Eliza writes Lucy to tell her of the previous day’s excitement. Yesterday, just as Major Sanford arrived to take Eliza to the ball, Reverend Boyer called for a surprise visit. Eliza “blushed and stammered” in Boyer’s presence, though she doesn’t understand why. While she certainly “respects and esteems” Reverend Boyer, “these are calm passions” that do not elicit such reaction. Furthermore, she was not aware “of any impropriety of conduct” which would make her feel ashamed. Her date with Major Sanford was surely not inappropriate and he is “a man of fortune, fashion, and for ought [Eliza] knew, of unblemished character.” Reverend Boyer, however, seemed “disconcerted” with Major Sanford’s presence.
Eliza doesn’t feel like her behavior is inappropriate because it isn’t. She is merely getting to know Sanford, a man of style and high social standing. Boyer is obviously “disconcerted” because he fancies Eliza a potential wife and he is jealous that she is spending time with another man; however, Eliza’s behavior suggests that she is more attracted to Boyer than she admits. She doesn’t want to be attracted to him—he represents marriage and oppression—yet she “blushes.”
Eliza had a lovely time with Sanford at the ball, and he had asked to see her again in the morning. It is now almost breakfast, and Eliza is sure he will be arriving soon. Last night, when Eliza returned home, she found the General and Mrs. Richman waiting in the parlor. Mrs. Richman asked how Eliza liked Sanford, and Eliza responded that she found him to be “a finished gentleman.” Eliza asked Mrs. Richman if she agreed, and she claimed she did not. “No, my dear,” Mrs. Richman said, “in my opinion, he falls far below it; since he is deficient in one of the great essentials of the character, and that is, virtue.”
Eliza’s friends appear eager to warn her about Sanford’s reputation; however, it is strange that they wait until after Eliza’s date. Mrs. Richman had the opportunity to warn Eliza when she ignored her in the parlor the day before, yet she didn’t. If Mrs. Richman is truly concerned about Eliza’s reputation and virtue (and not merely looking for another reason to criticize her), she surely would have warned her sooner.
“Must I then become an avowed prude at once; and refuse him admission, if [Major Sanford] call, in compliance with the customary forms?” Eliza asked Mrs. Richman. “By no means,” Mrs. Richman responded, but Eliza must be careful. “A man of Major Sanford’s art can easily distinguish between a forbidding, and an encouraging reception,” she warned. Eliza tells Lucy that she is “astonished” and “mortified.” She enjoys Major Sanford’s company, “but virtue and prudence forbid it.”
Mrs. Richman implies that Sanford can discern between women he can seduce and women he can’t, and she insinuates that Sanford believes he can seduce Eliza, otherwise he would not have taken her to the ball. This is a direct insult to Eliza’s virtue, something society tells her must be protected.