen character.