Opie’s final acknowledged novel was Madeline: A Tale. Set in Scotland, the novel blends letters and journal entries with intermittent narration to tell the story of Madeline Munro, a cottage-girl taken from her family and raised by gentry, then returned to her simple home on the death of her benefactors. Her subsequent struggles to reconcile the refinement of her breeding with the simplicity of her station, especially in terms of her desire for the local laird, form the basis of the novel. Still, the novel demonstrates significant psychological realism in its treatment of the anxieties attendant upon class mobility and of the masculine desire for unfettered emotional dominance.
By this point Opie’s popularity had begun to fade markedly with many critics. The rather condescending comments of her friend and fellow author Mary Russell Mitford sum up one aspect of contemporary response: “We have got Mrs. Opie’s new novel Madelaine[sic] in the house but I have not yet opened it. One knows the usual ingredients of her tales just as one knows the component parts of a plum-pudding. So much common sense (for the flour), so much vulgarity (for the suet), so much love (for the sugar), so many songs (for the plums), so much wit (for the spices), so much true morality (for the eggs), and so much mere mawkishness and insipidity (for the milk and water wherewith the said pudding is mixed). I think she has left off being pathetic–at least I have left out that quality in my enumeration.” (Quoted in Menzies-Wilson and Lloyd, Amelia: The Tale of a Plain Friend: 211).
Madeline: A Tale. 2 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1822.
Lady’s Magazine, ns, vol. 3, 1822, pp. 199-204.
Literary Museum, vol. 10, 1822, pp.148-49.
Monthly Censor, vol. 1, 1822, pp. 107-13.
Monthly Literary Register, vol. 1, 1822, pp. 81-4.