Synopsis of the novel:
Miss Toosey, an old woman who "went three times to church" on Sundays, becomes concerned for the "Nawaub mission" in "black
Africa." Her "listening rapt face—quite a common, little, wizened old-maidish face, with nothing intellectual
or noble about it, and yet transfigured into something like beauty with the brightness of a reflected light"—attracts
the attention of young and prosperous John Rossitter, a man of the world, a barrister and a sportsman. The 75 pages
tell the story of Miss Toosey's missionary effort, of Mr. Rossitter's growing relationship with her, and of his response
to her passion for the Nawaub mission. It is, in a sense, a love story.
A quotatation (which opens the book):
"Miss Toosey always wore a black silk dress on
Sunday and went three times to church…. As the black silk was part of Sunday to Miss Toosey, so was
Miss Toosey a part of Sunday to some of the Martel people. The Miss Purts knew it was time to put on their
smart bonnets when they saw Miss Toosey pass the window, to insure their chattering into the church on their high
heels, tossing and giggling, not later than the Venite.... I think that both... the rector, and the cleric... would
quite havelost their places in the service if Miss Toosey’s seat had been empty...
I do not think it ever occurred to Miss Toosey
to think that there was anything amiss in Martel Church or its services. She was proud
of the fine, old gray-stone tower, which had been built when men gave willingly of their best for the service of
God, and so built "for glory and for beauty;" and she loved the roof of the nave, which was rich in oak carving,
bleached white by time, with angels and wonderful emblems of wonderful variety and ingenuity. And all the
rest of the church she took for granted, and did not wonder at the narrow uncomfortable pews… or at
the large galleries; or at the high pulpit, rich in red velvet and dusty fringe.... It did not strike her as curious
that the seat in the chancel should be occupied by the Peters family on one side and by the Rossitters on the other, while
the ladies and gentlemen of the choir… displayed their smart bonnets or Sunday waistcoats to great advantage… where
in return for their vocal exertions, they were privileged to behave as badly as their fancies led them.
You see, Miss Toosey was not critical, and she
had not been to any other church for many years, and custom draws a soft curtain over imperfections, and
reverence is not quick to see irreverence in others, and prayer fills the air with clouds of incense, through which
we cannot easily see bonnets, but only Heaven itself.”
Views of Victorian life and culture:
religion—Martel church and its regular
worship service are described in detail; a "revival" meeting and "the doctrine of assurance" are described and discussed at
length; as is the bishop's sermon which inspires Miss Toosey's interest in the missionary effort to Africa.
"You must not, however, suppose that Miss Toosey
was at all High Church; on the contrary she had a horror of Puseyites and of the opinions which she fondly
imagined them to hold."
clothing & fashion—Miss Toosey's well-worn black silk dress ("unpicked... remade... turned, sponged, dipped, French
chalked, cleaned, trimmed and altered" over the course of fifteen years) is contrasted with the latest fashions of the young
Miss Purts ("smart Paris bonnets... with pink roses... high heels"). The clothing worn by her deceased father, a doctor,
in his portrait is described in detail. There are many small details of clothing throughout. Mention is made of
the bare breasts of the African women.
household economy—Miss Toosey's
genteel poverty and her efforts to arrange her budget to raise funds for her mission are contrasted with the wealth
of the Rossitters.
geographic references—Martel, Brooklands
the home of the Rossiters was 2 miles from Martel, John Rossitter comes "down from London", Miss Toosey is concerned that
the "bona fide black heathen.... will not comprehend the pure Somersetshire English with which she meant to convert
books and literacy—Miss Toosey's prayer book and "little brown Bible."
"curious old book... called Voyages and Adventures."
and an atlas, "in use fifty years ago, and had been bought for Miss Toosey when she went to Miss Singer's 'Academy for Young
Ladies' to be finished."
"though we may read missionary books by the dozen."
"leaflets on missionary subjects"
"a missionary prayer in an old magazine, written
in an inflated pompous style with long words and involved sentences."
visitors bring "the Graphic" for Miss
education—"Miss Toosey... went to Miss Singer's 'Academy for Young Ladies' to be finished. At this abode of learning she
had been taught to make wax flowers and do crochet, to speak a few words of what was supposed to be French, and to play...
piano, an education which was considered very elegant and elaborate at the time, but would hardly, I'm afraid, qualify her
for one of the Oxford and Cambridge examinations, or even for a very high standard at a national school. She had also
learned a little geography and the use of globes..."
medicine—Miss Toosey's father had
been a doctor. Mr. Rossiter first calls upon Miss Toosey using as an excuse her father's prescription for toothache.
She says she will have to look for it in "a book full of valuable prescriptions."
"the rector was seized with an attack of coughing...
and sputtered and choked till Miss Toosey longed to pat him on the back... and for many months" she made "anxious inquiries
after the rector's cold and the sad delicacy of his throat, and advised gargling with port wine and alum, and other decoctions
of marvelous efficacy."
Miss Toosey is "laid up with a cold or something...
Mr. Ryder" [the churchman] do say it's the brongtypus and indigestion of the lungs."