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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: The Vicar's Governess

Author and Title: Dora Russell. The Vicar's Governess: A Novel

First Edition: London: Tinsley Brothers, 1874. 3 volumes.


Summary: The novel opens in a London agency where Amy Williams accepts a governess position in the household of Arthur Manners, a Northumbrian vicar. He has two adult children from his first marriage—the willful Adelaide and the hard-working George—and three young daughters from his second marriage with his former housekeeper. They live close to Narbrough Hall, the home of the vicar's nephew Sir Hugh Manners. Sir Hugh lives a dissolute life after resigning his army commission while George works in business to re-pay his debts rung up as a profligate youth. George falls in love with the mysterious Amy, who is reticent about her past but who's clothes and manners bespeak good breeding. Amy, for her part, resists George's love making but she falls in love with him as well. Sir Hugh recognizes Amy from his time in India—she is the run-away wife of Captain Hugh Clayton. In meeting with her, he agrees to keep her secret and tells her that her husband is frantically searching for her. George misinterprets their meetings and letters as a prior love relationship. Distraught and unwilling to confess to George, Amy leaves the vicarage for another situation with the nouveau riche Mounsey family. When she realizes that her husband is the cousin of Mrs. Mounsey, Amy confesses her past to George: she married Clayton, accompanied him to India, and discovered he had a prior Irish wife. Though Clayton insisted it was no legal marriage (implying he tricked the unfortunate woman), Amy felt otherwise and ran away from Clayton. George places Amy again with his father's family and leaves to take a business position in St. Petersburg, Russia. Meantime, Sir Hugh falls in love with a local fisherwoman, the beautiful Peggy Richardson. He secretly marries her in Scotland and leaves her with child when he drowns after a boating accident. This throws the inheritance of the baronetcy in some confusion until Peggy and her child die during childbirth, leaving the title to Arthur Manners. Clayton, suffering from alcoholism and mania, finally tracks Amy down to the vicarage. He confronts Amy and, when she refuses to return to him, he shoots her twice then himself. Amy survives her gunshots; Clayton dies from his. When she recovers, Amy and George marry. (TJB)

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References: BL