February 9, 1851

Elizabeth Missing Sewell Gertrude 1866 ( American edition)

Elizabeth Missing Sewell
Gertrude
1866 ( American edition)

Feb 9th Sunday  I have such a cold today that I thought it best

not to go to church or to the funeral of Uncle Seth Hall.  who

died last Wednesday & is to be buried to day at 1 Oclock.

Commenced reading Gertrude by Rev W Sewell.  Edwin called

this Evening and staid an hour or more  Think it rather tiresome to read all day

although I like to do it, but seldom have the privilege.

Had Oysters to night for a rarity  Quite pleasant

Evelina described this day as pleasant, yet in his own journal Old Oliver mentioned “trees loaded with ice”.  Small wonder that Evelina opted to stay home from church to nurse a stubborn cold.  She used the quiet time to start a new novel, Gertrude, by Reverend William Sewell.

Gertrude was actually written by Rev. Sewell’s sister, Elizabeth Missing Sewell, an English author known as much for her religious tracts as for her fiction. She wrote it early in her career and, for publication purposes, gave credit for it to her Anglican brother. Neither she nor her brother were fans of Roman Catholicism, and her books usually featured the Church of England in some way. In this tale of a young woman named Gertrude Courtenay, Sewell examined a lively topic of the day: the claim of duty.  Was devotion to church more important than devotion to the home?  Spoiler alert: Sewell believed in both, but posited that duty begins at home.

The opening page of Gertrude featured a quote from Wordsworth’s poem, Excursion:

Turn to private life

and social neighborhood; look we to ourselves.

A light of duty shines on every day

For all.

This quote is an apt description of Evelina, for whom duty was an essential motivation in life.  She tried to do what was expected of her; she didn’t always succeed, but she did try. Even today, when she didn’t feel well, it must have been a struggle for her to miss both church and the funeral of a Gilmore cousin, to the point where the opportunity to indulge in reading all day eventually paled.  She needed the rest, though, and the oysters at tea in the evening were a treat, as was a visit from a nephew with whom she was particularly close: Edwin Williams Gilmore.

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