Mrs Grundy

Mrs Grundy

Mrs Grundy is the name of an imaginary English character, who typifies the disciplinary control of the conventional proprieties of society over conduct, the tyrannical pressure of the opinion of neighbours on the acts of others. [1] A tendency to be overly fearful of what the respectable might think is referred to as Grundyism.


Fictional Reference

The name appears in a play of Thomas Morton, Speed the Plough (1798), in which one of the characters, Dame Ashfield, continually refers to what her neighbour Mrs. Grundy will say as the criterion of respectability. Mrs. Grundy does not appear on-stage in the play. [2]

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?

Mrs Grundy was eventually so well established in the public imagination that Samuel Butler, in his novel Erewhon, could refer to her in the form of an anagram (as the goddess Ydgrun). As a figure of speech she can be found throughout European literature.

The Real Mrs. Grundy?

During the reign of William IV (reigned 1830-1837) a Mrs. Sarah Hannah Grundy (b. Jan 1, 1804 - d. Dec 30 1863) was employed as Deputy Housekeeper at Hampton Court Palace [1] one of Henry VIII of England's most famous residences. Her husband, John Grundy (b.1798/1799 - d. Aug 1861), was keeper of the State apartments. Mrs. Grundy became Head Housekeeper on April 22, 1838, a year after Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, and she served in that position until 1863 when she retired. Her duties included the care of the chapel at Hampton Court. [3]

Royal families stopped using Hampton Court as a residence in 1737, and from the 1760's onward, was divided up for 'grace-and-favour' residents who were granted rent-free accommodation in return for great service to the Crown or country. [4] These private rooms numbered in the hundreds. Much is revealed about the Victorian ladies living at Hampton Court Palace through their letters, particularly their correspondence to the Lord Chamberlain's Office as the Ladies attempted to get around the regulations - to exchange their apartments for better ones, to sub-let their apartments for profit, to keep dogs, or other matters of convenience. Equally revealing are the letters from the Housekeepers to the Lord Chamberlain, complaining about the Ladies' behaviour. [5]

This excerpt from an Australian newspaper reveals the possibility that Hampton Court's Mrs. Grundy was a real-life moral regulator that had an impact upon London society, or at least upon the residents of Hampton Court:

Ernest Law, chief historian of Hampton Court, points out that a "Mrs. Grundy" did really exist. 'That lady was, as a fact, embodied in the housekeeper of that name at Hampton Court Palace in the late 'forties and early 'fifties of last century. Her fame is perpetuated in a dark space--one of the mystery chambers of the palace--the door of which is rarely opened, and which is still known as "Mrs. Grundy's Gallery." Here she impounded any picture or sculpture which she considered unfit for exhibition in the State rooms; and here she kept them under lock and key in defiance of the authority and protests of the Queen's surveyor of pictures. The story goes that on one occasion the First Commissioner of Works, on a visit of inspection, sent for Mrs. Grundy. In answer to the First Commissioner's request, she declined to open the door for him. It was not until the early 1900's that a leaden statue of Venus, which had been sent from Windsor, and was sored in Mrs. Grundy's Gallery, was brought forth to adorn Henry VIII's pond garden. 'What would Mrs. Grundy say?' [6]


  • John Stuart Mill refers to her in chapter IV of The Subjection of Women.
  • P. T. Barnum refers to her in the preface of his non-fiction booklet Art of Money Getting (1880).
  • Charles Dickens mentions her in his novel Hard Times.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray mentions her in his novel Vanity Fair.
  • William Gilbert refers to her in the patter song "At the outset I may mention it's my sovereign intention" from the second act of The Grand Duke.
  • Fyodor Dostoyevski refers to her in his novel The Idiot.
  • G. K. Chesterton mentions her in chapter III of Orthodoxy.
  • G. K. Chesterton titled a chapter "The Humility of Mrs. Grundy" in his book What's Wrong With the World.
  • Lewis Carroll often refers to "Mrs. Grundy" in his personal letters as the characterization of those who may disapprove of his friendships with children.
  • James Joyce refers to her in the "Eumaeus" chapter of Ulysses. Gifford's Ulysses Annotated characterizes her as "the ultimate arbiter of stuffy middle-class propriety."
  • Robert A. Heinlein also mentions her, for example, in his novels The Number of the Beast, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Stranger in a Strange Land, and in the second intermission of Time Enough for Love.
  • Philip José Farmer's characters in the Fabulous Riverworld series also refer to Mrs Grundy as prudishness incarnate in a negative way.
  • Peter Fryer's book Mrs Grundy: Studies in English Prudery concerns prudish behaviour, such as the use of euphemisms for underwear.
  • Jack London uses Mrs Grundy in his book The People of the Abyss to describe the early twentieth century attitude of the English working class towards drunkenness: Mrs. Grundy rules as supremely over the workers as she does over the bourgeoisie; but in the case of the workers, the one thing she does not frown upon is the public house ... Mrs. Grundy drew the line at spirits".
  • Louisa May Alcott alludes to Mrs Grundy in her book Little Women when speaking of the changes Laurie undergoes as a result of Amy's admonitions to him (1868).
  • Martin Seymour-Smith refers to Mrs Grundy throughout his biography of Thomas Hardy.
  • Thomas Hardy disparages the 'Grundyist' in his essay "Candour in English Fiction" (1890).
  • Mrs Grundy was satirized in the advice book for teens, Mrs Grundy is Dead (New York: Century, 1930).
  • Walter Lippmann dismisses the "exploded pretensions of Mr. and Mrs. Grundy" in his A Preface to Politics (1913).
  • On the television show Absolutely Fabulous, a character Saffie is called a Mrs. Grundy by Patsy.
  • A long-time character in Archie Comics is the teacher Miss Grundy. When first introduced, she fit the Mrs. Grundy archetype well, being judgmental and old-fashioned. However, the character has been softened considerably over the years, and her current incarnation is not particularly Grundyesque.
  • P G Wodehouse's lyrics to the song "Till the Clouds Roll By" from the musical Oh Boy! contain the line "What would Mrs. Grundy say" in Verse 1.
  • H. G. Wells's character Ewert in the novel Tono-Bungay during a long dialogue about the Grundy's says, "There's no Mrs. Grundy." (book 1 chapter 4, section iii)


  1. ^ Encycopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, vol. XII, p. 641, 1910
  2. ^ Encycopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, vol. XII, p. 641, 1910
  3. ^ The Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, Royal Household Index, collected in 1995 by Dr. Penelope Christensen.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Heath, Gerald Duncan. Hampton Court Palace 'Grace and Favour' in the Nineteenth Century, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society, 1988, page 4
  6. ^ Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA: 1916-1938), Tuesday 12 October 1926, page 35

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mrs.Grundy — Mrs. Grun·dy (grŭnʹdē) n. An extremely conventional or priggish person.   [After Mrs. Grundy, character alluded to in the play Speed the Plough by Thomas Morton (1764 1838), British playwright.] * * * …   Universalium

  • mrs. grundy — ˈgrəndē, di noun (plural mrs. grundys also mrs. grundies) Usage: usually capitalized M&G Etymology: from Mrs. Grundy, character alluded to in the play Speed the Plough (1798) by Thomas Morton died 1838 English playwright : a person marked by a… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Mrs. Grundy — np A priggish or prudish person. She is such a Mrs. Grundy that she refuses to go into the water. 1920s …   Historical dictionary of American slang

  • Mrs Grundy — noun (plural Mrs Grundys) a person with very conventional standards of propriety. Origin C19: a person repeatedly mentioned in T. Morton s comedy Speed the Plough (1798) …   English new terms dictionary

  • Mrs. Grundy — noun Etymology: from a character alluded to in Thomas Morton s Speed the Plough (1798) Date: 1813 one marked by prudish conventionality in personal conduct …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Mrs. Grundy — (Roget s Thesaurus II) noun A person who is too much concerned with being proper, modest, or righteous: bluenose, prude, puritan, Victorian. Informal: old maid. See SEX …   English dictionary for students

  • Mrs Grundy — nickname for the imaginary self appointed arbiter of morality and taste …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Mrs. Grundy —  Person of conventional respectability …   A concise dictionary of English slang

  • Grundy — may refer to:Places: *Grundy, Virginia, a town in Buchanan County, Virginia, USA *Grundy County, Missouri, a county in northern Missouri, USAPeople: *Bill Grundy (1923 ndash;1993), British television presenter in the 1970s *Felix Grundy (1777… …   Wikipedia

  • Grundy — [grun′dē] n. Mrs. [a neighbor repeatedly referred to (but never appearing) in Tom Morton s play Speed the Plough (1798) with the question “What will Mrs. Grundy say?”] a personification of conventional social disapproval, prudishness, narrow… …   English World dictionary