Anna Lombard

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Anna Lombard is a New Woman novel by Annie Sophie Cory writing as Victoria Cross. First published in 1901, it is based on the idea that it takes a New Man as well to form a perfect union of the sexes.

Plot summary[edit]

Set exclusively in the British Indian Empire (mainly India, but also Burma) in the final years of the 19th century, the story is told by Gerald Ethridge, a young, high-ranking member of the Indian Civil Service. Anna Lombard, the 21-year-old daughter of a general, has just arrived from England to join her father when she is introduced to Ethridge at a ball. Attracted to each other from the very first moment, they are not given a chance to actually express their feelings when Ethridge is suddenly transferred from India to Burma.

On his return a year later he is shocked to learn that Anna is having a secret affair with one of her Pathan servants—although she asserts that they got officially married in some secret Muslim ceremony. Ethridge, however, does not desert her when she declares her inability to leave her lover. Rather, while abstaining from any sexual relations himself, he tries to help Anna overcome her passion, and even nurses the servant in his own house when he becomes one of the many victims of a cholera epidemic.

Anna's lover does not survive the illness, but before she and Ethridge can get married Anna finds out that she is pregnant. Again, this does not deter Ethridge from loving her. They get married nevertheless but Ethridge insists on not consummating the marriage until after the birth of her child. When her son is born, Anna's maternal instinct overwhelms her and she is no longer willing to give her son away, as the couple planned during her pregnancy. However, seeing her beloved husband's suffering prolonged ad infinitum, she suffocates her baby, to emerge, after a year of repentance and making her peace with God, as the perfect partner in marriage for Ethridge.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

In the Preface to her novel, Victoria Cross claims that she "endeavoured to draw in Gerald Ethridge a character whose actions should be in accordance with the principles laid down by Christ, one that would display, not in words but in his actual life, that gentleness, humility, patience, charity, and self-sacrifice that our Redeemer himself enjoined. [...] Fearlessly, and with the Gospel of Christ in my hand, I offer this example of his teaching to the great Christian public for its verdict, confident that I shall be justified by it."

Anna Lombard ultimately sold more than six million copies and went through more than 40 editions. It received favourable (William Thomas Stead, who praised the idea of gender role reversal) and less favourable reviews; the authors of the latter group, which included Christian critics, dismissed the novel as a piece of transgressional fiction violating law—advocating or at least justifying infanticide—, convention, and contemporary sensibility by constructing an image of British female sexuality that had rarely been conceived in any detail outside of pornographic texts, for example the notion that a sexually experienced woman is an asset to a marriage.

As such a sensation novel, Anna Lombard is mentioned in Katherine Mansfield's 1908 short story, "The Tiredness of Rosabel," [1] where a young working-class woman reading a "cheap, paper-covered edition" on the bus is completely absorbed in the book.

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