Summary of The Enchantress; or, Where Shall I Find Her?: A Tale
By Mrs Martin
One Volume (1801)
The novel begins with Sir Philip Desormeaux’s somewhat unorthodox attempt to find a wife by advertising in the fashionable newspapers. He is a wealthy gentleman, thirty-five years of age, who can phrase his advertisement to convey an attractive personal energy. Consequently, he receives many replies. All but one fail to please him. His friend, Colonel Montford, calls to see him and plucks out another interesting response from Sir Philip’s little bonfire of rejected letters.
The friends weigh up the two selected answers and conclude that both must be followed up. One lively writer is anonymous, so she is nicknamed ‘the little Gipsy’, and the other, who craves protection, signs herself ‘M.M.’. The two gentlemen are sufficiently intrigued to decide that they will try for both women, with Montford opting for M.M.. However, on his friend’s departure, Sir Philip seeks rapid contact with both ladies, thereby keeping his options open and retaining the power of choice for himself, rather than Montford.
At the playhouse that evening, Sir Philip is gallant enough to rescue an old gentleman and two ladies in a neighbouring theatre box from a noisy intrusion by drunken young men. He is then enthusiastically thanked by Mr and Mrs Macfarlane, and receives a blushing smile of gratitude from the old gentleman’s pretty young daughter, Jessy. It quickly becomes apparent that Jessy’s step-mother has no fondness for the young girl, but a decided liking for titled gentlemen, judging by her alacrity in flirting with Sir Philip and inviting him to their Harley Street house for dinner next evening.
Old Mr Macfarlane had been a successful tobacconist who married his slightly deformed but very socially adept second wife in the hope that she would educate young Jessy for him. Mrs Macfarlane, however, had become tired of her role as teacher at a Ladies’ Boarding School, so Jessy acquired little learning as she grew into a young woman. Sir Philip is attracted to Jessy and wishes to rescue her from her step-mother, but he is aware that he also has his two correspondents to think about. So he goes to mull things over with Montford, but is disappointed to learn that his friend has left town for some weeks. Discussing affairs of the heart with his French servant, Bronze, does not improve matters, particularly when Sir Philip realises that he is seventeen years older than Jessy, and therefore probably distinctly undesirable to her.
On the next occasion that Sir Philip dines with the Macfarlanes, he is irritated to encounter a much younger suitor for Jessy’s hand, named Bosvile. However, his jealousy is quickly soothed by noticing that Jessy treats Bosvile with evident disgust, and her smiles are directed towards Sir Philip himself. Mr Macfarlane takes Sir Philip aside, informing him of the intended match between Jessy and Bosvile, so poor Sir Philip has to do his best to appear interested without becoming annoyed.
The following day, Sir Philip is further saddened to receive a note from M.M., to say that she now feels she can go no further towards a rendez-vous with him. Bronze manages to humour his master into writing back to M.M., expressing his disappointment and his wish to be her friend. However, Sir Philip then experiences yet another disappointment when the other writer, the anonymous ‘gipsy’, fails to arrive at their appointed meeting place. Sir Philip’s next meeting with Jessy, at Lady Gas’s house, leads to a surprising discovery. It turns out that Jessy may have been his ‘incognita’, as her spiteful step-mother refers to Jessy’s strange wish to be in the Park at the appointed time. Jessy herself seems very embarrassed at any questioning about it yet does agree to talk secretly to Sir Philip on Saturday morning. Sir Philip is then even more confused to receive a new, much more encouraging response from M.M.. His love life is becoming very entangled indeed.
A subsequent note from his incognita tells him that she can meet him in Kensington Gardens on Saturday morning, but Sir Philip has to decline this offer as he is seeing Jessy then. He therefore assumes that Jessy cannot be the anonymous gipsy writer. When Sir Philip arrives at the Macfarlane’s house, an angry Bosvile is just leaving and Jessy is in disgrace for rejecting him. Mrs Macfarlane accuses Jessy of fancying Sir Philip, much to the embarrassment of both. He is left to calm down the step-mother after Jessy is dismissed.
Jessy then writes a secret letter to Sir Philip, in which she explains that in the past she has been imprudent, but he must not think badly of her. Later, Sir Philip has a chance to assure her secretly that he will be her friend. In a snatched secret conversation, he confirms Jessy’s identity as M.M., not as the anonymous gipsy, and learns of her love for a lost previous suitor. However, he is distracted from thoughts of Jessy when he spies a veiled lady in the street with her friend, and finds her graceful walk and low-toned reflections about love very attractive.
Sir Philip is a kind-hearted gentleman. So when, on a subsequent visit, he learns from a distraught Jessy that she has actually seen her lost suitor in the street, he does his best to soothe her agitation. It is with considerable pleasure, however, that he leaves London for a visit to Gloucestershire, at the house of his old friend, Mr Templar. Sir Philip visits the Cheltenham Wells and there observes a rather brash couple, the Joddrells, with their young female companion, Milly, who is wearing a veil. He has no chance to talk to Milly because Mrs Macfarlane and Jessy, also on a visit to the Wells, arrive at this point, and he is affectionately haranged by the step-mother for not contacting her since her arrival in Cheltenham.
Sir Philip goes on a country walk, where he meets a talented young artist with a sweet singing voice. The young lady is very attractive and falls into an easy conversation with him, allowing him to carry her portfolio. It seems that they have met before; she is the veiled Milly whom he observed at the Wells, and she clearly recognises him. (‘Milly’ is a family nickname, formed by abbreviating her surname: her full name is Josepha Milward.) He finds her a delightful companion, and the thought of her is still fresh in his mind even at a later gathering at the Macfarlanes‘ Cheltenham house. Here, he encounters an old friend, Bradnynch, who appears to be Jessy’s latest unwelcome suitor.
Sir Philip writes a letter to Montford in which he bewails poor Jessy’s troubles, but he is himself distracted by a visit from Josepha to the Templars’ house, where she is an old friend. This gives him an opportunity to become even better acquainted with her, during a walk into the town. Their conversation is animated and they very much enjoy each other’s company. Sir Philip is received at the Joddrells’ house and the party decides to visit the Upper Dancing Rooms that evening, where Sir Philip is delighted to dance with Josepha.
Jessy is relieved when it is her turn to dance with Sir Philip because she is finding Bradnynch’s attentions most irritating. Sir Philip is also irritated during the course of the evening, but his vexation is caused by the Joddrells’ quarrelsome banter when all he wants is to speak to Josepha in peace. However, he is pleased to note that Mrs Joddrell seems both proud and fond of her young relation, and likes to boast about her good qualities.
On a daytime stroll in Cheltenham, not long after the Dancing Rooms visit, Sir Philip is taken aback to be accosted by Montford in the street. Montford refers to Sir Philip’s letter and exclaims that he must be taken to see Jessy immediately- he is the lost suitor for whom she pines! Sir Philip swiftly begins to stage-manage a reunion between the two lovers, but his conference with Montford on this subject is interrupted by a surprising incident near Leckhampton Hill. Torn scraps of a message in verse are scattered on the ground and both men attempt to retrieve the missing scraps of paper, trying vainly to make a complete page from them. Montford teases Sir Philip about his excitement. The discovery of this draft of a song is thrilling for Sir Philip because it is the very one that Josepha was singing when she first met him on his hill walk and, as the writing is his incognita’s, he believes that Josepha must herself be his mysterious gipsy correspondent. Later that day, Sir Philip returns to the hill where his painstaking search finally unearths the missing fragment of paper, and he is the delighted possessor of three hand-written verses. It is hard for Sir Philip to contain his joy when he is subsequently seated at the tea table of his hostess, Mrs Templar, listening to a conversation about Josepha’s delightful personality.
Bronze notices his master’s lovelorn state that evening, and gives Sir Philip background information about the Joddrells’ estate in the West Indies, and of Josepha Milward’s dependence on the kindly, if oddly-matched, couple. Sir Philip is pleased to have the chance to observe the Joddrells more closely next morning, when the Templars brings him to visit them. This visit provides him with another opportunity for enjoying Josepha’s witty company, but at the later gathering in the great room of the Cheltenham Library, Sir Philip is disturbed to see that Colonel Woodley, a tall, handsome officer, seems very attentive to Josepha. A subsequent group conversation about Colonel Woodley’s apparent perfection provides comforting information for Sir Philip, as Josepha declares that she cannot decide to like a man seriously unless she knows his faults as well as his virtues.
It gives Sir Philip further pleasure to be informed that night by an observant Bronze that Miss Milward is very highly regarded in the local area. After an unsettled night’s sleep, Sir Philip is about to ride over to the Joddrells’ house when his host’s distressed cries stop him in his tracks. Sir Philip rushes over to rescue Mr Templar, who is in difficulties with cramp while swimming in the pond. Sir Philip saves his host’s life, but catches fever as a result of the escapade, and only just manages to survive.
Once he begins to regain his senses and his strength, Sir Philip wants to ask about Josepha, but is unwilling to risk the humiliation of being rejected as a suitor. His hosts have noticed his liking for their young friend, but are very discreet about their observations, so it is left to Bronze to inform his master that the Joddrells have left Cheltenham. Sir Philip rides to Cheltenham with Templar, feeling depressed that his chance to win Josepha’s love may have been lost. In Cheltenham, he passes Montford and Jessy walking arm-in-arm, and Montford waves happily, showing his delight that he has won Jessy as his love.
Sir Philip calls on Mrs Macfarlane, and learns that Jessy is now engaged to Montford. So he can be justly pleased with himself for the happiness which his
stage-management has achieved. He later rejoins Mr Templar, who has a letter with bad news about Josepha: she is about to depart for the West Indies with the Joddrells. Mr Templar then gives Sir Philip details of Josepha’s history. Her father was bitterly hurt when her mother left him for another man, and swore that his daughter would be brought up never to cause such pain. He consigned his little daughter to his half-sister, who brought the little girl up kindly, and eventually inherited money enough to attract her younger husband, Mr Joddrell. Josepha’s father stipulated in his will that his daughter was not to quit her aunt while single or to marry before she was twenty-five. Young Mr Joddrell has not managed the West Indies property well and has to return there promptly, so Josepha is bound to go with them, as she has no other protection available.
Sir Philip immediately plans to write to the Joddrells, but Mr Templar points out that the letter may not arrive before the family leave England. Sir Philip orders a chaise, much to the approval of the Templars and of Bronze, and undertakes a dashing moonlit journey to London. As soon as he arrives in London, he despatches a letter to Josepha in which he asks her to tell him whether she really is his anonymous correspondent, and if she can love him.
It is a very nervous Sir Philip who is led into Josepha’s presence later that morning, but he repeats his proposal, which she accepts with self-deprecating grace, and she also acknowledges her identity as the anonymous correspondent. The couple are married within a fortnight, and Jessy and Josepha soon establish a friendship as close as their husbands’. The Templars are delighted to join both couples on a tour of Wales, and Lady Josepha Desormeaux, delighted and delightful in her marriage, paints many a Welsh scene to commemorate the happiness of their newly- married life.