During their “secret” engagement in the fall of 1848, Eliza Harwood recommended that Tristrim Skinner read the British novel, Grantley Manor, by Lady Georgianna Fullerton. She compared herself to the orphaned protagonist, Margaret Leslie, and Tristrim to “Old Walter” Sydney, “who watched over her with a father’s care and a brother’s tenderness.” The parallels are striking, especially in that both the real and the fictional friendships began when a girl-child was living under the same roof as her adult man-friend. Throughout the engagement correspondence in the fall of 1848, Eliza and Tristrim discuss Margaret and Old Walter almost as if they were alter-egos. The rocky transition in the novel from childhood friendship to romantic courtship closely mirrors the experience of Eliza and Tristrim. For Eliza (and to some degree for Tristrim) there was a shock of recognition when she read Grantley Manor. She now believed that she better understood Tristrim’s motives and his long, careful wait before declaring his love.
In the passage below, Margaret’s sister, Ginevra, plays a piece of music that follows the arc of conventional romantic narrative. Eliza, an accomplished pianist, and Tristrim, who played flute, would certainly have appreciated the scene for its emotional crescendo.
Excerpted from Mary Maillard, ed., The Belles of Williamsburg: The Courtship Correspondence of Eliza Fisk Harwood and Tristrim Lowther Skinner 1839-1849 copyright © Mary Maillard.