Plot summary       Online text     Online text (French edition 1856)

 1855 American review

Heartsease Violas and Violettas       Last Heartsease Leaves

Plot summary for Heartsease

Text for this page kindly provided by Stella Waring

Heartsease is Violet, the sixteen year old daughter of an ambitious solicitor, who married Arthur Martindale, a thoughtless young officer, without the knowledge and approval of his aristocratic family. This family consists of Lord and Lady Martindale, Arthur's parents, Mrs Nesbit, his mother's aunt, who dominates her niece and has a fortune which she holds over the head of the family. There is an elder brother, John, a semi-invalid who spends his winters abroad and has little to do with the rest of the family: apart from bad health, he has also fallen into a state of dispirited resignation since the death of his fiancée, Helen Fotheringham. There, is too, a sister, Theodora - an impulsive girl with strong feelings, who adores her brother Arthur.

The reactions of the family are barely favourable - Mrs Nesbit is furious, Lord Martindale not happy but prepared to support the young couple, while Lady Martindale seems to have no strong feelings. Theodora, however, is angry and jealous. John goes on a mission of reconciliation to the young couple, and, to his surprised, is impressed by his new sister-in-law and comes out strongly in her defence. He plays a major part in strengthening Violet's rather timid character by holding up to her the example of Helen Fotheringham, who had borne wearisome domestic trials with a brave and cheerful spirit.

All this sounds very unpromising, and in the early years, Violet is very unhappy – not allowed to see her own family, disliked and distrusted by her in-laws, apart from John and his father, and neglected by her husband. She remains quiet and unassuming, fights her way through her misfortunes and eventually her influence permeates the family. The prime instance of this is Theodora – the 'other' heroine: high-principled but also wilful, jealous and intransigent. Under Violet's guidance, Theodora gradually grows in self-knowledge and patience.

It takes several family upheavals and disasters – including a fire which destroys the family mansion and kills off Mrs Nesbit – to make everyone aware of the beneficial effect Violet has come to exert on the whole family. In one of the later chapters, Percival Fotheringham, an important character and eventually the husband of Theodora, says this of Violet: "The history of these years is this ... Everyone else has acted more or less idiotically . She has gone about softening, healing, stirring up the saving part of each one's disposition ..."

Online text of Heartsease

Click here to reach the latest version of Heartsease from Gutenberg
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      Online text (French edition 1856)
Click here for a Google Books version of Violette (Heartsease) published in French, 1856


1. Peace of mind.
2. A hybrid plant derived from crossing certain species of the genus Viola and having small, spurred, variously colored flowers.

Wikipedia has a useful illustrated page about this plant.

What did they think at the time?

Putnam's monthly magazine of American literature, science and art.

Volume 5, Issue 26, February 1855 : page 220

— The central idea of Heartsease (by tbe author of The Heir of Redc/yffe) is the same with that of The Pride of Life; namely: tlse experience of a wife, married for her loveliness, into a sphere “above“ her own. Perhaps novels of this species are a sigti and outgrowth of the gradual equalization which seems to he slowly supervening upon the stratified texture of English society. But the book is of a much higher order, morally and artistically. than Lady Scott’s. The characters are exceedingly well drawn and distinguished. Violet is a true and lovely woman, operating upon her unstable husband, and her outrageously proud sister-in-law, Theodora, by forces beautiful and womanly, unconscious and still, but powerful and sure. Her own trials and changes, and those of her relatives, are very skillfully developed. The book, although not of the intense kind, bears evidence of very keen observation, and very true and careful thought; and as a work of art, must rank very high. There is one noticeable defect, in the management of the moral. This, which was apparently intended to permeate the whole texture of the narrative, is stuck in in unassimilated, uncomfortable lumps. We come upon them as upon an unexpected jolt ; with a start and an "oh !“

Click here to view facsimile of the original article and journal

Last Heartsease Leaves

MAY we be allowed a glimpse of Martindale House in the present spring?

The drawing-room is no stiff or stately apartment, but a pleasant room, full of comfort and prettiness. It is late in the evening, and the seats are vacant that stand so cosily round the central table, covered with tokens of occupation—work-box, basket, books, pencil, and paper adorned with schoolboy drawings. A low chair and small rosewood table have a candle-lamp to themselves, and by the fire is a large arm-chair, where a little dog lies perdu, sunk among the cushions like a presuming pet.

Two figures are lingering over their good-nights before the fire. That slight youth, fair-haired and dark-eyed, of delicate complexion and features of feminine purity and regularity, is John, third Baron Martindale. Gentle as is his manner, and fragile as is his appearance, he has no lack of moral strength, and his handsome, high-spirited brothers and sisters look up to him as to a father. He has gained high honours at school and college; but there is one who thinks most of his having passed through those trials without injury to the innocence and sweetness of his disposition. It is she who stands beside him in her black dress; her tall and graceful figure so youthful, her cheek and brow so exquisitely smooth and fair, and her dark brown eyes so clear and soft, that she would hardly be supposed to be the mother of a grown-up son. He thinks her unrivalled in loveliness, and indeed the trust and affection between those two is as intense as it can be without idolatry.

'Johnnie' (for she has not learnt to call him Martindale: his grandmother says they ought, and his sisters try, but Johnnie is always the readiest name), 'Johnnie, you took no part in discussing the festivities. You must not be shy at these years, my dear!"

'I do not think it is shyness, mamma. I will try to do what is expected of me; but I want to know what you think. It seems to me that I cannot ask people to rejoice at my coming of age, when it only reminds them of those who would have been in my place.'

'I know that feeling, dear Johnnie, but I think we must conquer it. Your graudmamma would be vexed, as at an impropriety, if we had not rejoicings.'

'And if she wishes it no one could object. But I did not expect her to like it, and I know you do not, mamma.'

'Yes, I shall, for'—with a sweet smile—'I shall think of your dear father's and uncle's pleasure in their boy. And although it may be punishment to his lordship himself, how the rest will enjoy it, and what a family gathering it will be! I am glad of anything to bring us the Fotheringhams.'

'One thing is certain, I will go to Wrangerton and fetch the grandmamma that is there. She shall not be afraid of railways with me to take care of her!"

'Oh, Johnnie, if you can but bring her! I really think she would consent. She will never refuse you, and once here, how happy she will be! That is an excellent thought.' She kissed him, and he, thinking it the good-night, continued—'Can you stay a little longer? There is something I have been wishing to say to you.'


'That property of Mrs. Nesbit's,' he said, casting down his eyes.

'Yes,' and she sighed.

'My uncle, not long before his death, talked over family matters, and told me the history of its being settled on me.'

'I am glad you know it—it was on my mind to tell you.'

'What a frightful injustice it was! I have been considering a good deal lately, and this seems to be the right way. I find it is not much less than 150,000 l. Now I suppose if the poor old lady had acted as most people would, it would have been divided between the three, and my Aunt Theodora has a clear right to her third part. Could you persuade Uncle Percy to see it is only fair they should have it?'

'I hope he will,' said Mrs. Martindale. 'No one can doubt that it is just, and they will be particularly glad to be able to live in England now that their children are old enough to want education, and with that little Marcia Gardner on their hands too—adopting her as they have done with no dependence for the future.'

'What is her connexion with them, mamma? I am sure the name of Mr. Gardner is one that I used to hear in old times.' He suddenly paused, as there was a look of pain on his mother's face; but she calmly answered,

'He has been dead a long time, poor man. He married a sister of Lady Fotheringham's, a great friend of your Aunt Theodora, spent all her property, used her very ill, and at last deserted her and this little girl at Dresden, where your Uncle Percy found them in great poverty and distress. Mrs. Gardner had been maintaining herself by teaching English—

'But surely Lady Fotheringham must have helped her?'

'Lady Fotheringham was never a very warm-hearted person. I believe she thought the Gardners were—were undeserving, and she makes her son her one object. Poor Mrs. Gardner said she had wearied out her sister's kindness, and now her health was failing, and she only begged that Mr. Fotheringham would, after her death, see the child safely sent to Worthbourne, as her sister could not refuse the care of the poor little thing.'

'Did she not die in their house?'

'Yes, your aunt took her home, and nursed her till her death. They had been great friends, and there was much that made it a satisfaction to Theodora.'

'And did not the Worthbourne people accept the little girl? With no daughter of their own, I should have thought they would have been glad.'

'No; Lady Fotheringham meant to send her to some institution. She thought it undesirable that she should be brought up with her son, lest any expectations should be excited. Thereupon Uncle Percy answered, that all expectations were equal in their family, and that his little girls could not part with their playfellow.'

'Was anything ever heard of the father?'

'Yes, Percy traced him out, and found that he had died in a hospital in Paris. So the poor little thing is, to all intents and purposes, like their own.'

'There is nothing I look forward to so much as knowing Uncle Percy? I wonder if I really remember him. I am so glad this is their due. You will break it to him, will you not, mamma?'

'Will I not, my dear!'

'I will ask Uncle Christopher to have the papers ready to be signed. Well then, my father's share would have gone to my brothers and sisters, and so it shall, and then their fortunes will be a little more respectable. And now, taking myself to stand in my Uncle Martindale's place, there is 50,000l. left. Don't you think it might go towards Church matters in the West Indies?'

'Have you thought of it well, my dear?'

'I have been considering it continually these six months,' said Lord Martindale. 'Will that do? Ah, I see you are not going to tell me it is my duty to keep it.'

'No, indeed, I should never dare to say so.

'That is very kind of you, mamma. I was afraid it might not seem to older folks as it does to me, and I cannot bear to keep that money.'

'I can hardly judge,' she said, laying her hand fondly on his arm. 'There was so much pain connected with that property I never believed it could give me half the pleasure it does now.'

It is the interval between the villagers' dinner and the arrival of the county neighbours. The glorious sunshine of early spring is on the avenue where the school children are at play, and the party staying in the house are watching them, and regaling themselves with tea and cake.

'Now, mamma, do go in and rest like a wise person.' Thus speaks the young lord, who, with a small, frail, worn, but very sweet-looking old lady in deep mourning leaning on his arm, has just found his mother busied in hospitable cares. 'Think of all you have to do by and by, and pray go and rest. Grand-mamma is going to look at the old women at tea in the lodge, and then she will come to you. Won't you conduct her in, Uncle Percy, and not let her fly off to anything else?'

'What is everyone to do? I can rest to-morrow. I cannot leave everyone to their own devices.'

'Oh! grandmamma is with the grandees in the drawing-room,' declares a tall bright girl. 'Helen and I will see to the rest. Do go in, mamma. Johnnie and I will take care this grandmamma comes to no harm.'

'They are a great deal too kind to me,' says Mrs. Moss, as Anna drew her other arm into hers; 'only pray rest, my dear Violet.'

Mr. Fotheringham, who looks somewhat gray, but hearty and merry as ever, holds out his arm as if it was her fate, and they turn towards the house. She turns round and says, 'I suppose I need not talk of Theodora's resting. Where is she?'

'Don't you see her? There, on the slopes,—she is teaching little Antony to climb the old scraggy thorn where her governess once captured her. Now have I not brought her home as buxom, blithe, and debonair a dame as you would wish to see?'

'I have been wondering at her. She is so much fatter and handsomer than ever before, and her spirits so high! Why, she used to be the gravest person!'

'There is a great deal in having found one's vocation, and running after wild boys is hers. I leave them to her, and take the female department. Ha! Marcia!' catching hold of the joyous child who races after him, calling, 'Papa! papa! come, that lady is showing us an English game we want you to play!'

'Learn it well. Perhaps I shall come by and by, and see if you are perfect. Only don't overwhelm Miss Brandon.'

'Oh no, papa, she has kept hold of my hand all day. She wants me to come and see her at her house, but I said I could not go without Dolly.'

'Now run back to her then! If you compliment my wife, Violet, I am quite as much amazed at your friend Emma Brandon. I never thought to see her look so blooming, or of so much consequence. I am glad good old Lady Elizabeth has lived to see this happy development.'

'Yes, Emma thrives on being active in all that is good. We tell her she is a person of weight in the county, and really her example has worked wonders in the tone of the neighbourhood.'

'Not hers alone, perhaps! This house, such as it has been of late years, must have a very different influence from the pinnacle of state it used to be.'

'Did you see Emma's orphans—the nicest looking children here?'

'What I did see was the instinct that pounced on Marcia from among the whole contemporary bunch of Violets, and indeed the child is very like her father.'

'I suspect if you want to keep Marcia to yourself you will have a battle to fight.'

'Hem! No, no, we could not spare her—the prettiest thing in the family,—Dolly would break her heart, and mamma, too! No, no, not just as we have something for the creatures to live on.

'I am very glad to hear you say that. I trusted you were not going to mortify Johnnie.'

'Theodora thought with me that it was best to look on it as an act of restitution; and as to any previous feelings on the matter, I believe the hands it comes through are enough to sweeten it.'

'Johnnie came into my room early this morning to tell me he thought you would be kind.'

'It is not a difficult kindness. Antony's schooling is becoming imminent, and family men can't be proud. I do not deny that I am very much obliged to him.'

'And you will live at the cottage?'

'And be only too glad to make Englishwomen of the girls.'

'You will help Johnnie and me. We shall want your advice very often, for it is a great responsibility for so young a head of the family. The dear boys are as good and affectionate as possible, and we have never had the least difficulty, but Johnnie is very little older to be in authority.'

'I don't think you and he likely to break down. I was impressed the other day, when Arthur was talking nonsense, with the quiet effective way in which Johnnie set him down—-a great big fellow taller than himself. I thought it indicated a most wholesome state of affairs.'

'Yes, Arthur looks up to Johnnie with all his heart. Is he not a fine fellow, so exactly like his father?'

'He puts me in mind of him continually.'

'The same sort of sweet, rough manner! He used always to say these two would be the same John and Arthur over again, without the disadvantages.'

The saddened voice was checked by the appearance of a brilliant-looking young lady, very tall, beautifully formed, with jet black hair, splendid dark eyes, and a glowing complexion. 'Mamma! I had lost you. I went to see if you were housed, and only found grandmamma anxious you should rest; so Lord St. Erme went one way, and I the other, to look for you.

'Thank you, dear Helen, I am on my road. Take care of every one. Lady Lucy is your charge, you know.'

'Oh, mamma!' stopping her, 'was not dear Johnnie's speech beautiful!' Then coming near enough to whisper, 'Lord St. Erme was so struck with it!' And, with a happy pressure of the hand, she hastens off, and they saw her soon joined by another figure.

'Your prediction verified!' observes Violet, smiling.

'Tell me the whole story. I long to hear how it came about.'

'It is a short story it was curious. That coal-pit adventure took a strong hold of Helen's mind as a little child, and it always was the event of her life that she had seen the hero. When she was about seven years old she met with his poems on her grandmamma's shelves; the melody of them caught her imagination, and she used to sit poring over them till she could say whole pages by heart. I remember her ecstasy at discovering that her dear ballad of the Troubadour had an author, and he the colliery hero. You always said I had a feudal feeling for him, and she got it, I don't know how. Her papa used to laugh so see her light up if any one said Lord St. Erme had been speaking in the House; and when she was quite a little thing, she really stole away and read his pamphlet on emigration, blushing so desperately when I found her with it that I would not take any notice. This enthusiasm was only because he was a live model of poetry and benevolence. She had never seen him since she was five years old, and did not remember him in the least.'

'When did they meet?'

'Three years ago, when dear grandpapa and grandmamma set their hearts on her having a season in London, and seemed to think it quite wrong she should not be presented. I did not like it: hers had been a character so difficult to manage, and I feared the effect of admiration.'

'You thought of her aunt?'

'I did. But all was safe; this enthusiasm was to be her protection. She had no idea of flirtation, and it never seemed to enter her mind to be excited by the admiration she met with. It only teazed her to be interrupted in her greatest delight, sitting by me or her grandmamma and hearing Lord St. Erme talk to us; and by and by she used to put in some observation, and she is so much the cleverest and best read of us, that it always was to the purpose. Dear child! she had no notion-she was so perfectly simple and open about her enthusiasm. Annie and Violet used to come and ask her if she had seen Lord St. Erme and the Duke, regarding both as the same sort of spectacle. Indeed, there was a standing dispute among the sisters, when Helen would call her Earl the greatest man of the age.

'And pray when did the Earl begin to be smitten?'

'Much sooner than I imagined. He was always talking to me, and I, thinking it the old malady, used to pity him, while he, it seems, thought himself old, and beneath the notice of such a creature as Helen, since he could not succeed with her aunt in his best days. So it went on, and I don't know when we should have come to an understanding if . At last, you know, he carried the bill he had been working at for years.'

'The colliery children?'

'Yes, it was the triumph of his life. We had been thinking a great deal of it. Helen and I were going to a breakfast, and while she was dressing she was only wild to read the debate. Little Theodore was set to watch for the Times, and bring it to her the moment grandpapa had done with it. I can see Helen glowing over it, and her sisters wondering if she would meet him. "Oh no," she said, sighing, "he will be at no such foolish affair. If I could but stay at home for the chance of his coming to talk it over with grandpapa!"'

'Of course you did meet him?'

'Yes; there was a fine young guardsman, a son of Mrs. Bryanstone's, talking to us, and Helen looking grave and wearied, when we saw Lord St. Erme coming, and—it was too transparent! Helen's black eyes were dancing and sparkling, and her cheeks in a glow. I know she felt as if she was meeting a conqueror after a victory, as if the honour was in his notice. Their eyes met as she held out her hand, and then the change was in an instant; the colour spread and deepened, her eyes were cast down, and for him, he blushed as he used to do in Theodora's time. Poor Mr. Bryanstone! I pitied him, and tried to talk to him.'

'When did he speak?'

'He came to me the next morning and told me how he had thought it impossible he should ever form another attachment, but now Helen had gone beyond all his visions. I cannot tell you what he said. I could only remember your declaring he had a gift of perpetual youth. Not that it was foolish, but so ardent, and so well understanding dear Helen, except that he fancied himself too old for her, and that his position was against him.'

'Did you say—Try?'

'I thought it best to speak to Helen myself. Poor dear! she fairly burst into tears, because she said it was too much, and he did not know what a wilful, headstrong temper she had; but it was great joy all the time.'

'And this was three years ago? I had no idea of it.'

'As she was so very young, we thought it best to be in no haste to make it known, lest it should only be her bright fancy.

Johnnie and I were sure it was a real deep attachment, but it seemed safer to wait, and besides, I could not wish anyone to be married as young as I was. Lord St. Erme was very good and patient, and I think he has been rewarded. Grandpapa was very much pleased; it seemed to relieve his mind as to us. And you cannot think how rejoiced I have been, that a girl like Helen, whose elder brother is so little older, should have some one to look up to so entirely, far better than if he had been nearer her own age.'

'Three years! a trial! Has she never faltered? I suppose she had her coquetry out at five years old, when she was an arrant little piece of vanity?'

'It was so evident as to be well pulled up. All self-complaisances were absorbed in the sense of inferiority to him, and her faults the more resolutely conquered in the desire to be worthy of him. Oh! there has not been a moment's doubt! If the romance is less, there has been a deeper, quieter affection and confidence.'

'I am proud of my prediction.'

'I like to remember her papa's answer. It is like his consent. How he liked to stroke Helen's head, and call her Theodora's deputy!'

A silence, broken by Mr. Fotheringham—'How do you think Lady Martindale? She looks very well.'

'Yes, she lives in her grandchildren. Yours, as being younger than mine, will be a renewal of delight.'

'I wonder whether I shall ever see the warmth you all ascribe to her; she seems to me to be as grand and impassive as ever.'

'That is an outward habitual manner, but if you had seen her in grief, or had it to share with you—Oh! grandmamma and I could never get on without each other; we have come quite to lean on each other now, and there are such bonds between us,—the buried links are the firmest, as you once wrote.'

'I think they are. I dare say you still wear my sister's cross.'

'That I do;' her hand on the chain; 'it has had a double value since it used to lie on dear John's little table. One of the last things he said was to thank me for lending it; but that he had learnt not to look on it only as the memorial of frail earthly love, but as the token of the endless love that gives hope and joy.'

'He was very happy, you said. How I longed to be with him!'

'Quite happy; it put me in mind of what he said of your sister's peaceful sinking. Once he told me it was the way he had always wished it to end. And I was so thankful he was spared to form and guide Johnnie.'

'I should not have spoken of these things on a day like this.'

'Do not say so. To have you and Theodora with whom to talk over dear Arthur and John, is a new pleasure to me, and to-day this talk has been especially comfortable.'

'Is it a trying day?'

'No, it is very gratifying, and this talk with you has been one of its pleasantest parts.' And understanding a kind look of solicitude, 'Yes, I am very happy. If life is a long hot summer's day, the sunshine is very cheerful, and there are pleasant way-side shades, as well as, above all, the one shadow of the "Great Rock in a weary land."


'Now and then, but there is plenty of heartsease to be found in it.'

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