Mrs Elton was a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at
rout cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card parties. (Jane Austen, Emma)
Mrs Elton is one of Jane Austen's dislikeable female characters. She arrives half-way through the novel as the new wife of the vicar of Highbury, Mr Elton. Mortified to have been rejected by the novel's protagonist Emma Woodhouse, and offended that she had been trying to create a match between him and her friend, Harriet Smith, of dubious social origins, Mr Elton leaves Highbury for Bath. When he returns he is engaged and, as he makes clear to his parishioners - knowing that the gossip will spread and reach the ears of the woman who has turned him down - 'he had not thrown himself away - he had gained a woman of 10,000 pounds or thereabouts'.
Emma is far from impressed by Mrs Elton when she arrives in Highbury, considering her no more than 'good enough for Mr Elton ... accomplished enough for Highbury - handsome enough - to look plain... by Harriet's side.' Despite the £10,000, she has 'no name, no blood, no alliance', and simply basks in the reflected glory of an elder sister 'who was very well married, to a gentleman ...who kept two carriages!'
Illustration by Hugh Thomson (1860-1920) from 1915 edition of Emma
Mrs Elton enters Highbury society like a whirlwind: she name-drops at any opportunity, annoys Emma by claiming a familiarity with Mr Knightley - whom she insists on referring to as 'Knightley' - and when she discovers the social failings of Highbury determines to put things to rights:
Mrs Bates, Mrs Perry, Mrs Goddard and others, were a good deal behind hand in knowledge of the world, but [Mrs Elton] would soon show them how everything ought to be arranged.
Amongst Mrs Elton's criticisms is the quality of the 'rout cakes'. Rout cakes are very small rich cakes containing brandy and dried fruit that were made for evening parties (routs). They are also mentioned in William Makepeace Thackeray's satirical novel, Vanity Fair (1847-48). Joseph Sedley, the obese and shy older brother of Amelia Sedley, the naive heroine and friend of its anti-heroine, Becky Sharp, gorges on rout-cakes at a party:
Joseph Sedley contented himself with a bottle of claret besides his Madeira at dinner, and he managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and twenty-four little rout cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him.
Recipe next time, for those of you wanting to stuff yourself like Joseph....