Why This Room is Special
Mary Brunton, Self Control, 1811
If we make not a shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, we save from the storms of life the materials of peace at last.
The narrator of Self-Control (1811) gives words of Christian comfort: ‘If we make not a shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, we save from the storms of life the materials of peace at last.’ As the wife of a Church of Scotland minister, Mary Brunton let her religion shine through her writing.
Self-Control is a moral tale and adventure story. Laura Montreville, so virtuous she can’t believe gentlemen sell women’s corsets, struggles against the passions of a rake. Along the way she finds herself orphaned, plucks a bullet from her suitor’s neck, and is carried off to Quebec. Far from shipwrecking her faith, she escapes in a canoe.
It’s easy to mock this plot, and the critics did. So did Jane Austen, who thought Laura’s waterborne flight ‘the most natural, possible, every-day thing she ever does’. But Austen was rattled because Brunton’s novel was a runaway success, selling over 3000 copies and going through two editions in its first year of publication alone.
Brunton completed one further novel before she died bearing a stillborn son in 1818. She might have been remembered as one of the most popular nineteenth-century novelists had she lived.