by Emma Jane Worboise
Published in 1864, Thornycroft Hall has more than a few echoes of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, which appeared some eighteen years earlier. It seems that the evangelical Emma Jane Worboise felt the need to provide a more "Christian" version of the earlier novel, including not only a spirited defence of Rev. William Carus Wilson and "Lowood School", but also repeatedly urging the necessity for immediate acceptance of Christ.
Now!--now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation! Only now--to-day--this hour--this moment!--the next may be too late! Never again may Jesus say to you, who read these pages--"Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden." Never again may His blessed Spirit strive with you. Never again may the Divine call, the gracious invitation be sounded in your ears: "Come now, and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
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The similarities between the opening chapters of this book and Jane Eyre are striking. An orphaned girl is brought up by uncongenial relations, and a furious (though justified) temper tantrum leads to her being sent away to school. But here the novels diverge: Ellen is very happy at the Clergy Daughters' School, and defends both it and Rev. William Carus Wilson vigorously from Charlotte Bronte's strictures.
And it was no "Do-the-girls Hall," as some people have asserted: I here solemnly declare that during the whole of my residence--nearly five years--I never saw the table otherwise than plentifully and wholesomely supplied…I confess that sometimes, at the breakfast hour, our olfactory nerves were saluted with a perceptible odour of burnt porridge; but I have known the milk to be burnt now and then at Thornycroft Hall; and certainly our bread and butter was cut in "planks," not slices, and the butter was, perhaps, a little hard to find…but if you had seen the large dishes-full replenished again and again till every girl was satisfied; if you had seen them passing down the long narrow tables in the lofty eating-room, disappearing with astonishing rapidity; if you had counted the number of "planks" each young lady consumed, you would not have imagined any pupil to be badly served.
The pious and slightly priggish Marshall Cleaton is certainly no Mr. Rochester, but he and his mother are surprisingly appealing characters, despite the rather heavy-handed evangelistic fervour they both display.
Thornycroft Hall has a strong story line, attractive characters, and a sureness of touch on the part of the author. Perhaps it deserves to come out of the shadow of Jane Eyre and be rather better remembered than it has been until now.
Page created 20 December 2002 and last
updated 20 December 2002
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