Summary of Paris Lions and London Tigers  by Harriette Wilson


One volume (1825)


The novel’s opening scene takes place in the course of an English family’s extended visit abroad.  The Callam family are taking advantage of the new-found peace between England and France in order to visit the delightful city of Paris.  They are wealthy enough to enjoy these delights because Mr Callam has made his fortune through the family trade of soap-boiling.  He is a happily married man with an amiable wife, whom he courted when she was his uncle’s servant.  Their twenty-five years together have been contented and fruitful ones, blessed with one son, Peter, and three daughters, Eliza, Mary and little Frances. 


The family establish themselves in a comfortable apartment and are soon engaged in writing letters back to their various correspondents, recording their differing impressions of the complexities and charms of Parisian social life.  The Callams are pleased to receive an invitation to an evening entertainment with Madame la Comtesse de Bienpassé.  However, they do not enjoy the event as much as they had hoped to, since their hostess turns out to be wildly eccentric, and the dozen other guests are crushed, along with the Callams, into a tiny fifth-floor flat.  The family then meet various interesting members of Parisian high society, such as Madame’s pious and ascetic confessor and (in contrast) her uniformed officer/lover, among other intriguing guests.


Two rich sisters of Mr Callam, Rosabella and Clementina, attract the attention of various suitors when they arrive in the city, and join their family at various Parisian social functions.  Another new arrival is the rich, eccentric Villers who is young, handsome, and in love with Mary Callam from the moment he first sets eyes upon her.  He decides to pretend to be a dandy; if Mary then has the sense to reject him, he will consider her to be honest and honourable enough to become his bride.


The round of Parisian parties is in full flow, and Rosabella Callam assembles a party in her elegant apartment.  One of her guests is Mr Satirical Harmless, who shuffles in, wearing slip-shod shoes, while another guest, Harry Hairbrain, comments with much amusement on the disguise of his friend Villers, adorned in elaborate silk and bejewelled glory.  Those with power mingle with those who cultivate powerful people; the former are ‘lions’ and the latter, ‘tigers’.  Villers causes a sensation among the ladies at the gathering, and Mary does consider him to be extremely handsome, having noticed him at a previous entertainment and silently prayed for his future matrimonial happiness with some equivalently beautiful young lady. Despite the ridiculous nature of his attire at her aunt’s party, Mary still catches Villers’s glance with enough charm to make him blush before he can recover himself in role.


He proceeds to chatter with Mary, alternating his focus between undying devotion to her and the excellence of his silver buttons.  Mary laughs at him and he pretends to be hurt, claiming Clementina for his dancing partner instead.  Next, he dances with Mary’s older sister, Eliza, and she is instantly smitten by his charms, but Villers soon deserts her in order to imitate the newly-arrived Sir Violet Sighaway.  When challenged about this behaviour, Villers claims that Sir Violet has been imitating him!


Villers returns to his conversation with Mary, but although she feels she is falling in love with the true man within him, she coolly rejects his outer display of elaborate conversation.  She cannot, however, prevent herself from fleetingly revealing her attraction to him, and this accidental revelation reminds Villers to be wary of fortune-hunting young women.  Mary is acutely embarrassed by his dismissive response to her warmth, yet she has the courage to ask him why he is acting a part that is so different from his real character.  Despite his tenderness for her, Villers decides to carry on with his testing procedure, and replies in his most off-hand, foppish style.  At this point, Mary is collected by her brother, Peter, and the family leave the party in their carriage, with Eliza and Mary both secretly pained to be separated from the object of their love.


While his two sisters have been romantically involved in these adventures, Peter has met an actress called Elvira in a well-known gambling house, but he is disappointed to discover that he has a rival in Sir Violet Sighaway!  He quickly recovers from this setback, and is therefore somewhat unsympathetic about his sister Eliza's unrequited affection for Villers.  Mary is much more understanding with Eliza, being only too well aware of Villers's charms, but she herself is determined to keep her pining heart a secret.


The Beaumont family now arrive in Paris, and this is a timely occurrence, for it provides Mary with the much valued company of her old friend, Caroline.  Unfortunately, Caroline's brother, Samuel, is a less welcome addition to the Callams’ social circle, as he is a strict Methodist, and is, in his widowed mother's opinion only, the ideal suitor for Mary.  What Mrs Beaumont does not know, however, is that her son is emotionally involved with Hannah Pure (a thinly veiled portrait of the writer Hannah More), her own waiting woman.  The couple regard each other with holy zeal, so when Mrs Beaumont catches them kissing, she chooses to interpret their embrace as a demonstration of spiritual closeness.  She arranges that her son should visit Mary as soon as possible, and the reluctant Samuel agrees to co-operate.


Mary is much more enthusiastic about the company of his sister, Caroline Beaumont, who is engaged to her cousin, the immature Harry Hairbrain.  Mary is discomforted by her mother's probing about Samuel's visit, but she does agree to receive him.  She feels that it is her duty to consider his proposal, since this is the desire of her parents.  She has the additional motive of wishing to prove to Villers that she can do without his capricious attentions.  Samuel's proposal is subsequently initiated with considerable embarrassment, particularly since his sister, her fiancé and Villers enter the room just as he sinks to his knees before Mary.  He hurriedly takes his leave, postponing the actual proposal until the following day.


Mary and Caroline now seize the chance to talk in Mary's dressing room, where Mary learns that Caroline is planning to break off her engagement to Hairbrain, who is having affairs with other women.  Caroline scolds Mary for being in love with Villers, whom she considers to be shallow and vain.  Mary begs Caroline to dissuade Samuel from pursuing his marriage proposal any further, and Caroline agrees to this request, as she knows about Samuel's relationship with Hannah.  She later talks to her brother and persuades him to go no further with his proposal, on the grounds that Mary will want him to become a dandy.  Samuel is horrified at the idea of adopting a lifestyle which would be totally at odds with his Methodist principles.


Mrs Beaumont invites Mary and her aunt, Clementina, to stay in her elegant mansion for a fortnight.  This provides Villers with a useful opportunity to further his scheme to have a private interview with Mary.  His servant, Gustave, is sent to bribe Hannah to reveal all Mary's routines while she stays at the Beaumonts.  Gustave is not attracted to the middle-aged servant woman, but manages to convince her that he fancies her, and thus acquires the information he needs about Mary, without having to use a bribe at all.  He is told that Mary regularly takes a morning walk with her aunt to the entrance of the Bois de Boulogne.  Once apprised of this, Gustave scuttles off, leaving Hannah angry and humiliated, but with her faith to comfort her.


Caroline and Mary are pleased to establish that they are now both free of their suitors, although Caroline has found it painful to break off her engagement with Hairbrain.  Her ex-fiancé is extremely upset at the situation and gives his friend Villers the sad news, passing over Caroline's letter of rejection to him.   Villers advises the sending of a cool reply, and this is promptly despatched to Caroline.


However, Villers himself is not taking a cool approach to Mary's avoidance of him.  He asks Hairbrain to distract Clementina at the Bois de Boulogne next morning, while he seizes the chance to talk to Mary alone. They also plot to ensure that Samuel 's coach is overturned next day during its journey between Versailles and Paris.  Villers is jealous of Samuel's attentions to Mary and Hairbrain jovially bribes Samuel's coachman into ensuring that Samuel will be landed in the mud before arriving at Paris for a dinner party that evening.


Next morning, Hairbrain carries out the plan to distract Clementina, while Villers leads Mary away from her aunt.  A hurried conversation between Mary and Villers is interrupted by the desperate Hairbrain, who is running out of ways to escape Clementina's ignited romantic interest.  He is saved by the arrival of  Clementina's older suitor, the officer, who pretends to desire a duel for the fair lady's hand.  Clementina faints into Hairbrain's arms, and he is unlucky enough to be observed by Caroline in this compromising position, before she hurries away.  The two young men take their leave of Mary and her aunt, with Hairbrain in low spirits at the prospect of a ridiculous duel, and Villers in high hopes of Mary's accepting his planned proposal.


After waiting in vain for the officer to arrive for the duel, Hairbrain goes to return all Caroline's letters and presents.  The ensuing conversation quickly establishes that they are still very much in love, and the engagement is renewed.  The happy couple join her mother at the dinner table, where all the guests are later startled by poor Samuel's dishevelled appearance, as the road-side accident has been successfully engineered by his coachman.  He seems reluctant to join in the subsequent masquerade, where Villers performs brilliantly as a dancing master.  Another amusing act between a lascivious monk and a wronged woman later provides much entertainment for the guests, and Mary is startled to realise that Samuel has, in fact, participated, and is playing the part of the priest.


The story now draws to a close, with Hairbrain reunited with his Caroline, and Villers apparently poised to win the loving Mary's hand in marriage.  His proposal is accepted with joy, but he cannot resist one more test of her, falsely claiming that he is, financially speaking, a ruined man.  When she shows only compassion for his plight, he commends her lack of financial motive, and clasps her to his heart.


Mary, however, is horrified that he could have suspected her of mercenary duplicity, and now rejects his proposal and refuses to see him again, much to his distress.  She later writes that she plans to remain single, having learnt that one should not be seduced into loving on the basis of physical attraction alone.  She is a bridesmaid at Caroline's wedding, while her aunt Clementina weds the officer.  Rosabella continues to consort with dashing young men from various levels of society, and Eliza too frees herself from her single romantic entanglement, which, on reflection, seemed to be centred more on Villers's filigree buttons than on the gentleman himself.  Mr Callam returns to London with his family, and enjoys impressing his neighbours with stories of how they all fared in the scintillating world of Paris Lions and London Tigers.