Dear Mrs. Elton,
I am writing to you in the strictest confidence. While my name is of no consequence to you (and would be of no value to your readers), I solicit your advice. I am about to be engaged to a woman I do not wish to marry. Although she is respectable enough in looks and possesses a spectacular fortune, she laughs like a neighing horse, speaks in a volume that would still a crowd, and eats while talking. One can see the bread crumbs flying from her mouth and liquids dribbling on her fine satins. After a meal one can discern which dishes she ate by merely staring at her bodice. I understand that when the old and infirm are taken to exhibiting such manners they are forgiven, but the young lady in question is barely nineteen.
How could I possibly dine with her for the rest of my life? Please do not ask me to approach her parents about her table manners, for they are equally lacking in decorum. My father, you see, owes this young lady’s father an almost insurmountable debt, which shall be erased on the day of our nuptials. Adding to my dilemma, I am in love with another – the daintiest and sweetest of creatures, who would not for the life of her ever allow a morsel or a crumb to fall waywardly from her cherry red lips.
If I elope with my beloved, my father will disinherit me. If I marry the heiress, I shall never forgive myself. As you can see, I am in sore need of your words of wisdom.
Miserable and in love.
My dear Miserable,
You need not dissemble. I can see through you; your secrets are visible to me. La! I have often prided myself on being cautious as a minister of state, to be sure, but the single quality most to be celebrated in me, I think, is my Penetration. Do not be alarmed; I do not know precisely who you may be (though I have a pretty good guess), and any way the secrets of the confessional, you know, are secret.
Your description of your unpleasing bride-elect, however, is far too exact to be mistaken. The neighing horse, the dribbling liquids down sattin, are unmistakeable. There is only one woman in England with the courage and the importance to allow herself to behave in that way, and it is the Princess Charlotte.
So! You aspire to marry the Princess, do you? Let me tell you then, in no uncertain terms, that would be a very bad course, and her manners, if not the least of it, form only a part of my objections. In the first place, you are, I shrewdly collect, a handsome young blade now, who enjoys life. How much would you enjoy, pray, when you are Prince or King Consort, and doomed to watching the bread crumbling down her chin, and all England watching? Life would not seem such a merry jest to you then, would it, Sir?
I know two other things against the Princess, which, good-humoured and amiable girl though I believe her to be, must be taken very seriously when considering her as a wife. First, she admires Miss Austen's Sense and Sensibility, as indeed she ought to do, but only because she feels that the character of Marianne is exactly like her, only better! Really, now, sir, Marianne as a wife - that mixture of hysteria and self-absorption - would you, or any prudent man, want to be married to such? And Marianne, to do her justice, had excellent table manners. But that is not all that I know against Princess Charlotte. Now mark what I say, though I am surprised you need to hear it from me as it was common London gossip, and you move in circles that should scarcely be ignorant of this sort of thing. It is said, however, that she exclaimed in wonder at a lady friend who had been married to her husband for many years, "Law! Lady ___, do you not get tired of just Sir John in bed?" For it is well known that she leaves a passage open from her bedchamber door to the street, and slips downstairs at odd hours to bring up any random gentleman for some bed sport - which she considers to be "the healthiest thing in the world."
Princess or not, I conclude, she is perfectly unfitted for a wife, and as you have not actually committed yourself to an engagement, you will be quite justified in ceasing to call at Windsor and Carlton House. I understand your wish to do away with your father's debt, but is it likely? Would the Prince Regent countenance it? I think not. You did not incur your father's debts and cannot clear them. With a clear conscience, you may propose for your own true love, and marry her, if, that is, she has a proper dowry of her own. As Miss Austen herself said, it is needful for a couple to have one independent fortune between them; so if she has one, it will do very well.
Mrs. Philip Elton
Mrs. Elton Sez is written/channeled by Austen-esque author Diana Birchall, whose latest book, Mrs. Elton In America, is now available. Please join her once a week for her sage and sometimes sardonic voice, as she graciously condescends to advise on a variety of subjects. Laurel Ann and Vic admit to channeling their Regency doppelgängers as they take turns writing the letters. They are usually surprised by Mrs. Elton's responses, whose mind is as unpredictable and lively as her tongue.
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