Everyone comes to visit Mr Hope in his sick-bed, including some character named Alice, whom I missed several chapters ago not because I thought she was unimportant, but because she truly escaped my attention until Mr Hope asked her, here in chapter 11, if she was the one responsible for the delicious goods Mrs Grey had dropped off. I then spent the next quarter-hour trying to figure out who Alice was because I’m easily distracted by things like foil and domestics.

We get a little more information about Mr Hope’s accident, but it’s not entirely reliable. He believes “that a stone cast from behind the hedge might have struck his horse,” but that’s all we hear for the moment about that intriguing tidbit. I hope this turns up later, and I hope Mrs Rowland has been working on her pitching arm, but that’s just me. I’ve sneaked ahead a little in the reading and I have to tell you I’m not currently a big Mr Hope fan. But don’t listen to me yet. I don’t want to prejudice you. Anyway, Hester is relieved that Mr Hope is safe because she has a crush on him and I’m going to have a whole lot more to say about this coupling later, but a sneak peek is: I’m not a fan and I don’t understand it. (Literally. But again: more on that later.)

Mrs Grey tries to start something by getting the room riled up against my BFF Mrs Rowland, relying on her old standby, gossipy bad-mouthing. However, we get to see Mr Hope in action, dodging ducking and diving the smack talk like a trained dancer:

“Mrs Rowland was quite put out, poor soul! You know she thinks everything goes wrong, on purpose to plague her.”

“I think she had some higher feelings on that occasion,” said Mr Hope, gently, but gravely. “I am indebted to her for a very anxious concern on my account, and for kind offices in which perhaps none of my many generous friends have surpassed her.”

Mrs Grey, somewhat abashed, said that Mrs Rowland had some good qualities: it was only a pity that her unhappy temper did not allow them fair play.

“It is a pity,” observed Mr Hope; “and it is at the same time, an appeal to us to allow her the fair play she does not afford herself.”

Zach does that. It’s irritating. I want to say something monstrous about the woman who cut me off in the check-out line; Zach wants to see things from her side. “She had ice cream,” he’ll say. Like that’s supposed to foster empathy. “She clearly doesn’t need it,” I’ll say. “Does Haagen-Daaz make a celery flavor?” Zach calls me a monster and gestures ever so slightly with his eyes to my pack of Reese’s peanut butter eggs. Still, he pays half the mortgage.

Several days later, Mrs Grey stops by for a talk with Mr Hope. Since he’s bed-ridden, she can’t beckon him into the Greys’ super-secret side room where all the other crazy conversations happen out of earshot, so she has to do it at his place. The topic: How great it would be if he were to propose to Hester. Only problem? He’s not in to Hester; he’s in to Margaret. This is going to be tough to explain to Mrs Grey, especially when she says things like this:

Her own admiration of Hester was so exclusive, and the superiority of Hester’s beauty so unquestionable, that it never occurred to her that the attraction which drew Mr Hope to the house could be any other than this.

Since Hester isn’t getting any younger (she’s 21, you know, and if she doesn’t marry soon she’ll break a hip), and Mr Hope isn’t getting any closer to proposing, Mrs Grey brings the whole thing to a crisis by suggesting that Mr Hope is not acting honorably if he doesn’t soon get it together and get to matrimonying:

“If you have not intended to win Hester’s affections, you have behaved infamously. You have won her attachment by attentions which have never varied, from the very first evening that she entered our house, till this afternoon. You have amused yourself with her, it seems; and now you are going to break her heart.”

Mr Hope is deeply rattled and confused by this turn of events. (Also, he’s just recently out of a coma; but still: daylight’s a wasting.) Martineau tells us that, after Mrs Grey leaves, Mr Hope spends a long time thinking about what his duty compels him to do. I wrote in the margin of my copy, “Should duty be externally directed or internally directed” — is our ultimate responsibility to ourselves or to others? And it’s not an easy one-or-the-other question to answer, I think; and it’s a question that all right-thinking people struggle with on a daily basis. Is Mr Hope’s struggle over being honest about his attractions or being honorable over the perception of his intentions a worthy one? I…don’t think so. This part of Martineau’s plot I’m not crazy about; and I feel like Hope could have benefitted from some honesty: “No, I like the one whose beauty is questionable, thankyouverymuch.”

Then again, what do I know from heterosexual Victorian courtship rituals? (Well, quite a bit, really, because all of these novels are steeped in that dynamic; I’m using that as a rhetorical device, though, so just stick with me.) What is a little alarming is the precarious situation nineteenth century unmarried men were in when they were around unmarried women. If they so much as winked accidentally because a bit of London soot got in the eye they were practically engaged. And maybe that’s what keeps Hope from contradicting Mrs Grey: if he says anything about Margaret he might find himself in as inevitable position as he’s about to find himself in now. There’s no winning for this guy.

After several hours of soul-searching about how to handle this situation — should he pursue Hester, since everyone thinks he is already, or could he keep trying for Margaret — Martineau tells us

He decided at length how to act; and he decided wrong;—not for want of waiting long enough, but because some considerations intruded themselves which warped his judgment, and sophisticated his feelings. He decided upon making the great mistake of his life.

How Hope handles himself after his decision — to see how things go with the pretty one — is very frustrating. He decides that before he commits fully to this course of action, he’s going to get the opinions of Mr Grey and Margaret (the one he actually likes). But he doesn’t approach either of these people with the truth; he doesn’t say, for instance, to Mr Grey: “I really like Margaret. It’s been suggested by your snoop of a wife that I’ve been leading Hester on. If that last part isn’t true, can I safely make a play for Meg?” No. He says to Mr Grey, “Do you think I will meet with success if I asked Hester to marry me.” And of course Mr Grey says, “Of course.” And the same thing happens when Hope asks Margaret.

This is how he’s going to get “trapped in an unhappy marriage” (at least according to the back of the book). That he never thinks to ask about Margaret, and if she might be interested in him, is a mystery to me. (Of course, Margaret isn’t interested in him in that way; she’s still shining for Mr Enderby. Still, Hope doesn’t know that.)

After hearing from all sides that yep, Hester is the best way to go, Hope thinks

“It must have been my own doing; there must have been that in my manner and conduct which authorised all this expectation and satisfaction,—an expectation and satisfaction which prove to be no fancy of Mrs Grey’s. I have brought upon myself the charge of Hester’s happiness. She is a noble woman, bound to me by all that can engage my honour, my generosity, my affection. She shall be happy from this day, if my most entire devotion can make her so.”

Here’s where I show my limitations as a reader. Much like that Alice character at the beginning of this recap that I have no memory of, I can’t seem to remember at what point any of this alleged mistaken interactions between Hope and Hester might have happened. As far as I can remember, they haven’t been alone together. Hope hasn’t given her a gift of weird poetry. (Quick personal story: I once had a guy break up with me because he was a poet and couldn’t come up with rhymes for “Michael.” Hand to God.) And I feel that Martineau has done this in a couple of places, reached a conclusion in the text that isn’t necessarily borne out by the text; or, perhaps, I’ve just been more sloppy than usual in my comprehension.

An immediate example is now: Once Hope is done with Mr Grey and Margaret, he goes maybe goes on a walk with Hester. I can’t tell what’s going on. A walk is mentioned. Mr Hope seems to be the one initiating it. The walk possibly happens. And this all seems sloppily written; like, maybe, Martineau herself never really had a romantic walk that led to talk of marriage and so she’s sort of mumbling that part the way I mumble the words until I get to the chorus. (Who remained unmarried — and I’m not a fan of mixing the biographical too much into the artistic when talking about writers because that becomes a treacherous slippery slope.)

Hester is overjoyed — and it’s embarrassing because we know how Hope felt about her initially. And she immediately starts building up a new life that’s going to solve everything she thinks is wrong with herself, because that’s totally how love works, except when it doesn’t, except when it instead exacerbates all the things that are wrong with us because love is a magnifying glass that gigantifies neediness when it’s not shared. And this love isn’t shared. Still, Hester thinks, “Her pride, her jealousy, would trouble her no more: it was for want of sympathy—perfect sympathy always at hand—that she had been a prey to them. She should pine no more, for there was one who was her own.”

Chapter 11 is a lovely bit of business for Sophia, who’s here to chew bubblegum and spread rumors and she’s all out of bubblegum. “I often wonder how things get abroad,” one of the character muses.

In the next section, things get worse between Hester and Hope. But that’s what we signed on for, apparently. See you there.