, a character from Thomas Morton
's play Speed the Plough
(1798), was considered by English-language authors to be the personification
of the tyranny of conventional
propriety. By the mid-nineteenth century
, Mrs Grundy was so well established in the public imagination as a canonical character that Samuel Butler
, in his popular novel Erewhon
, could refer to her in the form of an anagram (as the goddess Ydgrun). As a figure of speech she was eventually familiar to readers all over Europe.
Curiously for so famous a character, Mrs Grundy never actually appears in the play which introduced her, but is the continual object of the boastful Dame Ashfield's envious watchfulness, as is shown in the very first scene:
- Ashfield. Well, Dame, welcome whoam. What news does thee bring vrom market?
- Dame. What news, husband? What I always told you; that Farmer Grundy's wheat brought five shillings a quarter more than ours did.
- Ash. All the better vor he.
- Dame. Ah! the sun seems to shine on purpose for him.
- Ash. Come, come, missus, as thee hast not the grace to thank God for prosperous times, dan't thee grumble when they be unkindly a bit.
- Dame. And I assure you, Dame Grundy's butter was quite the crack of the market.
- Ash. Be quiet, woolye? aleways ding, dinging Dame Grundy into my ears -- what will Mrs. Grundy zay? What will Mrs. Grundy think -- Canst thee be quiet, let ur alone, and behave thyzel pratty?
- Dame. Certainly I can -- I'll tell thee, Tummas, what she said at church last Sunday.
- Ash. Canst thee tell what parson zaid? Noa -- Then I'll tell thee -- A' zaid that envy were as foul a weed as grows, and cankers all wholesome plants that be near it -- that's what a' zaid.
- Dame. And do you think I envy Mrs. Grundy indeed?
Although later usage positions her chiefly as a feared dispenser of disapproval, the Mrs Grundy of the play is, in Dame Ashfield's daydreams, not so much a figure of dread as a cowed audience to the accomplishments of the Ashfield family. As the play progresses, Dame Ashfield and her comical musings soon drop from sight to make way for melodrama:
- Miss B. Ah! (Shrieks.) Thank Heaven, he's safe! What urged you, Henry, again to venture in the Castle?
- Henry. Fate! the desperate attempt of a desperate man!
- Sir Philip. Ah!
- Henry. Yes; the mystery is developed. In vain the massy bars, cemented with their cankerous rust, opposed my entrance -- in vain the heated suffocating damps enveloped me -- in vain the hungry flames flashed their vengeance round me! What could oppose a man struggling to know his fate? I forced the doors, a firebrand was my guide, and among many evidences of blood and guilt, I found -- these! (Produces a knife and bloody cloth.)