chapter  5
“Domestic Rebellion”: Hamilton’s Cottagers of Glenburnie
WithSusan B. Egenolf
Pages 27

One of the most memorable scenes of Elizabeth Hamilton's 1808 Scottish novel The Cottagers of Glenburnie occurs when the reforming Mrs. Mason first encounters her rural Scottish cousins. Mrs. Mason's interlude with the mostly progressive and principled Stewart family at Gowan-brae allows Hamilton to explore the strengths and weaknesses of human character through a cross-section of the classes. Although Hamilton describes the filthiness of the cottagers in unstinting detail, she also represents the Scottish peasants as unfailingly generous, accommodating and hospitable. Her critique focuses mainly upon their lack of efficient industry and their refusal to act in ways that will benefit the community or bring later benefit upon themselves. The gloss Hamilton appended in the form of a letter to the second and later editions of the novel emphasizes the extent to which she was aware of the comic effect of the unflattering traits she attributed to the cottagers.