Vanessa Gray, A Lady of Property

In Vanessa Gray's A Lady of Property, a young lady of quality who has fled what she thinks is a marriage for her inherited property poses as a governess to a girl named for Shakespeare's Cordelia only to attract the attentions of the master of the house. In her flight from his abuses (governesses are after all fair game), she disguises herself as a boy only to be picked up from a ditch by the very gentleman whose apparent proposal of marriage prompted her to flee her mother even before meeting him. He doesn't recognize her, and she doesn't recognize him. And since they mutually agree to keep their identities secret, Marcus turns his mind to inventing pseudonyms for them:

Vanessa Gray's A Lady of PropertyRemembering at last a recent excursion to the theater in London, he suggested, "I may have hit upon a name that suits the situation. May I address you as Viola?"

To his surprise, she laughed aloud. "If you wish, I shall not object. But in turn pray do not introduce yourself to me as the Duke Orsino."

He was startled beyond belief. Not only was this discovery of his an appealing--and if he could once see her face washed--likely attractive girl, but she was also educated. He gave a passing thought to the lovely Annabella. She had been his companion at the theater on the occasion that he remembered, but she had not been able to unravel even that simple plot.

"If you insist upon names," the girl beside him added, "I think Sebastian is most appropriate."

He grinned. Viola in the play had dressed as a boy to be close to her great love, the Duke Orsino. The character of Sebastian was Viola's brother. (131)

Note that Shakespeare is NOT identified as the author, nor is the play title of Twelfth Night given until the last few pages of the book, but Marcus is pleasantly shocked to discover a lady (despite her attire) who is educated. Once again knowledge of Shakespeare qualifies the young lady as the mate to the man who first offers the Shakespearean reference.

As the plot progresses, however, both Lottie and Marcus soon discover that Orsino really is the more suitable role. In fact that is how Lottie first acknowledges her feelings ("only deep within her ... she began to wonder whether he really played, unwittingly of course, the role of Duke Orsino" [167]) and how Marcus first alludes to his changing feelings ("'Sebastian?' He quirked an eyebrow. 'We shall have to discuss Sebastian'"(183). As Marcus realizes, "Even though they had been Sebastian and Viola, keeping to those roles of brother and sister, he now knew the Duke Orsino was his proper position" (186). Of course, first they have to cope with their real identities and Lottie's inevitable fear that he has merely staged their encounter in order to gain her property.

Their final reunion is impenetrable for the listening butler, but he call her by the name Viola and responds to her acceptance of his proposal with "No more Sebastian" (221). At the end, as throughout the novel, the narrative of Twelfth Night serves as an intellectual touchstone for the mutual attraction and involvement of the two characters. The other lurid events--the pursuit of Lottie by the vicious Sir Albin and the duel between Marcus and him--veer considerably the Shakespearean model, but the emotional and intellectual rapprochement between Lottie and Marcus is always signalled with Shakespeare.

Go to Introduction References by Play  Return to Rewriting Shakespeare