by Anna Cora Ritchie
Publisher: Ticknor and Fields (Boston)
Publication Date: 1857
(From Imogene J. McCarthy’s 1953 Master’s Thesis “Anna Cora Mowatt and Her Audience”)
Twin Roses is the story of wardrobe room and stage. Beautiful twin sisters find their identical lives rent asunder by a London stage accident which cripples Jeannie Garnett, who then becomes wardrobe mistress while her sister Jessie tours the provinces. Jeannie’s seclusion is invaded by Herman Landor, the stage-struck son of wealth, and the two are soon engaged. When Jessie returns, however, Jeannie witnesses a mutual and instantaneous love between her sister and her fiancé, and she not only sacrifices her own hope of happiness for that of her sister but does it with such tact that Jessie never knows that Herman had planned to marry Jeannie, and Herman soon forgets it. It could be said that it was a doubtful favor she did her sister, however, for Herman was slow in attaining maturity either as an actor, a husband, or a father.
When Jessie and Herman go to America in search of the success he has not found at home, their child Mildred is left with her aunt. By the device of bringing the young English couple to America for a tour, Anna Cora is permitted to view objectively and comment freely on American life. Fortunately, too, “American history, so little investigated by Englishmen in general, Herman found one of his most fascinating studies.”1 Herman was delighted with rocking chairs which were “certainly invented to meet the demands of something in the unquiet American temperament with which Herman sympathized.”2 Jessie was happy in the friendship of Miss Pomeroy of Boston, a new type of womanhood to the little English actress.
This young girl was an admirable type of the Massachusetts maiden; highly educated, self-reliant, unprejudiced, consulting the dictates of strong good sense and a warm heart rather than the world’s opinion.3
Jessie and Herman, in their professional engagements, covered the eastern states of the country, admiring the natural wonders and beauties and commenting appropriately upon the points of historical interest. The culmination of their trip, as might be guessed, was Mount Vernon. Jessie remarks:
If there were but one spot that I could visit in this beautiful land, it would be the memory-hallowed home and grave of the father of this country. No land contains such ashes as those!4
Do they not feel that Washington’s spirit is abroad in the world, filling the souls of a heaven-favored people with the love of freedom and of country, though his ashes are gathered here?5
Some concern is expressed about the uncertain future of Mount Vernon, but, Jessie is confident that
…Mount Vernon will not be desecrated. If governments are forgetful, there are too many grateful hearts in the breasts of American women for Mount Vernon, the home of their father, to become a ruin. What did you tell me of the raising of Bunker Hill Monument? …And may not the efforts of the faithful and devoted women of the land preserve, enshrine Mount Vernon?6
She even had the gift of prophesy so that she could herald an unnamed Ann Pamela Cunningham:
…one noble, self-sacrificing and wholly unselfish, patriotic woman, and thousands of hands and hearts will labor with her…7
Upon returning to England, Herman and Jessie find that Jeannie and Mildred have succeeded in reconciling Herman’s father and all closes happily.8
Theatrical professionals deserve the same respect granted to other professions
Educating readers on the importance of preserving Mt. Vernon as a historic monument
Encouraging tourism in Virginia
True love is sacrificial
Jeannie Garrett: Beautiful young orphan daughter of actors, disabled by stage accident
Jessie Garret: Jeannie’s identical twin sister, a promising young ingénue
Herman Landor: a wealthy young man; defies his parents to follow his dream of becoming an actor
Mildred Landor: Jessie and Herman’s daughter
Bulbul: a pet bird
Mr. and Mrs. Landor: Herman’s parents. Amassed a fortune by trading in iron in Devonshire
Mr. Brown: demanding costumer of the theatre where Jeannie works
Mrs. Budd: wardrobe mistress
Mr. Linkum: the theatre’s unscrupulous manager
Dorothy (Dolly): the company’s specialist in “breeches” roles
Sylvester: Dolly’s brother, also a member of the theatrical company
Mr. Hawkwood: experienced senior actor of theatrical company; backstabbing, envious, and duplicitous
Miss Pomeroy: free-thinking Massachusetts theatrical enthusiast who houses Herman and Jessie after their ship-wreck and helps them launch their careers in the U.S.
Mr. Pomeroy: Miss Pomeroy’s father
Aunt Sylvia: a maid (the narrative does not make it clear if Sylvia is a slave or free person) in Richmond who nurses Jessie back to health
In the preface to Twin Roses, the author gives a strong indication that the novel began as story meant to be included in Mimic Life;
“Twin Roses” belongs to the series of narratives commenced in “Mimic Life.”
A friend asks, “Why do you devote yourself to writing of the stage? Could you not be inspired with equal interest in other subjects?” Yes; -- but it was not designed that the experiences of ten years should be wasted. There are abundant workers in other fields; the invisible hand that rules events point out my humbler task in this.9
Reading the novel, it is easy to imagine that beginning around Chapter 9, the writer restructured her original draft in order to add material that would help publicize her work with the Mount Vernon Ladies Association’s efforts to have George Washington’s home turned into a national monument. Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie was the first Vice Regent from the state of Virginia for the Association. Her connections in recruiting the aid of figures from the worlds of theatre and literature such as revered public speaker Edward Everett were essential in raising the funds necessary and bringing the kind of national attention to the project necessary for its completion.
The novel begins as a tale of jealousy and sacrifice in a theatrical troupe in London, then rather abruptly shifts gears and sends two of the main characters to the U.S. to become struggling touring players. Although not as polished an artistic composition as other of her works, Twin Roses does give significant historic insight into the everyday working conditions of backstage employees and bit players in small mid-century London theater. When the scene shifts to the U.S., readers get a glimpse not only at the life of a touring player, but a rare look at the lucrative “museum” circuit of the Northeast that was theatre in all but name.
The author also shares autobiographical touches from her life after her retirement from the stage. Herman and Jessie Landor take trips around the state of Virginia to scenic locations such as Aquia Creek, Weyer’s Cave, and the Natural Bridge, that the writer documents in letters and/or essays as having visited herself. The highlight of the fictional couple’s stay in the U.S., though, is a trip to the then as yet unrestored Mt. Vernon. The author used what she anticipated would be vigorous sales for her book to broadcast a patriotic plea for the preservation of George Washington’s home.
Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie, although no longer an actress, was still a recognizable public figure in 1857 due to the success of her autobiography, Mimic Life, and her efforts promoting the work of the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association. Twin Roses enjoyed brisk sales and was, for the most part, treated kindly by the critics.
George Payne R. James wrote a detailed critique of the book for the Southern Literary Messenger that was later reprinted in William F. Ritchie’s Richmond Enquirer. James compliments the style of the book but pointed out problems with the plot;
“Twin Roses” has its defects, and we shall presently point them out; but nobody can call it dull. – A light, dancing brilliant style, poetical allusions playing through the pages, like little rippling waves in the sunshine, with, every now and then, a keen and witty but good-humoured stroked at some passing folly, and some beautiful paintings of scenery, amuse and interest us as we go, without withdrawing the mind from the tale of the characters.
With the tale we shall not deal closely. Every author has a right to demand that no critic should forestall the effect of his plot upon the reader’s mind, by giving even a sketch of a book’s contents. Nevertheless it is perhaps with the tale that, in one respect at least, we are the most inclined to quarrel. Let us say it in a word. The conclusion is too sudden – too rapid. The mind of the reader is not sufficiently prepred for it. Not that there is anything unnatural in it, except in its quickness. Was the author weary of this labor of love? Could she not spare us five and twenty pages more? We can assure her, we should have read them with great pleasure. 10
The reviewer of the Atlantic Monthly summed up the novel’s flaws succinctly;
..The scenes in the theatre are generally excellent. The perils, pains, pleasures, failures, and triumps of the actor’s life are well described. The defect, which especially mars the latter portion of the volume, is the absence of any artistic reason for the numerous descriptions of scenery which are introduced. The tourist and the novelist do not happily combine.11
Although not as highly praised by critics as her autobiography or Mimic Life, Twin Roses was still purchased by loyal fans of Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie. The vivid descriptions in the book may have even persuaded quite a few readers to contribute to the efforts of the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association to acquire and preserve George Washington’s home.
Read the novel online here: https://archive.org/details/twinrosesanarra00ritcgoog/page/n5/mode/2up
Audiobook available here:
1. Ritchie, Anna Cora. Twin Roses. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1857. Page 157.
2. Ibid. Page 163.
3. Ibid. Page 137.
4. Ibid. Page 181.
5. Ibid. Page 186
6. Ibid. Page 191.
8. McCarthy, Imogene J. “Anna Cora Mowatt and Her Audience.” Thesis. University of Maryland, 1953. Pages 68-69.
9. Ritchie, Anna Cora. Twin Roses. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1857. Preface.
10. James, George Payne R. “Twin Roses: A Narrative.” Southern Literary Messenger. Vol. 26, Issue 2, Feb. 1858. Page 128.
11. Atlantic Monthly, Vol. I. May, 1858. Page 892.
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