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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: A Mummer's Wife

Author and Title: George Moore. A Mummer's Wife

First Edition: London: Vizetelly, 1885. 1 volume, post 8vo., 6s.

Summary: Volume 3 of Vizetelly's One-Volume Novels series. The novel begins in the fictional English Midlands town of Hanley. Ralph and Kate Ede run a drapery shop, a profession which affords them a quiet, respectable middleclass life. Ralph’s mother, Mrs. Ede, a strict religious woman, lives with them. Her old-fashioned values cause some tension in the household, but she and Kate share an affectionate bond. Ralph suffers from asthma, and Kate is forced to nurse him through his asthmatic bouts frequently. The two married out of friendly family relations and convenience, not for love, so their married life is rather dreary and passionless. When she was younger, Kate had a romantic side, which she nurtured through novel reading. Once married, her romantic leanings receded in the face of the routine, convention, and boredom of middleclass existence. In order to supplement their income, the Edes rent out one of their rooms to Dick Lennox, an actor and manager of a travelling company. Mrs. Ede disapproves of their boarder because of the disreputable lifestyle that actors are known to lead. Kate is interested in acting and the theatre, but her shopkeeping duties and family life do not allow her much leisure time. She learns about the local productions and travelling companies through her assistant, Miss Hender. Kate, in the company of Miss Hender, does finally escape her domestic situation long enough to attend one of the plays and see Dick on stage. Kate is inspired by her theatrical excursion and begins reading novels again. After a few flirtatious one-on-one encounters with Dick, she and the actor have an affair; she then absconds with Dick and his travelling company. Kate imagines her relationship with Dick to be something out of one of her novels, though Dick is inwardly less invested in the affair. At first Kate’s moral sensibilities are assaulted by the bohemian lifestyle led by the actors, but she quickly adapts to her new environment and learns to enjoy the semi-extravagant and free-spirited existence. Beginning with smaller roles, Kate begins to appear on stage, and she is a hit with audiences. She quickly comes to love the attention and moves into leading roles with much success. As part of the dressing room culture, she also learns to enjoy alcohol before and after performances. Kate, Dick, and their company find succuss for awhile and are at the top of their profession. Eventually Kate becomes pregnant and begins pressuring Dick to marry her, something he is in no hurry to do. After an evening of drinking, Kate becomes jealous of Dick spending time with other women and grows violent, scratching him in the face. This domestic dispute is dismissed by both when Dick learns of Kate’s condition and they quickly marry. Economic hardships hit the northern English cities, the workers go on strike, and the theatrical company is forced to disband. A few members, including Dick and Kate, reorganize into a smaller company called “The Constellation Company,” but their success is limited. Money is hard to come by and, in Manchester, Kate gives birth to a daughter. Dick spends most of the days out looking for work and money, leaving Kate with the baby. One night early in the baby’s life Kate takes to the bottle instead of tending to the child and the child perishes in the night. It is unclear whether or not her death is a direct result of Kate’s drinking, but Kate feels guilty nevertheless. Out of grief and self-loathing, Kate begins drinking more and more frequently and, ashamed, hides the evidence from Dick. Under the influence of alcohol, Kate is jealous, confrontational, and violent, which pushes Dick to spend less and less time at home, perpetuating Kate’s spiral into alcoholism. Dick meets Mrs. Forest, a rich woman with theatrical ambitions. Dick flirts with her, though his intentions are financial and not romantic, and convinces her to fund his projects. Dick hides his relationship with Mrs. Forest from Kate because of Kate’s jealous tendencies, but she eventually discovers the relationship. When Dick returns home that night, Kate attacks him and scratches his face, wounding him. The following day, she goes to the theatre during rehearsal and makes a drunken scene accusing Dick of infidelity. Kate’s actions get the couple evicted from their lodging, and Dick eventually discovers the hidden alcohol bottles. After unsuccessfully attempting to help Kate kick her habit, Dick decides to separate from her. Kate’s alcohol consumption catches up to her and she becomes sick. The physician immediately recognizes the symptoms of alcoholism and assigns a nurse to keep Kate off the bottle so that she can recover. The forced recovery prompts Kate to make one last attempt to reconcile with Dick, but Dick has moved on. Kate runs into Ralph in the London streets and they briefly reconnect. She learns that Ralph is getting along well, is married to Miss Hender, and Mrs. Ede is dead. Kate spirals into an alcoholic binge and becomes deathly ill. Mrs. Forest hears of Kate’s situation and becomes her bedside nurse. When it is clear that Kate is about to die, Mrs. Forest leaves to get Dick, but by the time they return Kate is already dead. Dick is more relieved than sad and quickly returns to thinking about his theatrical career. (SCT)

Title Tags:

References: BL; EC; Sutherland


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