Analysis of Rachel Pemberton in “Adeline Mowbray”

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Rachel Pemberton appears in Adeline Mowbray as a strong female character, Quaker minister, and a devoted teacher providing intellectual education and spiritual guidance for Adeline, a vulnerable victim of social protest and emotionally abusive parenting. Minor characters like Mrs. Pemberton contribute their lessons of modern life to the nineteenth-century novel, which shifts “the narrative focus away from an established center, toward minor characters” (Hill 733).

The protagonist is initially terrified of a stranger “dressed in neat, modest garb of a strict quaker,” who may judge her on life decisions and vice (Opie 151). However, Adeline’s first impression is false since Mrs. Pemberton proves to be a caring mother-figure for both her and Editha, whose eccentricity comes from her difficult upbringing. Mrs. Pemberton’s benevolent attitude may also symbolize the shift from radical views of the Revolutionary period to the Enlightenment movement, protecting unique ideas, values, and beliefs.

Rachel Pemberton delivers compassion and support for troubled, inexperienced women who fail to adapt to the demands of the patriarchal society instilling the idea that marriage is the requirement for a proper woman (Prof. 2). She perfectly combines feminine virtue with intellect and respect for Quaker values of integrity and peace. Thus, it is possible to view her as a character treasuring human freedom by respecting Adeline’s position on marriage (“and I respect thy resolution”) and promoting a non-judgmental attitude to different values and choices (Opie 152). The paternalism approach of Editha encouraging Adeline’s obedience while ‘imprisoning’ the character in her stiffing dress might be an allusion to slavery.

The contrast between the characters emphasizes Mrs. Pemberton’s flexibility and sensibility employed for the benefit of Adeline to instruct and guide her through life. The author uses a Romantic mode of writing with its focus on beauty, nature, and sensory descriptions to characterize Mrs. Pemberton. She gracefully expresses hopes for Adeline’s prosperity: “I have heard what was sweeter to my ear than the voice of the nightingale; I have seen a blooming girl nursed in idleness and prosperity” (Opie 155). The conversations with Adeline reveal Rachel’s benevolent personality and her eagerness to offer motherly support to the young woman and rectify Editha’s mistakes.

Adeline views Mrs. Pemberton as an independent and strong authority figure living by high moral standards, so the protagonist seems to feel inadequate or immoral around her instructress. Mrs. Pemberton is not an object of satire, as the author primarily criticizes masculinity and associated stereotypes for their devastating impact on female identity, diminishing women’s role in society (Prof. 4). The author uses her perfection and obedience to the ideals of strict and virtuous existence as a rational alternative to Editha’s views representing humanity’s faults and mindless eccentricity (Prof. 2). Therefore, Rachel Pemberton might be the voice of the author’s teachings on morality.

Mrs. Pemberton exemplifies the moral character of a Quaker woman, seeking religious truth through the values of integrity, equality, and simplicity. The traits might be unavailable to African and Native American female characters due to the religious nature of the values Mrs. Pemberton represents that are also congenial to Amelia Opie. Namely, the virtues of Quakerism (originating in England) to which the author converted in the 1820s cannot be applied to the mixed-race servant, Savanna, whose “threatening qualities” of rebelliousness and “potentially troublesome sexuality” (Carol 356). Despite the differences in values, Rachel Pemberton might be compared to Savanna, as both women share a “character of sensibility, reason, and commonsense” (Prof. 3). The qualities of Savanna combined with her rejection of authority and conventions (absent in Rachel) might be the reason for Adeline’s commitment to her servant.

Overall, the portrayal of a sensible and graceful character of Rachel Pemberton served the purpose of expressing the author’s thoughts on admirable morality influenced by the Quaker beliefs. Mrs. Pemberton put her heart into attempts to reverse the consequences of Adeline’s bizarre upbringing and faulty social development by showing proper maternal responsibility. The minor character also teaches the reader about the positive role of education and religion in the lives of nineteenth-century women oppressed by masculine influence and patriarchy.

Works Cited

Carol, Howard. “The Story of the Pineapple”: Sentimental Abolition and Moral Motherhood in Amelia Opie’s Adeline Mowbray.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 3, no. 3, 1998, pp. 355–376.

Hill, Cecily Erin. “Narrative Didacticism in Amelia Opie’s Adeline Mowbray.” SEL Studies in English Literature, vol. 55, no. 4, 2015, pp. 731–750. Web.

Opie, Amelia Anderson. Adeline Mowbray or The Mother and Daughter Tale. Edited by Anne McWhir, Broadview Editions, 2010.