Angela Burdett-Coutts was born in 1814 in London, the daughter of “celebrated radical MP” Sir Francis Burdett and banking heiress Sophia Coutts. After Burdett-Coutts’s grandfather died in 1822, he left his vast fortune to his second wife, Harriet Mellon, who in turn left the fortune to Burdett-Coutts, to the shock of everyone, after she died in 1837. Burdett-Coutts purchased a home in London where she lived with her former governess, and the two “staved off the many men who wanted to marry Angela for her money” (Cavendish).
“[David Merridith] appears to have made regular financial contributions to one [such body]: a society established by Dickens and his friend Angela Burdett-Coutts (of the banking family) 'to rescue betrayed and unfortunate girls'.”
-Star of the Sea, 225
Rather than marrying, Burdett-Coutts immediately began to spend her time putting her enormous fortune to good use. She worked with Charles Dickens to set up a safe house for former prostitutes, donated money to a variety of causes in London’s poverty-stricken East End, and acted as a patroness for artists, actors, and explorers. Furthermore, she was “a leading figure in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” and donated money to “humanitarian causes in Turkey, the Balkans and Africa” (Cavendish).
Throughout her extraordinary life, Burdett-Coutts met with a variety of important historical figures; in addition to her work with Dickens, she was visited in her home by both Queen Victoria (who named her a baroness in honor of her philanthropic work) ("Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts) and the future Queen Mary. In 1881, Burdett-Coutts, age 67, married William Ashmead Bartlett, her 29-year-old American secretary; he took her last name. She died in 1906 and was buried in Westminster Abbey “at a service attended by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, as well as pearly kings from the East End” (Cavendish).
O’Connor’s decision to mention the safe house run by Angela Burdett-Coutts (and Charles Dickens) primarily serves the purpose of rooting the novel in its historical setting, adding realism to a story that is, at times, rather fantastic. His mention that David Merridith donated to this specific charity demonstrates David’s contradictions as a person; at the same time he visits prostitutes, David is donating to a charity that works to save them from men like himself.
"Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Cavendish, Richard. “Angela Burdett-Coutts Born in London.” History Today64.4 (2014).
History Today. Web. 24 February 2016.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
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