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Why do you ask me about my relations. Don’t you know that I have non, when I become your whore I lost all and every thing that was previous to me, an outcast from society, sad and solitary, has the best time of life past and every year gains me a few more enemies but not one friend – what else can a Homeless Vagabond expect
Mary Hutton to Gilbert Innes, 7 January 1822 (underline in original)


In 1814 at age twenty-seven, Mary Hutton met sixty-three-year-old Gilbert Innes of Stowe in the grounds of St Andrew’s Church, Edinburgh, as she ran an errand. Innes was a central figure in Edinburgh society: the Deputy Governor of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a Director of the Assembly Rooms and the Society of Antiquaries, a major patron of the arts and extremely wealthy. Hutton was one of several sisters from a middling Edinburgh family, supplementing her income from her father with work as a governess when she met Gilbert. They formed an intimacy that lasted over a decade, maintained in part by a regular correspondence from Hutton that survives in the Innes of Stowe archive.  Innes financially supported Hutton as one of several mistresses; Hutton in return provided sexual services, but also affection and emotional support.


In many respects, this relationship was devastating for Hutton, although the consequences were not immediately obvious. On the one hand, her correspondence indicates that she loved Innes and was sustained by both his finances and his, not always unwaivering, affection. Yet, on the other, when their relationship was exposed around 1819, she was shunned by her family and forced to move from her lodgings in Edinburgh. In losing “her character,” she also lost the ability to earn in her profession as governess, a role that required particular moral probity. Over the next decade, she lived on the margins of Edinburgh society. Her relationship with her family was, at best, strained and eventually broke down entirely; she was disinherited; she was forced to leave the part of Edinburgh where she was known and had an established community, and she subsequently moved several times each year for the next decade as her relentlessly nosey landladies and neighbours became aware that she was a “kept mistress.” As the years passed and her hopes of marrying Innes faded, Hutton became increasingly upset at the consequences of her choices and the “sad and solitary” life she lived, a distress heightened by the hardships of living on the social margins and in transitory accommodation. In this, she was not alone. Some of Gilbert’s other mistresses similarly struggled with the social isolation and poverty that their lack of “respectability” entailed. The desire for a stable “home” was a central motif within their writings, signifying not just somewhere to live but emotional security, respectability and a place in society.


As is well recognised, social marginality often had real consequences for wealth, physical health, life expectancy and political power, but it also had an impact on people’s emotional well-being. Living on the margins of society wore away at a person’s sense of self, perhaps exasperated in a context where “friends” and community were still vital to how people understood their sense of identity and for their affective connotations of place and embedded sociability. Hutton felt marginality as a hardening of her sensibility, an inability to mourn her circumstances fully, but also as a heightening of her nerves and levels of anxiety. It was accompanied by a strong sense of isolation and shame. Despite this, Hutton clearly worked very hard to present herself as respectable, demonstrating a tenacity and desire to remain part of society despite the toll a marginal life placed upon her physically and emotionally. In this, “the home”, an imaginary and emotive construct, became the location of women like Hutton’s hopes and dreams, a place that would take them from the edges of society to full members of the community that determined sense of self, and, with it, bring healing to both body and mind. While she enacted a “home” imaginatively with Innes, using their correspondence as an affective space to create love and a sense of family, letters were unable to provide the level of sociability of the physical home, which tied a person into an “attached” community, one that was “watchful”, but in watching reinforced a person’s respectability and membership of a “caring” community. For these women, respectability not only marked a person’s relationship to society, but was also deeply connected to emotional health and sense of self.

For more information on Mary Hutton, her relationship with Gilbert Innes and her emotional life, see Katie Barclay, ‘Marginal Households and their Emotions: the ‘Kept Mistress’ in Enlightenment Edinburgh’, in Sue Broomhall (ed.), Spaces for Feeling: Emotions and Sociabilities in Britain, 1650–1850 (Routledge, 2015), pp. 95–11.

Katie Barclay is a DECRA Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Adelaide. She is the author of the award-winning Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650-1850 (Manchester 2011) and numerous articles on family life.

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