Collection No. 68: The Romance of an Hour, by Hugh Kelly

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Kelly, Hugh
Author dates: 1739-1777
Title: The Romance of an Hour

First played: 1774
First published: 1774, for G. Kearsley [etc.] 43 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1774)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality; Dialect; Contemporary Satire

Character types: Nautical; Indian

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Zelida, a West Indian heiress, leaves the English family with whom she is staying because Ormsby, her guardian, is arriving from India with the intention of marrying her. She is in love with Brownlow. They are matched at the end thanks to Zelida's servant Bussora's timely intervention. Lady Di and her husband Sir Hector Strangeways fight about nautical jargon.

Act I.
Lady Di Strangeways tries to make her seafaring husband dress and speak more appropriately. Sir Hector is about to leave for Portsmouth with Orson, their son, whom he is raising to be like him. Lady Di appeals to him to leave their son with her ‘to give him some little touches of humanity’. Orson enters. He is overjoyed because Colonel Ormsby, Zelida’s guardian, has just arrived in London. Sir Hector tells Orson to inform Zelida, whose father was an Indian nobleman, and her servant Bussora, whose heart is ‘as sound as a biscuit.’ Lady Di continually interrupts the conversation to try to refine her son’s language. Orson and Sir Hector praise Zelida to the point of Lady Di’s jealousy; when she orders her son to ‘quit the room’, they depart. Bussora tells Ormsby’s friend  and Lady Di’s brother Brownlow that Zelida will marry Colonel Ormsby without any romantic feelings for him. Brownlow is in love with Zelida himself, but cannot defy Zelida’s father’s dying wish that she should marry Ormsby. Zelida enters and tells Brownlow that she cannot marry Ormsby because she does not love him. Brownlow implores her to marry Ormsby, but when pressed nearly confesses that he loves her. Instead, he says that she is as dear to him as his sister. Zelida asks if he is in love; he admits he is, but says that he is hopeless because she must be married to another. Zelida tells Bussora she plans to quit England. She leaves behind many gifts presented to her by Lady Di’s family and Brownlow, but is resolved to take Brownlow’s picture that ‘has no intrinsic value’. Orson visits with his friend Pillage. Orson is unhappy because of the monotony of his life on shore: he is forced to go to church twice each Sunday, is not allowed to get drunk, and does not trust the town girls, who cannot produce ‘bills of health’. In exchange for a ‘pleasure boat’, Orson will help Pillage get a letter from his father; a good sailor has died and Pillage wants his place. They go to meet with Sir Hector, who promises Pillage that he will influence the choice of a new sailor. However, Sir Hector believes a Vice-Admiral to have died, and refuses to give Pillage a recommendation for his place; even though the misunderstanding is exposed, Sir Hector denies Pillage the recommendation.

Act II.
Sir Hector and Lady Di are reconciled. Orson brings in Ormsby. They are surprised to discover that Zelida and Bussora have gone. Lady Di and Sir Hector fight again, and Ormsby requests that they make up. Brownlow enters. They find a letter from Zelida saying that she has left suddenly, and that she blames Brownlow for driving her from the country. In exchange for a miniature, she has left a diamond. After Orsmby presses him, Brownlow tells him that he had urged Zelida to marry Ormsby and that her flight was the consequence. Orsmby considers this an unnecessary recommendation, and the two part sourly. Pillage arrives. A young lady (Zelida) is staying in his sister’s inn, and he has come to find Sir Hector, who, as Orson says, always enjoys a girl. Pillage gives Bussora money, which he refuses; eventually Bussora gives permission for Sir Hector to be shown up to tell Zelida about the best way of getting to India. Sir Hector and Zelida meet, to one another’s shock. Sir Hector informs Zelida that Brownlow and Ormsby plan to fight over her. Zelida is resolved to marry Colonel Ormsby if it will save Brownlow’s life. Bussora recognizes that she loves Brownlow and has a plan. Ormsby and Brownlow nearly fight, but are interrupted by Zelida’s entry. She agrees to marry Ormsby, but Bussora interrupts to say that she does not love him. Ormsby says that he cannot marry her unless he possesses her heart as well as her person and fortune. Orson says he will marry her if she will wait till he comes of age (and turns Protestant, his father adds). Bussora identifies Brownlow as the object of Zelida’s affections, but the company laments that Brownlow’s heart is engaged elsewhere. Brownlow denies this, saying that Zelida is the woman he loves. He asks her to marry him, and she accepts; they all thank Bussora for his help in righting matters.

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Secondary commentary

A) Foster, Gretchen. ‘Hugh Kelly:1739-February 3, 1777.’ Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 28 May 2008.
"Apparently Kelly and Mrs. Abington both feared that the "trifle" would not fill the house long enough to enhance her reputation or his profits. Instead, the play was produced at Covent Garden on 2 December 1774, with Mrs. Mary Bulkley playing the innocent foreigner Zelida. In the advertisement, Kelly acknowledged his debt to Marmontel for this character but insisted that the situation itself was a stock one and that the remainder of the characters were his own creation… The plot of the play pits the innocent but wise foreigner (an orphaned East Indian maiden, Zelida, with her faithful servant Bussora) against the corruptions of British society. Zelida is supposed to be engaged to Colonel Ormsby, who had saved her father's life numerous times in the Indian wars. But she and Ormsby's best friend, Brownlow, have fallen in love. Zelida is staying at the house of Brownlow's sister, Lady Di Strangeways, and her husband, Sir Hector. They are the stock comic mismatched pair. Sir Hector is a salty sea dog in tastes and language and is raising their bear-cub son, Ourson, to be just like him. Some rather crude comedy arises from Lady Di's unsuccessful efforts to refine her husband and son.
Ormsby's imminent return to England brings affairs to a head. Zelida flees the Strangewayses' house and takes refuge in a questionable rooming house, where Sir Hector, always on the lookout for fresh romantic conquests, accidentally happens upon her. He quickly changes his plan of seduction into a plea for Zelida to return to his house, at which Ormsby has now arrived. After an aborted duel, Zelida and Brownlow are united through the efforts of Bussora, whose wildly ungrammatical but unfailingly wise comments are supposed to evoke the usual Kelly mélange of smiles and warm feelings. Zelida and Bussora give us the simple-but-wise foreigner's critique of British society. Commenting on Lady Di's portrait, Bussora sounds like an East Indian version of Jonathan Swift:
Yes, lady; me wonder how painter can make like of the lady's in England--um have so many complexion.--in morning um is yellow--in noon um is red--in evening um is red and white--and when em go to bed, um faces have fifty colours, just so as back of alligator upon Ganges.
The play was moderately successful."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Sir Hector Strangeways and his son Orson speak with nautical language, to Lady Di Strangeways’ disgust. The Indian servant Bussora speaks with an accent and poor grammar, in contrast with his StE-speaking Indian mistress. Nevertheless, Bussora is the figure who is able to speak out most directly in support of love and virtue.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Sir Hector Strangeways / Orson’s nautical dialect
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 2]
Sir Hec.
Avast, Di---Avast---I have already suffered you to crowd too much canvass, and to make a puppy of me sufficiently.

Lady. D.
I beg, Sir Hector, that you will soften the coarseness of your phraseology, and use a little less of the quarter-deck dialect.

Sir Hec.
Zounds, madam, 'tis your own fault if the gale blows in your teeth---I might have been out with a squadron in the Mediterranean, hadn't I humoured your fancy, and foolishly staid to be pip'd in at the installation---However, there's some chance yet---the admiral appointed, is attended by three doctors, and if they heave him over, I have a promise of succeeding in the command---There's a cable of comfort for you to snatch at Lady Di.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: "Avast"; "canvas(s)"; "gale blows in your teeth"; "pip'd in"; "a cable of comfort"
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profiles: naval officer
e. Consistency of representation: very consistent between father and son (nautical language used throughout)

Variety: Bussora’s dialect
a. Sample of dialect:
Me can die with pleasure for her good--- me must die with grief if her do wrong ting.

And would it be a wrong thing to fulfil her father's last commands, by marrying Colonel Ormsby?

Ah! Mr. Brownlow, wrong ting one place, right ting another. Wrong ting in India lady no to love husband; very right ting for English lady to hate husband heartily.

b.1 Orthography: “ting”
b.2 Grammar: “me can die”; “me must die”; “if her do”; “lady no to love husband”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: Indian
d. Character profile: Bengali servant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele