The Fortune Hunter


The Fortune Hunter

or Adventures of a Man About Town

Publisher:  J. Winchester (New York)

(Originally published under the pseudonym “Mrs. Helen Berkeley”)The Fortune Hunter

Publication Date: 1844

Brief Synopsis:

(From Imogene J. McCarthy’s 1953 Master’s Thesis “Anna Cora Mowatt and Her Audience”) 

The central plot is the time-honored one of a young woman (Arria Walton) of beauty, charm, and highest character but of unknown origin, persuaded to renounce her love (Edgar Chadwick) because of the harm marriage would do his career and happiness.  Arria’s Uncle Mordaunt, a properly gothic character with family pride as his obsession, dies in rescuing his mad sister (Arria’s mother) from her prison in his burning house.  Arria reunites her parents who have been secretly but legally married al the time, and in her joy the mad woman’s reason is restored.  Endowed with both name and fortune, Arria is now free to marry the man she loves.

The main theme is embellished with a minor one involving Augustus Brainard in the book’s title role; Brainard, a young wastrel from the South, seeks to replace his squandered patrimony by marriage to a wealthy girl.  Joseph Ellery, a man-about-town in New York society, aids and abets him, while Badger the Dun, harries him. Sternly repressing his tenderness for the reputedly penniless Arria, Brainard woos both her giddy young friend, Esther Clinton and the spinster Miss Adair.  After winning Miss Adair, he discovers that he and his bride, penniless both, were mutually victimized by fortune hunters.  The book closes with Brainard’s decision to sell all and sail aboard the “Great Western” in an effort to escape both his new wife and Mr. Badger.

The Fortune Hunter

Major Themes:

Satire of pretensions of New York Society

The Corrosive Power of Debt

True Sentiment versus Sentimentality

Wealth of Character versus Financial Riches



Arria Walton – an orphaned young woman of uncertain parentage

Rachel Clinton – Arria’s friend

Esther Clinton – Rachel’s novel-reading obsessed sister

Miss Priscilla Adair – a single lady eager to marry well

Edgar Chadwick  -- an eligible bachelor who is in love with Arria

Uncle Mordaunt – Arria’s very gothic uncle

Augustus Brainard – a fortune hunter

Joseph Ellery – Brainard’s friend

Mr. Badger – a highly effective debt collector


Publication History:

Editor Park Benjamin’s weekly journal, New World announced a contest in late 1843.  The paper would award a prize of $100 to the best original novel in one volume.  The work must be titled “The Fortune Hunter.”  The scene must be New York.  The work had to be completed within six weeks’ time.  A friend of Anna Cora Mowatt’s (doubtlessly Epes Sargent) suggested that she enter.  She did and won the prize with this book.  After Mowatt achieved fame as a playwright and actress, the book was re-published under her real name.


Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any contemporaneous reviews of this novel, despite the fact that Mowatt reports in her autobiography that it sold well.  The only mention I could find of it was this item in a New York paper claiming the novel had to be the work of someone else;

This is a new domestic novel from the Press of the Winchesters.  It is said to be from the Pen of Epes Sargent, Esq., who has assumed on this and former occasions, the name of Mrs. Helen Berkeley.2

After “Fashion’s” debut, the novel was reprinted under Anna Cora Mowatt’s name.  Edgar Allan Poe’s Broadway Journal promised to review the book, but only got around to printing this; 

We received this novel at too late a period to do more than mention it this week, and make an extract from its pages. Hereafter we shall do it that full justice which is demanded by the celebrity and varied talent of its fair author.  As specimen more of manner than matter, we copy the whole of Chapter IV… 3

External Links

Read Text online here:

Audiobook available here:



1.      McCarthy, Imogene J. “Anna Cora Mowatt and Her Audience.” Thesis. University of Maryland, 1953. Pages 29-30.

2.      “The Fortune Hunter.” True Sun, Wed. March 13, 1844. Page 2, Col. 5

3.      “The Fortune Hunter.” Broadway Journal, August 2, 1845. Page 207.

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For more in-depth information and analysis
Mowatt's life and career, read
The Lady Actress:
Recovering the Lost Legacy of a Victorian American Superstar

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