Dear Mrs. Elton,
My dear friends Anne and Fanny came out at the same ball as I two years ago, and within minutes, it seemed, received offers for their hands in marriage. Fanny is now on her honeymoon trip and Anne is planning for her lying in, whereas I am still sitting firmly on the shelf, having not received a single offer. My family and friends say I am dear and sweet, and that my ankles are neat and trim. The lucky man who receives my papa’s blessing for my hand will also discover that I come with £ 5,000. My mama has made certain that I can play the piano forte, trim bonnets, paint china, speak French, and oversee a household with fifteen servants. My only fault, and it is a minor one, I assure you, is that my front teeth, unfortunately, do not quite fit inside my mouth.
Have you any practical advice to give me as I embark on my third season in Town?
Miss Honoria Severenson
Mrs. Elton Replies:
Really Miss Honoria, I can scarcely ever recollect receiving quite such an extraordinary letter in my life. It is the duty of a clergyman's wife, I am well aware, to be of use; and I hope I do not seldom forget what is owing to my office. I hope it is not to end in my being asked to deliver advice to sundry folk who do not know their own good fortune, or those who are unjustly discontented; rank, you know, should always be preserved, and I have no patience with malcontents and puppies. Yet you seem a respectable sort of young lady, and I would not wish to be accused of wanting in kindness, or worse, not attending to my duty. Therefore, in considering your situation, I will say that I suspect you of a lack of candour. No, indeed you are not candid, for you have not said what sort of men your friends married; were they worthy matches, or did they snatch at the first man who asked? Such proceedings never come to any thing, and it is far better to be a young lady who is mistress of 5000 pounds, than married to a man of whom you would be ashamed to be seen in society. Consider the husbands of your friends; would you have taken either of them? Such consideration should go some way toward making you feel less discontented. As for your own character and appearance, you paint it as such perfection, that I cannot hardly believe in such a portrait. Are you truly faultless, then, apart from the drawback of your Teeth? The character of a young lady who claims no other fault, must, in sober sadness, be that of a braggart, or what is worse, a person with very little judgment. A sensible man of good fortune does not want to be associated with either, and so my advice to you is to study your own character so as to be tolerably acquainted with it. As the great Bard said - or at any rate I believe he was a Greek - "Know thyself." I am sure there can be no better advice in the world, and if young ladies will continue to ask me questions, I expect to apply such advice very regularly indeed.
As for the Teeth, surely there are many things that can be done about them. Hold a fan before them constantly; or distract the eye from your face by wearing your hair very high, with coquelicot feathers; or you might try lowering your neckline. I would not go so far as pulling the teeth; but remind you that where a woman is altogether well-looking, the mere flaw of poor teeth will not discourage proposals. I remember a Mrs. Clay with a hideous projecting tooth, who is now a Lady Elliot with a great fortune; so you see it was no drawback to her. But she was very clever, and by my perusal of your letter, it is easily seen that you, unfortunately, are not. A judicious course of reading, therefore, is what I can recommend to you, in addition to a more earnest study of your own faults.
Mrs. Elton Sez is written/channeled by Austen-esque author Diana Birchall. Please join her on Tuesdays and Fridays for her sage and sometimes sardonic voice, as she graciously condescends to advise on a variety of subjects.