Austen and the Anthropocene

“Jane Austen Populaire 3” (2016) by Eymery. Wikimedia Commons.

Modern adaptations of Jane Austen’s works rarely emphasize climate change.  The intrigues of Austen’s protagonists are capacious enough to accommodate murder mysteries, high school dramas, and even zombies.  Yet climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” has yet to re-imagine Longbourn, Mansfield Park, or Donwell Abbey.  While those adaptations would be welcome, they may not be necessary, as Austen’s works might already show the traces of the human modification of climate.  Austen’s fictions and, more broadly, works of British literature from the long eighteenth century come from a significant moment in history:  the start of the Anthropocene.

Since at least the early twentieth century, scientists and scholars have noted the increasing ways humanity has altered the environment.  In 2002, Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen argued,

It seems appropriate to assign the term ‘Anthropocene’ to the present, in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch, supplementing the Holocene — the warm period of the past 10–12 millennia.  The Anthropocene could be said to have started in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when analyses of air trapped in polar ice showed the beginning of growing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane.  This date also happens to coincide with James Watt’s design of the steam engine in 1784.  [1]

Crutzen is not the first scholar to call for a geologic period defined by human activity.  He is not even the first person to coin the term “Anthropocene.”  But Crutzen’s call galvanized scholars and the public.  Now a piece of geologic jargon is a growing field of study across disciplines and even has entered the public sphere, earning attention from The Economist, The Guardian (twice), and The New York Times.

The dating of the Anthropocene (i.e., when this new epoch begins) is a point of disagreement among scientists, social scientists, and historians.  Crutzen argues that 1784 should be considered the inception of the epoch.  Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin argue that the beginning of the Columbian Exchange, in the 1600s, should mark the start of the Anthropocene [2].  Recently, Colin N. Waters and his colleagues have argued the starting date for the Anthropocene should be in the mid-twentieth century because of the dramatic evidence of humanity’s effects on the environment, such as a radical increase in carbon emissions and the traces of nuclear weapons use [4].  Unsurprisingly, the dating of the Anthropocene is a political act:  who is to blame for the widening gyre of climate change? [5].  Is the developed world to blame?  The West?  The United States of America?  The wealthy?  Those question are significant, but for The 18th-Century Common let us focus one suggestion put forward by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz in The Shock of the Anthropocene (2016).  These authors wryly note that the Anthropocene might be better labeled the “Anglocene,” given that the United Kingdom and the United States together produced more carbon dioxide than the rest of the world combined before the twentieth century (116) [6].  The United Kingdom, and England specifically, are a significant locus for the Industrial Revolution and therefore carbon dioxide production.  As E. A. Wrigley shows, the English and Welsh consumption of energy, especially coal, increased rapidly from the mid-seventeenth century until the mid-nineteenth century [7].  The advent of steam engines, thanks to efforts of engineers like Thomas Newcomen and James Watt, help drive this widening hunger for coal.

An Atmospheric Engine from A Course of Experimental Philosophy (1734) by John Theophilus Desaguliers, vol. 2, Plate 37. Wikimedia Commons.

The Newcomen atmospheric engine was one of the first successful steam engines.  Invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, the engine was both simple and complex.  Water was heated with coal to create steam.  The steam would rise, entering the chamber under the piston and pushing the piston up.  Then the steam was cooled rapidly, creating a partial vacuum, causing the atmospheric pressure to push the piston down.  The Newcomen engine was primarily deployed to pump water out of mines although it was used in a few other industrial and civic applications.  At coal mines the Newcomen engine facilitated a positive feedback loop:  miners could mine coal to fuel the engine, which allowed them to drain inaccessible areas of the mine, which allowed them to mine coal to fuel the engine, and so on.  Coal became self-propagating as burning coal allowed the mines to extract more coal.  And even though the Newcomen engine was quite inefficient, the collieries used coal they would otherwise be unable to sell.  The Newcomen engine helped make coal even more accessible to both miners and consumers.

Extracting the coal was not enough though; it needed to be moved to the consumer.  Coal was transported by roads, then ships, then canals, then railroads.  Turnpikes made it easier to transport coal overland, ultimately to rivers or the coast.  Ships moved coal from the north of England towards the south, although threats from foreign navies and privateers made overland transport more attractive.  Some of the first canals were built to facilitate the movement of coal, like the Sankey Canal, which connected collieries in St Helens with the River Mersey and thus manufacturers in Lancashire.  In some cases the infrastructure started at the pit mouth and extended out, like the first railroads.  This is not to suggest that all infrastructure served coal, other commodities and people also drove these innovations.  Eventually though infrastructure, especially the railroad like its progenitor the Newcomen engine, became inextricably linked to coal.

“Viaduct across the Sankey Valley” (1831) by Thomas Talbot Bury. Wikimedia Commons.

At the same time, manufacturers were beginning to adopt new mechanical modes of production.  Famously, Richard Arkwright helped create a new system of water- then steam-powered textile manufacturing.  James Watt’s improvements upon Newcomen’s engine, specifically adding a separate condenser, greatly improved efficiency.  These revolutions in industry do not indicate the embeddedness of coal in British society though; Newcomen and Watt merely found a new way to utilize a fuel that was already in widespread circulation.  Due to a perceived wood scarcity in the Early Modern period, inhabitants of London began burning coal to heat their homes (Cavert 18-22) [8].  Additionally, even though most coal use was domestic in the Early Modern period, it was burned for a range of industrial applications:  iron, salt, glass, bricks, pottery, beer.  Coal was important enough that as the British fought in the War of Spanish succession, Queen Anne articulated only two significant policy positions for the new session of Parliament in November 1703:  a further recruitment of sailors for the Royal Navy and a reduction in the price of coal to keep London from experiencing unrest (Cavert 143).  Coal was increasingly integrated into the British economy throughout the long eighteenth century.

Coal does not seem to play a large role in any of Austen’s works, although I would suggest the fossil fuel is like Sir Bertram’s plantation and its slaves in Antigua:  unseen but still significant.  Coal does make a brief appearance in Mansfield Park (1814).  Late in the novel, when Fanny has been sent back to her parents, she is welcomed by Mrs. Price, who understandably wants to make her daughter comfortable after her long journey,

“Dear me!” continued the anxious mother, “what a sad fire we have got, and I dare say you are both starved with cold.  Draw your chair nearer, my dear.  I cannot think what Rebecca has been about.  I am sure I told her to bring some coals half an hour ago.  Susan, you should have taken care of the fire.”  (Austen 257) [9]

Mrs. Price’s request for coal is innocuous:  the fire is low and needs more fuel.  But Austen does not often mention what is being burned in the fireplaces her protagonists gather around.  Her acknowledgement of coal here is telling.  The mention of coal is likely not to highlight that the Prices are using coal.  Coal was burned at all social strata.  The wealthy just burned more coal, burned less noxious coal, and burned other fuels too (Cavert 26-27).  Rather, Austen likely is drawing the reader’s attention to the fact that the Price’s daughters have to attend to the fire, rather than the servants at Mansfield Park, and that the daughters have failed in that task, again unlike the mostly unseen servants.  In twenty-first century terms, Mrs. Price is telling her daughters to turn the thermostat up now that company is over.  This moment is one of Fanny’s many significant interactions with fire throughout the novel.  The warmth of a fire or the lack thereof is a metonym for her feelings of comfort:  the excitement of planning the Lover’s Vows in a cozy fire-warmed room (Austen 101), the sadness of being denied a fire in her room by Mrs. Norris (106), the joy of being granted a fire by Sir Bertram (202), and ultimately sitting without a fire in Portsmouth (270).  Her relationship to warmth, fuel, and heat—an aesthetic motif which coveys her social desires—is predicated on a developing carbon infrastructure, an infrastructure that was already obscured because of how commonplace it was.

“‘Am I to understand’ said Sir Thomas, ‘that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?’” (1908) by C. E. Brock. Wikimedia Commons.

Jane Austen’s works ultimately are not climate fiction.  Her novels and the works of other British writers in the long eighteenth century though do merit examination as existing among the first texts of the Anthropocene or proto-Anthropocene.  Those works are the product of British cultures which were being transformed by the expansion of coal usage.  Concurrently, these British cultures were impelling and impeding the expansion of coal use:  driving miners deeper into the ground while also decrying the costs to the environment and people.  The ultimate definition of the Anthropocene will likely rest with future geologists and stratigraphers.  The evidence for an Anthropocene that begins in the middle of the twentieth century is fairly persuasive.  Although, as Matt Edgeworth and his colleagues argue, selecting a single moment of time for the inception of the Anthropocene is difficult due to the ways that sediments are deposited, shifted, and altered over time through geologic and anthropomorphic forces [10].  But in Jane Austen’s world, England and zones connected to England through political, military, or commercial reach were already dependent on fossil fuel use.  Now is the time to re-evaluate the ways eighteenth-century cultures and peoples acknowledged or ignored this energy transition, the promethean steps of a species-cum-geologic-force.

Notes

[1] Crutzen, Paul J.  “Geology of Mankind.”  Nature 415.6867 (2002):  23.

[2] Lewis, Simon L. and Mark A. Maslin.  “Defining the Anthropocene.”  Nature 519.7542 (2015):  171–80.

[3] Waters, Colin N. et al.  “The Anthropocene is Functionally and Stratigraphically Distinct from the Holocene.”  Science 351.6269 (2016).

[5] Malm, Andreas, and Alf Hornborg.  “The Geology of Mankind?  A Critique of the Anthropocene Narrative.”  Anthropocene Review 1 (2014):  62–69.

[6] Bonneuil, Christophe and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz.  Shock of the Anthropocene.  Trans. David Fernbach.  London:  Verso, 2016.

[7] Wrigley, E. A.  “Energy and the English Industrial Revolution.”  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A:  Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences 371.1986 (2013).

[8] Cavert, William M.  The Smoke of London.  Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 2016.

[9] Austen, Jane.  Mansfield Park.  Ed. Claudia Johnson.  New York:  Norton, 1998.

[10] Edgeworth, Matt.  “Diachronous Beginnings of the Anthropocene:  The Lower Bounding Surface of Anthropogenic Deposits.”  The Anthropocene Review 2.1 (2015):  33–58.

The Secret History of The Crown

The Crown (2017); Photo Credit:  Alex Bailey, Netflix

With the premier of the second season of The Crown (2017), Netflix’s extravagant costume drama about Elizabeth II, the show has again occasioned debate among media critics and British historians.  Everyone seems to agree that the acting, the settings, the lavish decor, and the meticulously detailed period clothing are all enthralling, but this is also the problem:  according to Sonia Sodha, the show “may be good fun, but it’s not always good history” (The Guardian Online).  Peggy Noonan admonishes The Crown for its “cheap historical mindlessness,” for taking extreme liberties with the private lives and intimate relationships of ministers at a time when so-called fake news has undermined truth in politics.  In other words, the show’s writers and creators adventure to invent what they cannot possibly know.  “In its treatment of history,” she claims, “there’s a deep clueless carelessness” (The Wall Street Journal Online).

Furthermore, academic historians of Britain and the independent nations that were part of the former British Empire criticize the show for glossing over brutal aspects of the imperial and industrial pasts.  Kenya, Ghana, Malaya, New Guinea, and Tonga are reimagined as playgrounds for patrician globetrotters.  The complexities of postcolonial politics are neglected; Southeast Asia and the South Pacific are problematically portrayed as spaces of exotic sexual spectacle for the white male colonial gaze.  Viewers are offered a kind of Bildungsroman narrative about a reluctant but responsible queen coming into her own as wife, mother, and sovereign.  We are asked to “sympathize with aristocrats and an unelected head of state,” Sam Wetherell writes, “The endurance of the monarchy in Britain is an open political question, but it goes unasked in The Crown” (Perspectives).

While I want to echo Rebecca Rideal’s recent argument that the show is fiction—it does not claim to be “real” history—and therefore it should be evaluated as drama, here I also want to suggest that it is actually doing something much more compelling in its engagement with historical evidence and narrative (New Statesman).  The Crown, I think, should be understood as a secret history of monarchy.  Secret history is a revisionist mode of historical writing that became fashionable in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in England, at a particular moment when popular anxieties about the lack of truth in partisan politics were at a crescendo.  Analyzing it as such reveals that the show’s central question is precisely the one that Wetherell claims it fails to ask:  How do we account for the affective appeal and almost perverse persistence of the British royal family in a world where, as Lord Altrincham reminds the queen in the sixth episode of season two, “republics are the rule and monarchies are very much the exception”?

With the rapid expansion of the ephemeral press in England following the end of pre-publication censorship in the late seventeenth century, the private lives of kings, queens, and other royal subjects became increasingly open to public representation and debate.  One group of texts that dealt explicitly with issues of regal privacy, state secrets, and the domestic politics of royalty were secret histories of the crown.  As the literary historian Rebecca Bullard contends in her book The Politics of Disclosure, 1674-1725:  Secret History Narratives (2009), these texts challenged authorized accounts of the recent political past by exposing the private lives of ministers and monarchs to public scrutiny.  They originated as a genre of writing popular with Whig authors and audiences:  they reflected contemporary concerns that there were plots afoot to introduce absolutism and undermine political liberties within Britain, and they aimed to disclose conspiracies by teaching readers how to see through political deceit.  Secret historians dramatized questions of truth in politics and media, encouraging audiences to adopt a skeptical stance toward print and political culture, often claiming to disclose hidden “facts” about the past that were, nonetheless, dubious. [1]  After the 1688 Revolution, most secret historians focused their efforts on the revelation of political and sexual intrigue under the later Stuart kings, Charles II and James II, as well as France’s Louis XIV.  Such texts, Michael McKeon argues, disrupted absolutism by publicizing the designs and misdeeds of monarchs. [2]

Other secret histories, however, do not fit this pattern:  they are not overly partisan and they aim to allow readers access to the affective lives of royal figures even while their narrative structures reinforce the implausibility of their claims.  These are the secret histories of Queen Elizabeth–the first, not the second.  In 1680 The Secret History of Q. Elizabeth and the E. of Essex was anonymously printed in London, while The Secret History of the Duke of Alancon and Q. Elizabeth was first published in 1691. [3]  Both continued to be widely reprinted in cheap editions across the eighteenth century, and the accounts they offered were reimagined in chapbook romances, plays, and operatic songs.

Both books call into question the celebrated history of Elizabeth’s reign and her status as an exemplar of Protestant queenship.  The Secret History of Elizabeth casts the queen as exceptional but amorous, ruled by her love for Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, reinterpreting his rise, rebellion, and subsequent execution in 1601 as a consequence of the queen’s jealousy and manipulation by courtiers.  In The Duke of Alançon, the marriage negotiations that took place between Elizabeth and the French prince in the late 1570s are reimagined to depict the queen as a power-hungry ruler whose love of independence leads her to reject all possible suitors and murder a made-up member of the royal family.  Inexpensive and widely available, these stories perhaps invited middling readers to compare themselves favorably to Elizabeth.

But, more importantly, the books commoditize the representation of Elizabeth’s personal life in an attempt to appeal to a public that increasingly desired personal access to and connection with celebrated royal figures.  Their plots hinge upon the conflicts between queenship, love, and marriage, and they raise questions about how to distinguish between true affection and artifice, and about the kinds of authority the queen must yield to her husband if she marries.  For instance, in The Secret History of Elizabeth, readers are privy to implausible conversations that take place between the queen and the Countess of Nottingham, to whom she divulges her secrets in a long narrative that takes up almost the entire first half of the novel.  “You do not yet know Me, the Force I have long put upon My Self, hath made you think with the rest of the World, that the Height of my Spirit, hath raised Me above the Infirmities of Nature; and the Greatness of my Thoughts, secur’d Me from the troubles of Life,” the queen declares, “But, Alas! poor Elizabeth is a Slave to Her Weakness” (4).  Her weakness, of course, is love.  Similarly, after the French prince proposes to the queen in The Secret History of the Duke of Alançon, the narrator describes that she “began to tremble at the prospect of her condition to which she saw herself reduced, not unlike a Person who unexpectedly finds himself upon the brink of a Precipice” (40-41).  At other moments, Alançon has an extended debate with a rival lover about the division of authority in marriage, about whether a husband should be his “Wife’s slave” or her “Tyrant” (47).

These books therefore reach into the domestic realm. They feign to represent the emotional lives of royal subjects in an invitation for readers to work through their own ideas about love and marriage through the sensational history of a queen—an extraordinary but nonetheless ordinary woman.  The monarchy is here cemented into the affective history of the family, made central to conversations about emerging ideals of companionate marriage.  These texts never claim to be true histories, nor were they seen as such.  As one anonymous critic of secret history alleged in 1691, such books were mere romances, full of malice and forgery, contrived to snare “young Gentlemen and Ladies, who are addicted to such kind of Foolish Toys.” [4]  Thus, much like other criticism of early novels, secret histories were thought to cause a kind of reading addiction among overly credulous readers, not for the revelation of political plots but for their false and morally suspect content, especially dangerous given their low cost.

The Crown, like the secret histories of Elizabeth that I have been discussing, draws attention to the contradictions between the public image and the private reality of queenship, and in so doing it highlights the enduring sway of emotion in contemporary politics.  Much of the series focuses on the struggles within the royal family and tensions within the royal bedchamber.  “What kind of marriage is this? What kind of family?,” Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh demands of the queen after she reveals that she will retain her own surname in season one.  The new season ends with a contrite Philip confronting a heavily pregnant Elizabeth as she hides away at Balmoral from the unfolding Profumo Affair, which threatens to engulf the prince.  “We both know that marriage is a challenge, under any circumstances,” the queen states as the prince moves to rest his head in her lap, before the show suddenly cuts to her giving birth to Prince Edward.  No witnesses, aside from viewers, are present at these intimate moments when sovereignty and conjugality collide.  Rather than asking us to believe that these conversations actually happened, the show instead spotlights the ways in which the English royal household remains a space for the popular negotiation of domesticity and the affective bonds of the family.  By anxiously condemning The Crown for lying and for misleading viewers who are thought to primarily get their history through popular culture, we replicate the same snobbish discourses with which eighteenth-century critics blasted secret historians:  audiences are credulous, we worry, and they mistake the spectacle of romance for the truth of history.  This attitude seems patronizing at best.

Finally, seeing The Crown as a secret history of monarchy allows us to appreciate how the show self-consciously calls attention to the role of media in the cultural nostalgia of English royalism.  The writers repeatedly point out that the magic of regality is a commodity, delicately manufactured through public audiences, radio addresses, and, since the late 1950s, television broadcasts.  Elizabeth’s coronation is an exercise in “Smoke and Mirrors,” the title of that particular episode declares, and we follow the camera lens as it reveals (and shields) the spectacle at Westminster Abbey.  In the new season, Lord Altrincham criticizes the clipped tone and remoteness of the crown, quoting no less than the Victorian journalist Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution (1865-67).  Bagehot emphasized the constitutional role of monarchy as a kind of innocuous but vital entertainment for the masses.  He attributed the sentimental appeal of royal figures to their celebrity status as the public face of the government, allowing subjects to form intimate attachments with individuals they would never meet in real life.  “A royal family sweetens politics by the seasonable addition of nice and pretty events,” he wrote, “It introduces irrelevant facts into the business of government, but they are facts which speak to ‘men’s bosoms’ and employ their thoughts” [5].  By exploring how sovereignty is staged for public consumption, by using theatrical drama to unmask royalism as mere theater, and by probing the gap between the public history and fictionalized private lives of Elizabeth II, The Crown presses audiences to consider the political endurance of English monarchy.

Notes:

[1] Rebecca Bullard, The Politics of Disclosure, 1674-1725:  Secret History Narratives (London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2009).  See also Rebecca Bullard and Rachel Carnell, eds.  The Secret History in Literature, 1660-1820 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2017).

[2] Michael McKeon, The Secret History of Domesticity:  Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

[3] Anon., The Secret History of the Most Renowned Q. Elizabeth and the E. of Essex.  By a Person of Quality (Cologne:  Printed for the Will of the Wisp, at the Sign of the Moon in the Ecliptick, 1681); Anon., The Secret History of the Duke of Alançon and Q. Elizabeth.  A True History (London:  Printed for Will of the whisp, at the Sign of the Moon in the Ecliptick, 1691).  All quotations from these editions.

[4] N. N.  The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d, or, Reflexions on a late libel entituled, The Secret History of the Reigns of K. Charles II and K. James II (London, 1691), “To the Reader” (8).

[5] Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution, ed. Paul Smith (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2001).  37.

The Restoration Printed Fiction Database

Restoration Printed Fiction

Bibliographers have done much important work on the history of the novel in the long eighteenth century. Scholars are indebted to bibliographies from McBurney’s Check List of English Prose Fiction, 1700-1739 to Beasley’s Novels of the 1740s to Raven’s British Fiction, 1750-1770 and Garside et al.’s The English Novel, 1770-1829; these works form the foundation of a great deal of scholarship. But there are some things that bibliographies cannot do. When I set out to plan a book chapter on fiction in the years 1660-1700, I found very little that could serve as a guide to help me identify which texts would be most useful and important to read. The Early Novels Database was promising, but was not then available, and in any case was focused on texts held in one particular library. So I began compiling what was at first a simple list of titles drawn from older bibliographies and gradually became a spreadsheet and then a database. As I worked on the initial list, it became clear that in order to decide what to read, I needed to know more about each text’s material and paratextual features: which texts, for instance, were fully epistolary, and which included letters in the fiction? Which texts had addresses to the reader, and which had dedications? And of course, as I began consulting EEBO scans to identify these features, other features also struck me as worthy of note: indexes, chapters, tables of contents, and so on. And as I gathered this information, it occurred to me that other scholars might be interested in a resource like this.

Thus was born the Restoration Printed Fiction database, now available online. It catalogs metadata for the 394 works of fiction published between 1660 and 1700. To generate this list of fiction, entries were drawn from three main bibliographic sources (with some additions): Paul Salzman’s English Prose Fiction 1558-1700, Robert Letellier’s The English Novel, 1660-1700, and Robert Adams Day’s Told in Letters. For the purposes of the database, fiction was defined very broadly; given the novel genre’s emergent status at the time, it makes little sense to apply any kind of strict definition that would not have operated for contemporary readers. If one of the bibliographies (or another scholarly source) treated it as fiction, it was included in the database. This broad approach makes it possible for scholars to cast a wide net when considering the nature of fiction. Also, I’ve only included the first printing in this period of a given text: If a text was first published before 1660, I included the first edition that was published after 1660; for texts first published after 1660, only the first edition is listed. In a later phase of the project, it may be possible to include subsequent editions, which would be helpful in gauging the popularity of texts.

Each entry includes basic bibliographical information about the text, such as author (when known), title, bookseller and printer (when known), and date. This kind of metadata allows users to search for particular booksellers or even particular printers, thus making it possible to begin to answer questions such as whether any booksellers may have begun to specialize in fiction in this period, or whether it was more common for a bookseller to publish only one or two works of fiction. How significant is it, for example, that Samuel Briscoe appears as bookseller on fourteen title pages? Do the fifty-four texts not listing a bookseller have anything in common? Other kinds of metadata, of course, make possible other kinds of research questions. The RPF database also includes metadata about several kinds of paratexts, such as dedications, prefaces, addresses to the reader, and prefatory poems. This metadata becomes especially interesting when we search for texts that have more than one of these paratexts. Are dedications more common in conjunction with prefatory poems, for instance, than with other paratexts? Interestingly, of these 394 fictions, sixteen have three paratexts, but none have all four types — and 120 have no paratexts at all. Other researchers might be interested in fictions that are divided into chapters, or fictions that appear with a licensing statement, or fictions that give errata; all of these things are discoverable in the RPF.

A crucial part of the process of producing the RPF was finding a way to make it available to others. Dr. Michael Faris, my colleague at Texas Tech, and then Director of the English Department’s Media Lab, made this possible. Dr. Faris did the coding that makes the searchable database available to others, a process which entailed meeting to understand the content and aims of the database, teaching me how to generate something he could then use as a basis to work with, and writing the code that allows the resource to be useful to scholars. Such collaborative work is especially important in digital humanities work because bringing different skill sets together enables new kinds of work and new kinds of resources that, we hope, will continue to generate new scholarly questions and work.

Descendants of Waverley: Romancing History in Contemporary Historical Fiction

Descendants of Waverly by Martha Bowden

When I began thinking about writing Descendants of Waverly: Romancing History in Contemporary Historical Fiction (Bucknell University Press 2016) more than a decade ago, I was working within a set of assumptions that could only exist in an insufficiently researched critical framework. For example, I accepted the commonly held views that historical novels were defined by date- and character-driven markers (a certain distance in the past; a fictional character participating in a historical event or a historical figure whose interiority the novel reveals), that Sir Walter Scott “invented” the historical novel, and that the right way to go about the book was to choose a number of contemporary historical novels that take place in the eighteenth century, my area of expertise, and show where and how they get the period right or wrong, at the same time tying the whole thing, somehow, into the Waverley Novels. Tidy systems are always the result of insufficient information.

A wise colleague pointed out that the third assumption would result in a mechanical and repetitive book. I was dubious about the second, because, after all, I had read A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe and a little research negated it altogether. I found that Scott did not claim to have invented the form. In his introduction to the works of Defoe, he notes Defoe’s brilliance at bringing alive a historical event, and only regrets that he did not write a novel about the Great Fire of London. In the General Preface to the Magnum Edition of the Waverley Novels, he claims that “I felt that something might be attempted for my own country, of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland,” identifying the regional novel as an ancestor [1]. He also reveals what he learned when completing and revising Joseph Strutt’s historical novel, Queen-Hoo-Hall, in 1807-08, an attempt that failed: “I thought I was aware of the reason, and supposed that, by rendering his language too ancient, and displaying his antiquarian knowledge too liberally, the ingenious author had raised up an obstacle to his own success” (xvi).

Frontispiece and title page of Ivanhoe, Magnum Edition

The first assumption stuck with me for a while, until I read Andrew Beahrs’s article, which develops a theory of the genre that interrogates not the what (period and character) but the how (the author’s method). From this article, I developed the theoretical model of the tensions between authenticity and accessibility, and the familiar and strange, both of which are exemplified in Scott’s assessment of Queen-Hoo-Hall [2]. Scott did not invent the historical novel, but he did play an important part in both establishing the accepted version of it and in theorizing how it works. Next, I was startled by Scott’s description of his books as “historical romances,” and his proclivity for subtitling his novels “A Romance.” Another assumption was the standard history of the novel: an evolutionary development in which the romance mutated into the modern novel and thus disappeared. Clearly, that was not the case when it comes to historical fiction. Anne H. Stevens’s work helped me see how the historical novel gradually disentangled itself from Gothic fiction, which was also described as “romance” in the period. The idea of romance, which vivifies the historical record, adding emotions, motivations, conversations and all those details of an event that are never recorded, became the central idea in my book, the effect created by the tensions inherent in the form.

The liberation from the mechanical casebook approach allowed me to write a text that reworks the history of the novel as a genealogical rather than evolutionary growth. Writers of historical fiction today need not have read a Waverley Novel in order to be influenced by him, any more than we need to know who our great-great-grandparents are for our genes to be affected by them. The first section contains two chapters that develop this critical framework. In the second, I devote two chapters to the establishment of authenticity while retaining accessibility, the first on literary intertextuality and the second on the use of images, such as portraits, both historical and fictional. Readers of historical fiction are interested in the “truth” of the narrative, but they generally are concerned about the what and I am interested in the how, which is the function of romance.

The third section covers the metamorphosis of the form, with the first chapter discussing three subgenres: the embedded narrative, the historical detective novel, and young adult fiction. It ends with an analysis of Iain Pears’s Stone’s Fall, which fuses most of the genres that I discuss in this section. Just as we don’t have just one set of great-grandparents, so the historical novel, while retaining the tensions, the movement into the grey, unknown spaces, and the romance of its earliest forms, has developed a hybridity through the influence of new genres. John Frow’s article [3] gave me a way to describe what happens when C. J. Sansom combines a classic historical form with the equally classic detective novel. It is not necessary for the Shardlake series to reside in one and only one generic box. We can discuss it in the context of historical fiction or detective fiction, as a historical novel with detective fiction characteristics, or as a detective novel with a historical setting. The second chapter is dedicated to biographical romance, the most common of the contemporary developments. The third and final chapter engages with “the historical novel at play,” those fictions that combine historical situations with elements of the supernatural and narrative playfulness. I realize that there are other subgenres of historical fiction, but I had to stop somewhere, and these five forms are representative of the wider scope of the genre.

Writing this book was a great pleasure because it allowed me to investigate one of my favorite forms of fiction while employing my scholarly interest in the development of the novel. I realized that I have been reading historical fiction for most of my life; the first playground reading recommendation that I remember was from a classmate who loved Elizabeth Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. In the young adult fiction section I return to another early love, Rosemary Sutcliff, whose books I first discovered on those magical shelves of books at the back of my elementary and middle school classrooms. The Dawn Wind is the one I remember most clearly from those days; this book allowed me to discover more of her work. The good news is that, even after years of scholarly investigation, I still read historical fiction for pleasure.

The cover of the book shows three of my 1880 Wedgwood plates depicting scenes from Ivanhoe, photographed by Lauren Holt. I am very grateful to Bucknell University Press and Rowman & Littlefield for giving me this kind of latitude to get an image that is just right for the book, and for Lauren Holt’s professional expertise.

Notes

[1] “Scott on Defoe’s Life and Works, 1810, 1817,” in Defoe: The Critical Heritage, ed. Pat Rogers, 66-69, 1972; see also his references in to Defoe in “Essay on Romance.” Walter Scott, “General Preface,” The Waverley Novels, Volume I: Waverley. Magnum Edition, 48 vols, 3rd ed. Edinburgh and London, 1830, xiii.

[2] Andrew Beahrs, “Making History: Establishing Authority in Period Fiction.” Writer’s Chronicle, 38, no.1 (September 2005): 34-40.

[3] John Frow, “‘Reproducibles, Rubrics, and Everything You Need’: Genre Theory Today.” PMLA 122, no. 5 (October 2007): 1626-34.

Celebrity Couture: A New Trend? Fashionista Mary Robinson Led the Way – Over 230 Years Ago

Figure 1.  John Hoppner, Mary Robinson as Perdita (1782), Chawton House Library.

Sean John, DASH, Material Girl, William Rast, OVO, House of Harlow, Yeezy, Paper Crown, the Jessica Simpson Collection, Rocawear, The Row, Twenty8Twelve.  Celebrity fashion labels are flooding the sartorial marketplace, and the phenomenon shows no sign of stopping.  Rihanna recently announced a collaboration with Chopard for a joint collection of jewelry, combining “urban chic and classic glamour.”[1]  And this coming October, Sarah Jessica Parker will launch her new SJP footwear collection on the Internet behemoth Amazon, featuring the exclusive designs “Dash,” “Flirt,” and “Wink.”[2]  InStyle.co.uk broadcasted the affair with the texty title “OMG!  Soon You’ll Be Able to Shop SJP’s Shoes On Amazon.”

Not everyone, however, is a fan of the pop-up celebrity designer.  Upon receiving the Couture Council’s Award for Artistry in 2012, the late Oscar de la Renta spoke out against the trend:  “Today, if you play tennis, you can be a really good designer,” he said, “Or, if you’re an actress, you can be a designer.  I’ve been at it for 45 years and I’m still learning my craft.”[3]  In addition to suggesting that upstarts are infiltrating the fashion world, de la Renta’s statement imagines a time—his time—when the art of fashion recognized quality design that bespoke training, skill, and experience, rather than sheer fame.

Elegiac musings may have their appeal, but do they reflect reality?  There’s no question that celebrity style has long had an impact on the fashion world—think Beau Brummell, Lillie Langtry, Jean Harlow, Katherine Hepburn.  The question is how new is the celebrity-cum-couturier?  The life of the British actress Mary Robinson (1757?-1800) (Figure 1) would suggest that celebrity clothing and accessory lines are, in fact, nothing new.

Mary Robinson’s meteoric rise to fame began in 1776 with her dazzling performance on the London stage as Juliet, and in 1779 with her spirited rendering of Perdita in David Garrick’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.  The latter representation captivated the Prince of Wales (the future George IV), and an infamous romance between the newly styled “Perdita” and “Florizel” ensued.

Like many starlets today, her love life became a source of scandal and intrigue.  When the Prince’s affection waned, Robinson left the stage and travelled to France.  She befriended Marie Antoinette and was courted by the wealthiest man in Europe, the Duke de Chartres.  In 1782, after her return from the Continent, Robinson indulged in romances with the dashing young dragoon Colonel Banastre Tarleton, a leading commander of British troops in the war against the American colonies, and Charles James Fox, the charismatic leader of the Whig party.

Robinson’s stage career, though brief (she retired from the boards at the close of the 1779-1780 season), was a tour de force. Her performances—both as an actress and a mistress—earned her widespread acclaim and notoriety.  In the manner of magazines such as Hello! or People, the newspapers reported continually on her whereabouts.  And while paparazzi did not yet exist, painters did.  Top artists of the day, Thomas Gainsborough, John Hoppner, Joshua Reynolds, and George Romney, all painted portraits of her.

But while Robinson’s acting and amours sparked her popularity, it was her fashion sense and style that kept the flame ablaze.  By decorating herself in stunning confections known as the “Perdita Hood,” the “Robinson hat for Ranelagh,” the “Perdita handkerchief,” and the “Robinson gown,” she transformed herself into one of the foremost fashion icons of her day and sent the stylish set into a frenzy.[4]

Her most voguish look was the 1782 “Perdita chemise,” a hoop-free muslin tube cinched at the waist and styled after Marie Antoinette’s version of the gown:  the Chémise à la Reine (Figure 2).  This design—later promoted in England in a different form by the Duchess of Devonshire (remember Keira Knightley in The Duchess?)—paved the way for the neoclassical gowns of the 1790s and early 1800s.  According to one London newspaper, Robinson’s trend-setting styles “set the whole world ‘a madding.’”[5]  Women eager to appear à la mode began adorning themselves in her sartorial creations.

Figure 2.  Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress (1783), Hessische Hausstiftung [The Hessian House Foundation], Kronberg.

Robinson’s fashions attest to her desire to ensure unending media buzz.  But they also demonstrate the fact that she literally made a name for herself in the world of fashion.  Her signature designs were both recognizable and reproducible.  They were, after all, labeled “the Perdita” or “the Robinson”—a form of proto-celebrity branding.

Unlike modern celebrities, Robinson did not profit financially from her designs.  Yet her savvy marketing of them ensured her decisive impact on contemporary couture.  Robinson made her mark in other artistic circles as well, becoming one of the top authors of her day—a playwright, a novelist, and a poet.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge deemed her a woman of “undoubted Genius.”[6]  Ultimately, Robinson ensured her legacy in the world of fashion and in the world of letters.  Victoria Beckham—eat your heart out.

[1] Erica Gonzales, “Rihanna is Designing a New Jewelry Collection,” Bazaar (7 April 2017) http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/designers/news/a21876/rihanna-collaborates-with-chopard/

[2] Chloe Mac Donnell, “OMG!  Soon You’ll Be Able to Shop SJP’s Shoes On Amazon,” InStyle.co.uk (18 July 2017) http://www.instyle.co.uk/news/youll-soon-be-able-shop-sjps-shoe-collection-amazon-fashion#9ClsHusWo6Kqg9iC.99

[3] Ella Alexander, “Oscar de la Renta Honored,” Vogue (6 Sept. 2012) http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/oscar-de-la-renta-receives-couture-council-artistry-award

[4] The Lady’s Magazine began reporting on Robinson in 1780 and continued throughout the decade.  For coverage of Robinson’s fashions during the 1782-1783 season, see the Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex 14 (1783):  187, 268, 331, 650-651.

[5] Morning Herald (17 December 1781), p. 2.  Additionally, on 15 October 1782, the Morning Herald reported, “An amateur of the Cyprian Corps recommends to our fair countrywomen a total abolition of the large hoop and long petticoat, and to adopt the PERDITA, a system of elegant simplicity and neatness, which has ever so conspicuously marked the dress of that celebrated leader of the wantons of the age!”.  Just one month later, the same newspaper was predicting the pervasiveness of Robinson’s fashion trend:  “The Chemise de la Reine, in which Mrs Robinson appeared at the Opera, is expected to become a favourite undress among the fashionable women” (Morning Herald, 20 November 1782).  Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire was also instrumental in popularizing the chemise in England.  In 1784, she reported having gone “to a concert in one of the muslin chemises with fine lace that the Queen of France gave me”; qtd. Georgiana:  Extracts from the Correspondence of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, ed. Earl of Bessborough (London, 1955), 91.  In 1786, Angelica Kauffman painted Lady Elizabeth Foster, a close friend of the Duchess, in a version of the chemise with a double falling collar.  By 1787 the Lady’s Magazine reported that “all the Sex now . . . appear in their white muslin frocks with broad sashes”; see the Lady’s Magazine (London, 1787), 331.

[6] Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey (25 Jan. 1800), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Ed. Earl Leslie Griggs.  6 vols.  (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1956).  1:  562-564.

Science Hasn’t Been This Politicized Since 1676

King Charles II depicted as the President of the Royal Society.

On April 22, a vast cohort of scientists and their allies descended on Washington to take part in the DC March for Science. Researchers and educators, academics and civilians, town and gown, stood together to “express their fealty to reason, data, and, above all, the scientific method,” as a recent New Yorker article put it. Striking back at a Administration that has openly denied scientific consensus on issues such as climate change, even going so far as to purge scientific data from government servers, scientists marched against what seems to many like a sudden and shocking politicization of science.

The experts don’t get to tell us what the facts are, the new Know-nothings say, and so dismiss inconvenient truths as nothing more than the ideological impositions of a liberal elite. In response, the marchers planned less a day of protests than a public witnessing for the core values of objective truth, empirical inquiry and peer review. The event they planned would be something like a cross between a protest rally and a science fair, where researchers set up tents and hold teach-ins about just what it is that they study and why it matters to the public. Organizers intended to put pressure on politicians to heed scientific expertise, but they were also looking to put on the kind of show that would win back both the hearts and the minds of America. Nevertheless, there was handwringing among some scientists who feared the march would “trivialize and politicize the science” and turn scientists into just “another group caught up in the culture wars.”

As the Pacific Standard has rightly pointed out, we should not be so quick to assume that science has never been and shouldn’t be politicized. The scientist as a non-partisan figure is a cold war innovation, Francie Diep points out, born of a time when the government began investing heavily in university science programs, and when there was leverage in taking the position that “scientific ideas were apolitical and value-neutral.”

But there’s a much longer and complex history here. In fact, modern science as we understand it — the empirical study of natural phenomena, the accumulation of experimental facts that lead to hypothetical explanations, in short, the scientific method — was the product of a late 17th century controversy about the value of experimental knowledge. Early modern debates bout the reliability of science and the trustworthiness of the scientist are remarkably similar to the controversy we find ourselves in today. Few of us realize that in its very moment of emergence, modern science had to invent the concept of scientific objectivity in order to prevent it from being strangled in its cradle by scoffers.

It’s jarring to learn that the earliest criticisms of science are coming back to the fore today. In the Post-Truth, Post-Trump world, scientists fear that their hard-won expertise is not being respected anymore, while skeptics delight in calling bullshit on their claims to objectivity. Scientists point to data sets, experimental controls, and peer review, while deniers will say that science can be little more than a flim-flam: a dog-and-pony show that tries to dazzle us with data while pushing an ideological agenda.

It’s like its 1676 all over again.

I have only to draw the curtain, and to show you the world” cries the proselytizing Philosopher in Bernard Fontenelle’s best-selling work of popular science, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. This frontispiece illustration to a 1686 edition pulls back the curtain on the thrilling spectacle of an infinite universe.

For at least a generation, scholars of history, sociology and cultural studies in the emergent interdisciplinary field of Science Studies have been exploring the struggle to define science as a discourse of empirical truth. Of particular relevance to the March For Science is a body of work that reminds us of early modern science’s debts to spectacle, theatricality and performance: the modern fact had to be fabricated through the making of experiments, and those facts had to be witnessed and verified by experts in order to be approved as such. Early science really was a kind of performing art, subject to regimes of stagecraft that reverberated across the laboratory, the lecture hall, the anatomy theater, and the public stage.

This kinship was not lost on their early scientists’ contemporaries in the playhouse, which used that powerful platform for the shaping of public opinion to interrogate the new science and its radical new claims about the nature of knowledge. Indeed, the way that eighteenth-century plays depicted scientists had a massive influence on contemporary debates over the role that experimental science was to play in modern life. The new science got terrible press until it could establish itself as objective, reasonable and disinterested. But the theater shaped the very form that science itself was to take. By disciplining, and ultimately helping to legitimate, what was then called natural philosophy, the eighteenth-century stage helped to naturalize an epistemology based on self-evident facts that one need only see to believe. However, in oder to do this, scientists had to make recourse to elements of spectacle and performance that proved difficult for them to square with their need to present their work as objective, “apolitical and value neutral.”

A Shining Instance of the Scientific Method

Frontispiece portrait from a 1738 edition of Boyle’s collected Works.

To put some flesh on the bones, as it were, of this history I am trying to sketch, I need to tell the story of this man.  This is Robert Boyle, pictured here a few decades after his death, in the frontispiece illustration that appeared in a posthumous edition of his Works. The youngest son of the Earl of Cork, one of the wealthiest men of the seventeenth century, he was an aristocrat by birth but a scientist by calling. This unmarried, deeply pious son of extraordinary privilege spent his life “addicted to natural philosophy” as he memorably put it, and he was a key patron and prime mover of the Royal Society, one of the earliest scientific organizations. Indeed, Boyle was England’s most eminent virtuoso, a fashionable term adopted by Boyle and his colleagues that highlighted their supposedly selfless and virtuous dedication to the pursuit of pure knowledge.

His considerable achievements are remembered to this day in Boyle’s Law, that fundamental relationship between the pressure, temperature and volume of gases that we all learned in high school. A first-rate experimentalist, Boyle conducted foundational research into the nature of the physical world. In this frontispiece portrait, we can see to the right his chemical forge: Boyle’s work as a ”skeptical chemist” helped re-found the ancient practices of alchemy as rational modern chemistry. However, it is the apparatus on the left that we should linger over. This is an image of his celebrated airpump, and in light of the revolution it sparked in matter theory, it’s not too much to call this device the particle accelerator of the 17th century. Indeed, in his epochal New Experiments Physico-Mechanical (1661), Boyle used his airpump to overturn the ancient assumption that a vacuum could not exist in nature. He was able to contrive one under that glass dome, and in doing so discovered previously unknown properties of air — that it had weight, and that these material properties gave the air what he called “spring.”

Keeping that airpump in mind, let’s shift the scene to the night of February 15, 1672, when Boyle’s well-earned sleep was interrupted by an assistant who burst into his bedroom with some surprising news. A kitchen servant, upon going into the larder, “was frightened by something Luminous that she saw.” Intrigued, the natural philosopher leapt into action: “I presently sent for the meat into my Chamber,” he later wrote, “and then I plainly saw, both with wonder and delight, that the joint of meat did in diverse places shine.”

Boyle didn’t get much sleep that night. Instead of going to bed, he launched into an hours-long series of experiments and observations on the shining slab of flesh, right there in his bedroom. In the eight-page letter he eventually published in the Philosophical Transactions, the house publication of the Royal Society and the first scientific journal in history, Boyle relates no less than eighteen distinct matters of fact, such as:

  1. a) the neck of veal glowed in upwards of twenty different areas, most of them no bigger than a man’s fingernail;
  2. b) the “more resplendent spots” were sufficient to read by. Boyle happened to have a copy of the Philosophical Transactions by him, and he could make out a few letters on the title page;
  3. c) the light emitted was generally “a fine greenish blewe,” kind of like glowworms;
  4. d) it did not emit heat, as affirmed by the touch of a bare hand, as well as by the application of “a seal’d Weather glass”;
  5. e) no one could smell “the least degree of stink”;
  6. f) the wind was out of the southwest that night, blustery and warm, air pressure was 29 3/16 inches of mercury, the moon past its last quarter;
  7. g) the light was extinguished in pure alcohol, but water would not quench it.

Other articles published that month presented new astronomical calculations, reviewed a recent book of “curious voyages”, and a described a “singular kind of Mushroom” whose “Milky Juice, [is] not to be endur’d upon our tongues.”

Just think about what it would have taken — in terms of time, effort and expertise — to amass this register of facts. But let’s also consider what filter, if any, Boyle placed on his research. You get the sense that Boyle believes literally every single detail could be relevant, and so he omits nothing that fell under his gaze. And why should he? Naturalists like Boyle cultivated exquisite states of affective enthrallment in spectacular natural phenomena as part of their scientific practice.

Yet the standard critical story about the emergence of modern science sounds very different notes. Mostly, we hear about the modesty and probity of early scientists, and the care they took to produce what we now recognize as scientific objectivity. Perhaps the most influential account of early experimental science, Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (1985), explains how natural philosophers carefully performed and re-performed their experiments in semi-public assemblies until all those present arrived at a consensus about the findings. They then wrote up their experiments in often excruciating detail so that absent virtuosi could “virtually witness” the new facts and thus give their approbation to new discoveries. They deliberately restricted themselves to empirical accounts of the bare matters of fact that their experiments produced, thereby avoiding the paralysis of theoretical arguments. And, crucially, they adopted gentlemanly codes of behavior that dictated how one ought to make truth claims, and indeed, who gets to speak the truth in the first place.

These forces combine to give birth to what were then absolute novelties in human history: the fact that speaks for itself, and the scientist who is merely its objective witness. And vouchsafing the two great innovations of early modern experimental natural philosophy — self-evident facts and scientific objectivity — was a new kind of man, a figure Shapin and Schaffer call the “modest witness.” Boyle, with his prolix, cautious experimental reports, with his dazzling new scientific instrument, and especially with his unimpeachable gentlemanly ethos, was of course their paragon and exemplar.

My own research seeks to trouble that story just a little bit. Once you read just a little outside the lines of the texts that 20th century science has deemed canonical — Boyle’s airpump experiments for example — we encounter scenes of experiment that seem very far from modesty or objectivity.

After all, in the case of the shining veal, Boyle postponed his sleep for what must have been hours, working through the night, mostly in the absolute dark, making painstaking observation after observation: inspecting, rubbing, sniffing, measuring, and defacing the raw and bloody neck of a calf that, on the sudden report of a servant, is whisked out of the larder and summoned to his bed-chamber. Instruments and contraptions are gathered from all parts of the house, data is recorded, trials are performed, and then re-performed, and a scrupulous account is produced. All of this makes me ask, what if the signal legacy of experimental science was not the modest witness’ modesty, but rather the irrepressibility of his witnessing? What if the scientist’s absolute dedication to observation betrays not a rational and ascetic erasure of self-interest, but rather a highly unstable, affective immersion in the spectacle of facts?

Riveted “both with wonder and delight” (his words), Boyle is a witness to something above and beyond bare modesty. Indeed, when Boyle reveals, at the end of his report, that he had to curtail his experiments upon learning that his niece was on her deathbed, the sudden and terrible news proves to be no real impediment at all. He writes of being “hastily called up before day[break]” with the news of her “gasping” condition, which he says left him “too much affected…to leave me any time for Philosophical entertainments.” Yet in the next breath he reports one last matter of fact about the specimen. Finding that it continued to shine the next morning. “Only this I took notice of, because the observation could not cost me a minute of an hour.” But it’s not simply that Boyle couldn’t help himself from making one last experiment before domestic responsibilities called him away. In fact, the entire experimental narrative was written the morning after the activities of the night before.

Such an absorption in the spectacles of science is entirely expected from someone who kept his eyes shut tight as his assistant refitted the airpump by candlelight, so as to not compromise his night vision….Or from someone who, in another set of experiments on a luminescent gemstone, reported that he went so far as to “take it into bed with him, and hold it a good while upon a warm part of his naked body.” Indeed, the scene of experiment is a fraught space, full of surprise and wonder and potentially unruly affect, where the experiments and experiences remain a perpetual lure for the imagination.

In their influential account of the origins of modern science, Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150–1750 (1998), Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park have argued that wonder, and the so-called “strange facts” that preoccupied early naturalists, was disciplined out of natural philosophy over the course of the long eighteenth century. But we shouldn’t be so sure that Boylean wonder was chiefly prized for, and necessarily lead to, a more rational and curious analysis of spectacular experimental phenomena. Indeed, that is precisely the impression Boyle’s contemporaries got, judging from a highly influential and long-lived satire of natural philosophers that first appeared on the stage in 1676.

Eager Spectators in the Theater of Experiment

A View of the Dorset Gardens Playhouse, where Shadwell’s Virtuoso was staged.

The London playhouses were powerful sites of cultural mediation. They satirized trends, made political statements, insulted public figures, and set fashions. Accordingly, over the course of the long eighteenth century, there were dozens of plays featuring crackpot scientists, sketchy doctors, randy anatomists, doltish antiquaries, and shifty projectors peddling questionable technologies (sort of the early modern equivalent of flash-in-the-pan start-ups). But the play I want to bring into view is The Virtuoso, which was a major success for author Thomas Shadwell in the style of the hard, satiric comedy favored in the Restoration.

The play itself is a conventionally-plotted sex comedy. The misguided scientist Sir Nicholas Gimcrack and his foolish friends attempt to keep his two young, rich and beautiful nieces out of social circulation. The impecunious Gimcrack wants power over their purses, while his friends want access to their persons. The pleasure-loving young rakes Longvil and Bruce must chisel their way into Miranda and Clarinda’s affections while extricate themselves from the sexual advances of Lady Gimcrack, Sir Nicholas’ neglected wife, who spends all her time trying to cuckold him abundantly.

As delightful as all this sounds — and this play really is a lost gem — the real draw of Shadwell’s play was the new kind of fool that Gimcrack is. The “virtuoso,” in Shadwell’s telling, is fatally distracted from his proper duties as a husband, a guardian and a citizen by his useless experiments. The play’s popularity derived from how effectively it diagnosed and demolished this new species of idiot. Indeed, the play has retained a long hold on our imaginations even if most of us are unfamiliar with the source. Shadwell’s anti-hero served as a touchstone for critiques of scientific credulity and insignificance throughout the Enlightenment — a satiric “Will of the Virtuoso” was published in the Tatler a full 34 years after the play premiered. In fact, Gimcrack is the point of origin for the stereotype of the nerd scientist, hopelessly befuddled by his narrow interests, who is socially and romantically clueless for all his vanity. The precise antitype of the mad scientist (who finds his origins in Victor Frankenstein), the ghost of Gimcrack is still very much with us, as anyone who’s ever caught a rerun of The Big Bang Theory can plainly see.

Hooke’s Micrographia afforded astonishing new perspectives on previously invisible phenomena. For some, this showed God’s awesome providence and the triumph of man’s reason. For others, it betrayed an almost pathological obsession with the mean, the lowly, the filthy, and the useless.

We know that contemporaries identified a number of satiric targets in Shadwell’s fool.  Some recognized a vicious and personal lampoon on Robert Hooke, Boyle’s former lab assistant and the author of Micrographia (1667), which created a sensation with its astonishing images of the sub-visible world.

When he finally saw the play after being needled about it by frenemies, the terse account in Hooke’s diary suggests a public humiliation of the most acute kind: “Damned Dogs. Vindica me Deus. People almost pointed.” But Hooke wasn’t the only recognizable scientist parodied and insulted in the play. The play is full sharp satirical jabs at many prominent members of the Royal Society. There are blood transfusion jokes aimed at Thomas Coxe and Edward King. There are inept astronomy jokes at the expense of John Wilkins. There are quack doctoring jokes at the expense of Jan Swammerdam and Thomas Willis. Some of the best jokes are saved for Robert Boyle himself: he comes in for a roasting when Gimcrack boasts of having weighed — and bottled — air from all over England. Oh yeah, and I probably mention that Gimcrack claims to have read a Geneva Bible by the light of a rancid leg of pork.

Shadwell’s satire goes far beyond personal insults and jokes about scientific obsessiveness and credulity, though. More than anything else, the play criticizes the virtuosi for their unmindful absorption in the objects of their curiosity, and the utter disregard they show for what the real-world applications might be. In what is probably the play’s most well-remembered scene, the young suitors ask to meet Gimcrack in his laboratory — strictly for the lulz, of course. When Longvil asks, “Were it not possible to have the favor of seeing this experiment?” he seems to suggest that the virtuoso himself is a kind of experiment staged in the theater’s laboratory of human nature.

And so, at the gallant’s request, the moveable screens obscuring the Dorset Gardens’ discovery space slide back, and the audience peeps in on a remarkable scene. The stage directions read:

 Scene opens and discovers Sir Nicholas learning to swim upon a table; Sir Formal and the Swimming Master standing by.

In a trice, the scene moves from a pleasant English garden to the close confines of the natural philosopher’s cabinet, “his laboratory…where all his instruments and fine knacks are.” There, Gimcrack is revealed, high and dry on a table, gravely pantomiming the motions of a frog swimming in a basin before him, with his fellow virtuosi earnestly coaching him along.

With this scene, the players have staged in Dorset Gardens another type of performer on another type of stage: a virtuoso caught mid-experiment in his laboratory, showing off for his friends in the theater of the natural philosophy. In staging what is specifically called Gimcrack’s “physico-mechanical excellencies” — deliberately echoing the title of Robert Boyle’s foundational air-pump experiments — Shadwell seems determined to paint early scientists as utterly neglectful of the world at large. What Boyle might say is a healthy objectivity — a pure focus on experiment, and a dedication to following a research program no matter where it leads — Shadwell unmasks as pure folly.

Ultimately, the experimental form of life lived by Boyle and other Fellows of the Royal Society valorized a mode of spectatorship that encouraged early scientists to abandon themselves to spectacle. Early modern science positively required an affective enthrallment to facts. So despite the considerable effort to portray natural philosophers as modest witnesses — and Enlightenment science as rational and systematic — what was in fact required was not a modest witness but an eager spectator in the theater of experiment.

Science as Political Theater, Then and Now

When American scientists and their allies gathered on the National Mall, they faced down an anti-science polemic, and an array of cultural forces responsible for it, that should not strike us as unprecedented. If anything, science is reckoning with a return to its origins as a highly politicized, culturally suspect practice. The scientists and their allies who marched needed to reassert their credibility even as they sought to recapture the imagination of our nation. If history is any guide, the folks lining up behind science will need to carefully weigh their methods. Reconverting the American public into eager spectators of science will have to be done in a way that scientists can simultaneously be seen as objective, rational, empirical, and credible.

The piece appeared previously at Medium and Quartz.

“One domestic, at least, that may be spared”: Male Violence and Female Pet Keeping in Eliza Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless

“Duvaucel’s Squirrel” (ca. 1837) by Charles Hamilton Smith (1776–1859). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Scholarship concerning Eliza Haywood overwhelmingly bends towards misogyny and dismissal.  Since the publication of Kathryn King’s herculean Political Biography of Eliza Haywood (2012), scholars and students alike have begun to shift those decidedly problematic stances towards an appreciation of Eliza Haywood as an author integral to our understanding of eighteenth-century literature.  This still-emerging narrative runs counter to attempts to understand Haywood on a pre- and post-Dunciad, Alexander-Pope-defined timeline that has been cemented by centuries of conjectural scholarship and, at times, ad hominem attacks on Haywood’s person and supposedly lewd amatory writing.[i]  The assumption that Pope’s petty insults against Haywood caused a period of unproductive reclusion followed by a conservative reformation of her writing occlude and foreclose potential readings of Haywood’s writing which might prove liberating, progressive, or which simply object to the perpetuated fiction that Haywood was a hack, an amatory novelist turned moralist writer.  What follows, then, is an attempt to assist in curving Haywood’s critical arc and to continue the project of cataloguing the concerns present in her prose which make her a “slippery, fluid, multifarious, strategic, opportunistic, [and] chameleon-like writer” (King 195).

Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) follows the emotional maturation–a Bildungsroman with a British lilt–of the titular Betsy Thoughtless.  During the novel, between a parade of potential husbands and the interloping of her two brothers, Betsy receives a small pet squirrel from Mr. Trueworth, one of her many suitors.  This squirrel, Betsy’s beloved pet, becomes a focalizing object through which Haywood raises and explores the subjects of male aggression, women’s personal rights, and the value placed on animal life.  By examining the tenderness with which Trueworth crafts his gift and the economics associated with eighteenth-century pet ownership, we can better understand how Haywood intentionally frames the animal abuse perpetrated by Betsy’s first husband, Mr. Munden, against her pet squirrel as one motivated by Munden’s anxieties about both the state of his household economy and his wife’s undivided attention.  Furthermore, by contextualizing Betsy’s overt concern for the well-being of her pet within the anti-cruelty movement of late eighteenth-century Britain, we can begin to see the complexity with which Haywood positions Betsy’s modes of self-activism relative to the legislation that would follow the novel’s publication some decades later.  While John Richetti cites much of the same evidence found in this analysis, such as the economic importance of the squirrel and the shocking realism with which Haywood writes Munden’s “male rage,” in his chapter comparing the histories of Fielding and Haywood, Richetti wields these examples to a decidedly more trivializing end (“Histories” 256).[ii]

Writing in 1791, Ralph Beilby broadly waxes about squirrels, “This beautiful little animal is equally admirable for the neatness and elegance of its formation, as for its liveliness and activity” (352).  Though written after the publication of Betsy Thoughtless, this brief entry on squirrels illuminates the popular attitude toward the rodent and helps explain why Betsy is smitten with the squirrel Trueworth sends to her as a gift.  In the letter that accompanies the squirrel, Trueworth recalls Betsy’s delight at the sight of “the pretty tricks of a squirrel, which a lady in the company [at Oxford] had on her arm” (Thoughtless 137).  Trueworth downplays both the romantic and monetary significance of his gift calling it “so trifling an offering” (Thoughtless 137).  Trueworth’s self-deprecation and downplaying of his gift to Betsy is indicative of his overall disposition:  polite and mostly inoffensive.

As Betsy and the women in her company examine the squirrel, they begin to recognize that the gift is a significant gesture on Trueworth’s part.  The narrator describes the squirrel as “doubtless, the most beautiful creature of its kind, that could be purchased” with a “chain . . . [of] gold, the links [of which were] very thick, and curiously wrought” (Thoughtless 138).  The trappings of the pet squirrel come to represent several desirable qualities found in Trueworth’s character.  As Ingrid Tague argues, “Collars, like human clothing, could be the sites of luxurious display, sentimental attachment, or modest utility” (41).  Aside from its practicality, the leash and collar of the squirrel simultaneously displayed “the elegance of the donor’s taste . . . [and his] respectful passion” while also conspicuously displaying Trueworth’s economic prosperity (Thoughtless 138).

Haywood’s preoccupation with the description of the squirrel and its accessories is indicative of a larger trend of fashionable pet keeping during the eighteenth century.  As Tague notes, “On some level . . . pets were fashionable consumer goods” at that time (92).[iii]  English pet shops began selling more exotic species while also appealing to less adventurous consumers with commonplace animals like squirrels, whose appeal stems from their “attractive characteristics as small, clever, and fairly clean animals” (Tague 92). The squirrel becomes a token, not only of the attention that Trueworth pays to Betsy’s desires but also his ability to financially support those desires.  Despite the implications of Trueworth’s gift, Betsy later marries “a gentleman named Mr. Munden,” a lover initially described as “soft and complaisant” (Thoughtless 295, 486).  His courting of Betsy does not involve the extravagant gift giving that characterized her relationship with Trueworth.  Rather, Munden conducts his courtship as shrewdly as possible and “with less love, perhaps, than many, who had addressed her” (Thoughtless 296).  At the incessant badgering of her older brothers, Betsy acquiesces to marry Munden, not for his displays of passion or affection, but because she has “gone too far with Mr. Munden to be able to go back with honour” (Thoughtless 484).  The timbre of Betsy’s engagement, then, is not wonder, as she felt at the sight of Trueworth’s gift, but tolerable consolation for having toyed with Munden for too long.

Soon, however, a “darkening gloom” overtakes their relationship, as Munden realizes that he cannot financially support Betsy’s lifestyle (Thoughtless 498).  Munden becomes “excessively parsimonious at home” and reduces Betsy’s pin money to such an inadequate sum that she is “without means to support her character” (Thoughtless 499).  This tension erupts in a series of arguments concerning Betsy’s spending and personal funds.  With a “surly look,” Munden expresses to Betsy his fear that “she [is] a bad economist” (Haywood 499).  By all accounts, Munden’s temper surprises Betsy who finds his demeanor “cold and indifferent” (Thoughtless 501).  The omniscient narrator details Munden’s belief that “a wife [is] no more than an upper servant, bound to study and obey,” and because Betsy’s objections to her pin money allotment threatens his control over her, Munden “fixe[s] his resolution to render himself absolute master” (Thoughtless 507).  Munden’s character, by this point, is diametrically opposed to Trueworth’s.

As Munden is “ready to burst with an inward malice,” the narrator reminds us of the gift Trueworth had made to Betsy, “a present of a squirrel . . . [her] first token of love” (Thoughtless 507).  The care she pays to the squirrel makes it the target of Munden’s wrath.  Whereas, Trueworth provided the squirrel, Munden acts to take it away permanently.  Munden grabs the squirrel “by the neck, and throw[s] it with his whole force against the carved work of the marble chimney” where the rodent’s “tender frame [is] dashed to pieces” (Thoughtless 507).  During this disturbing act of animal abuse, Munden delights in his destruction, “Here is one domestic, at least, that may be spared” (Thoughtless 507).  Munden betrays one of the specific reasons he killed the squirrel—to ease the household debt by ridding it of at least one expense.  As Tague notes, “pets embodied the worst excess of fashionable consumption, thanks to the fact that in addition to their status as fashionable goods, they were also literally consumers, draining resources” (94).  Betsy is deeply troubled by Munden’s action, “the massacre of so unhurtful a little creature” (Thoughtless 509).[iv]  It is not Trueworth’s connection to Betsy and the squirrel that causes Munden to kill it but, rather, the perceived overabundance of attention with which Betsy lavishes it–the pet she “always cherished”–and the cost of its maintenance (Thoughtless 507).

Despite the “splenetic and barbarous” nature of the murder drawing the righteous indignation of Betsy and potentially disturbing the modern reader, the social company that Munden and Betsy keep do not overtly condemn or vilify his actions (Thoughtless 509).  Even after Betsy tells Lady Trusty, a confidant, about the incident and suggests pursuing a legal separation from Munden, Lady Trusty impresses upon Betsy the “absolute necessity for a reconciliation” as “all you [Betsy] can accuse him of will not amount to a separation” (Thoughtless 511).  Because Munden views both his wife and her pet as his personal property, he believes that he is well within his legal rights to act against them as he sees fit, and to no small degree, he is correct.

Efforts to legislate animal abuse began to shift public sentiment concerning the well-being of non-human species at the end of the eighteenth-century, decades after the publication of Betsy Thoughtless.  These anticruelty movements were limited, though, and only “focused on working animals” and livestock (Tague 157).  David Perkins notes that while, for example, the reformation of prison conditions was championed by John Howard leading up to 1774, the “cause of animals did not enlist comparably dedicated persons” (44).[v]  Outrage over the abuse of domesticated pets “was still far in the future . . . for anticruelty advocates” and as Tague points out, “it would be reasonable . . . to envision the eighteenth-century as very distant from our own pet-loving culture” (157).  Rob Boddice highlights the laxity with which early anti-cruelty legislation was formulated claiming that “Very occasionally, the charge of cruelty had in mind the consequences done to specific animals” (15).[vi]  This is a significant part of Lady Trusty’s argument against separation; Betsy’s case against Munden rests on no real legal ground, as Munden did not actually break any contemporary law when he killed the squirrel.  According to Lady Trusty, attempting to separate from Munden would prove fruitless and potentially cause Betsy further harm.  Betsy’s concern and attempt to correct the abuse committed against her pet, however, is particularly uncharacteristic of the period.

While Haywood writes about pet keeping at other times, she does not write as frankly about the inhumanity of animal cruelty elsewhere in her bibliography.  In her novel, The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy (1753), Lady Speck dismisses the loss of a womanizer and “coxcomb,” Celadine, as akin to “the loss of a squirrel or monkey who has diverted one with its tricks” (208).  Here, the squirrel is dismissed as a mere bauble, easily forgotten once lost.  In the Epistles for the Ladies (1748), Hillaria writes to Clio, two eidolons Haywood assumes, asking whether or not a “Person, whose Pleasure is in the Company of a Dog, a Monkey, a Parrot, a Cat, a Horse, or any other Species of the Brute Creation, [can] be imagined to have Taste for the Conversation of Cherubs, Seraphs, and the rest of the Angelic Throng” (293-4).[vii]  While dismissive of those fashionable individuals that keep pets, Hillaria makes sure to clarify that she did not mean to offend Clio, who keeps “Tib, your little favourite Squirrel” for a pet (Epistles 294-5).  Hillaria appears to hold a similar view of pet keeping to that of Lady Speck and goes as far as to associate a lack of religiosity with those who excessively fawn and dote over pets.  An exception is made, however, for Clio’s squirrel, which Hillaria deems one of the “harmless Animals,” though, this does little to alter the overall tone of the letter which condescends greatly toward pet owners (Epistles 295).  While these figures do not abuse animals, they certainly share Munden’s belief that the attention given to animals, their lives, and their loss are ultimately inconsequential.

While writing The Wife (1755) as Mira, one of Haywood’s better known eidolons of The Female Spectator, we learn that “Among all the various foibles of which the softer sex are but too justly accus’d, I [Mira] know of none more preposterous than the immoderate fondness” given to pets of all varieties (96).[viii]  Mira then begins the first of several anecdotes that concern a wife who “is all the time playing with her lap-dog,” causing her to ignore her husband (Wife 96).  Mira quips that a man who endures this behavior is either “quite a fool, or endued with an uncommon share of philosophy and fortitude” and “if the latter, nothing but the most low contempt could restrain him from giving her some marks of his resentment, and throwing her favourite dog out of the window” (Wife 96).  While this story is likely meant to take advantage of an eighteenth-century “satirical convention of representing women taking personal offence at any perceived mistreatment of their pets,” as Theresa Braunschneider claims, there is little similarity between the reactions of the women in Mira’s anonymous stories and Betsy’s reaction to the deeply personal affront committed by Munden (43).[ix]

As they far better resemble Munden’s character, the men of Mira’s story do provide clearer insight into the reactionary nature of his animal abuse.  If one were to swap the dog for a squirrel, Mira would, in fact, describe the precise situation in which Betsy finds herself and, using the example given by Mira, we might better understand Munden’s intention when he murders Betsy’s squirrel.  Because Betsy pays, what Munden deems, a frivolous amount of money on and attention to the squirrel, he abuses her pet in lieu of physically harming Betsy and further reducing her pin money allowance.  The squirrel, thus, mediates the physical and economic harm done by Munden against Betsy.  Through the examples of animal abuse committed by the unnamed husband of Mira’s anecdote and Munden, Haywood convincingly frames marital aggression against animals as not only an exclusively male attack on a wife’s personal and economic autonomy but also a means of mediating a husband’s desire to physically assault his wife.  To return to the language of the text, if Munden continues to find Betsy’s spending excessive, she might easily become yet another “domestic . . . spared” (Thoughtless 507).

While Haywood’s depictions of pet keeping and animal cruelty vary from overwhelming dismissal to sincere concern, the latter impresses upon modern readers the potentially progressive nature of Haywood’s writing.  Betsy’s attempt to rectify her husband’s animal abuse and economic stricture through legal separation, though ultimately unsuccessful, as well as Haywood’s poetic deus ex that releases Betsy from her marriage through Munden’s death to seek out the newly widowed Trueworth, predate most historical attempts to condemn harm towards household pets.  Ultimately, if we are to begin bending Haywood’s critical arc towards an end which positions her as a “mistress of multiplicity,” we must embrace the contradictory viewpoints Haywood confronts in her writing as indicative, though not necessarily reflective, of her own complicated subject position as a female writer in the eighteenth century (King 195).

As Alexander Pettit notes in his introduction to The Wife, Haywood approaches the issue of wifehood through diverse means in equally diverse genres.  According to Pettit, such “Juxtapositions . . . suggest that although Haywood may have chosen to entertain certain socio-generic fantasies in her novels, she did not do so naively” (Works I.III 3).  Haywood’s writing is anything but linear or formulaic, and, as Pettit acknowledges, we must assume that Haywood did not include various depictions of pet keeping, as she did with marriage, without a reason for presenting these multiple subjectivities, fictional and practical alike.[x]  Thus, because writers were “denied the luxury of politically pure positions,” Haywood’s various writings on pet keeping across several genres sought to appeal to the multifaceted and multimodal audiences that consumed her writing (King 27).  Haywood’s distinct depictions of attitudes concerning pet keeping and animal abuse suggest that, rather than composing with a rote amatory method, she created narrative voices that were often at odds with one another to confront looming questions concerning the fragility and aggressivity of the male ego, the prospect of personal and economic autonomy for women, and the value of animal life in the eighteenth century.

Notes

[i] See James Sutherland’s edition of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad (Book II, lines 149-156) for this reference to Eliza Haywood.  I suggest Sutherland’s edition because he claims that “Pope’s satire [of Haywood] was merciless, but not undeserved” (443).  Much of the scholarship concerning Haywood presumes the purportedly devastating ramifications of these lines.  This is a relatively invariable trend in Pope scholarship.  However, King deftly rebuts scholarly work that relies heavily on Pope’s attack on Haywood as it “rests to an uncomfortable extent on readings of her life filtered through the detractions of her enemies as they are betted by present-day desires to give her an appealingly unconventional history” and relies heavily on “details drawn from the well-stocked cabinet of misogynistic satiric conventions” (5-6).

[ii] While Richetti certainly notes the “significant domestic realism” of the scene in “Histories by Eliza Haywood and Henry Fielding:  Imitation and Adaptation,” he places her work at odds with the writing of Henry Fielding, claiming that “Haywood’s interesting . . . exposure of ideological contradiction[s]” are the result of an imperfect imitation of Henry Fielding’s histories (255).  Richetti’s reading of Haywood is yet another example of scholarship undermining the importance of Haywood’s work through comparative, deprecating, and, misogynistic criticism. Ultimately, Richetti concludes that the squirrel “is nothing more nor less than an interesting prop” and that Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless, like the animal abuse scene, is “loose and opportunistic, [a] stringing together [of] striking scenes” which “Fielding doubtless would have disdained as literal-minded and vulgar, lacking true inventiveness” (“Histories” 258).  By contextualizing Haywood, not against the work or presumed opinions of her contemporaries, but against the craft and views of her own works, the conclusion of this analysis reveals the incredible wit and flexibility with which Haywood considered marriage and pet keeping–rather than deeming Haywood’s writing a defense of “a conventional bourgeois ideology of female subordination and sexual suppression” (“Histories” 255).

[iii] As Keith Thomas notes in Man and the Natural World:  A History of the Modern Sensibility, “By 1700 all of the symptoms of obsessive pet-keeping were in evidence [in Britain].  Pets were often fed better than the servants.  They were adorned with rings, ribbons, feathers and bells; and they became an increasingly regular feature of painted family groups” (117).  The ubiquity of pet keeping in the eighteenth century cannot be understated.

[iv] While the actions of Munden may come as a surprise to both Betsy and the modern reader, Erin Mackie claims in Rakes, Highwaymen, and Pirates:  The Making of the Modern Gentleman in the Eighteenth Century that the identified social class Munden inhabits–the gentleman–is one steeped in a history of criminality and skullduggery associated with rakes, highwaymen, and pirates.  Mackie notes that “especially in the case of the rake and the highwayman, unauthorized types often forward a claim to those very characteristics of gentility which the modern gentleman would monopolize” (4).  While not legally considered a criminal for his actions, the history that Mackie traces proves helpful when attempting to explain Munden’s cruelty towards Betsy and her pet.  Likewise, though Trueworth is deemed a gentleman, Mackie argues for an understanding of masculinity’s role in criminality and gentlemanliness which is by no means an assurance that every gentleman would act as Munden does in the text.

[v] Perkins similarly notes that the cause of anti-cruelty “was an effort that one might take up occasionally, episodically, among other projects, paying for a sermon on the subject, giving one, or getting up a petition, or introducing a bill in Parliament.  And then, in most cases, you went on to matter that concerned you more” (44).  Perkins identifies William Cowper’s 1774 poem The Task, which “strongly urged compassion for animals, weaving this virtue into [Cowper’s] powerful image of the good person and the good life,” as one of the later catalysts for the increased awareness of the anti-cruelty movement (45).

[vi] Boddice defines more clearly the charge of cruelty as one “of unmanliness, a charge of callousness, a charge of being uncivilized, on the one hand; cruelty was a masquerade for class interests, a vehicle for social control, an abhorrence of tradition or custom, on the other” (15).

[vii] The Epistles for the Ladies appears in the Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I, Vol. 2.

[viii] The Wife appears in the Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I, Vol. 3.  For more information concerning the role Mira plays in Haywood’s periodical The Female Spectator and female subjectivity in periodical culture, see Manushag Powell’s Performing Authorship in 18th-Century English Periodicals.  Powell claims that Haywood’s eidolons in The Female Spectator try “to make use of the traits any woman might use in navigating the social world . . . to educate by pleasing” (152).  One of these traits is, no doubt, the ability to learn from the mistakes of others.  Thus, Mira’s use of absurd and anecdotal tales of female pet keeping folly in Haywood’s conduct literature is both sadistically humorous and didactic.

[ix] Braunschneider elaborates further and in agreement with numerous other sources used here which claim that a woman’s pet was “an extension of its owner’s self . . . satirical depictions of women of fashion intimate that such narcissistic consumption could be the inevitable result of British involvement in world trade and cultural exchange” (43).

[x] While Haywood certainly leaned on a stock set of tropes for her writing, she did so no more frequently than her contemporaries.  The degree to which Haywood relies on stock figures and conceits is vastly overstated in lieu of properly examining the multiplicities of expression found in Haywood’s writing.  For an example of this maligned argument concerning Haywood’s allegedly formulaic style, see Richetti’s chapter “Popular Narrative in the Early Eighteenth Century:  Formats and Formulas” in which he claims, “Haywood produced a highly successful imitation of Manley’s secret history,” but dismisses Haywood as a non-political writer (a claim which King’s biography more than adequately proves false) whose “tremendous output of popular narrative during the 1720s repeats tirelessly the formulas of the amatory novella, occasionally extend to novel length” (“Formulas” 83).  Unable to admit that Haywood might be contributing to a literary tradition rather than simply poorly mimicking it, Richetti compartmentalizes and condescends, designating this form of amatory writing, “Haywoodian” (“Formulas” 91).

Works Cited

Beilby, Ralph.  A General History of Quadrupeds.  The Figures Engraved on Wood by T. Bewick.  2nd ed.  Newcastle upon Tyne, 1791.  Eighteenth Century Collections Online.  Gale.  Purdue University Libraries.  20 Apr. 2017.

Boddice, Rob.  A History of Attitudes and Behaviours Toward Animals in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain:  Anthropocentrism and the Emergence of Animals.  Lewiston:  Mellen, 2008.  Print.

Braunschneider, Theresa.  “The Lady and the Lapdog:  Mixed Ethnicity in Constantinople, Fashionable Pets in Britain.”  Ed. Frank Palmeri.  Humans and Other Animals in Eighteenth-Century British Culture:  Representation, Hybridity, Ethics.  Burlington:  Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006.  31-48.  Print.

Haywood, Eliza.  Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I.  Ed. Alexander Pettit and Christine Blouch.  Vol. 2.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2000.  Print.

—.  Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I.  Ed. Alexander Pettit and Margo Collins.  Vol. 3.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2000. Print.

—.  The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy.  Ed. John Richetti.  Lexington:  UP of Kentucky, 2005.  Print.

—.  The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless.  Ed. Christine Blouch.  Peterborough:  Broadview P, 1998.  Print.

King, Kathryn R.  A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2012.  Print.  Eighteenth-Century Political Biographies; No. 9.

Mackie, Erin Skye.  Rakes, Highwaymen, and Pirates:  The Making of the Modern Gentleman in the Eighteenth Century. Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins UP, 2014.  Print.

Pope, Alexander.  The Dunciad.  Ed. James Sutherland.  3d. ed. rev.  New Haven:  Yale UP, 1963.  Print.

Powell, Manushag N.  Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century English Periodicals.  Lewisburg, PA:  Bucknell UP, 2012.  Print.

Richetti, John.  “Histories by Eliza Haywood and Henry Fielding:  Imitation and Adaptation.”  The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood:  Essays on Her Life and Work.  Ed. Kirsten Saxton and Rebecca Bocchicchio.  Lexington:  UP of Kentucky, 2000.  240-58.  Print.

—.  “Popular Narrative in the Early Eighteenth Century:  Formats and Formulas.”  The English Novel, Volume I:  1700 to Fielding.  Ed. Richard Kroll.  New York:  Routledge, 2013. 70-106.  Print.

Tague, Ingrid H.  Animal Companions:  Pets and Social Change in Eighteenth-Century Britain.  University Park, PA:  The Pennsylvania State UP, 2015.  Print.

Thomas, Keith.  Man and the Natural World:  A History of the Modern Sensibility.  London: Allen Lane, 1983.  Print.

Statement of Support for the National Endowment for the Humanities

The 18th-Century Common was developed with substantial support from the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute, which itself was founded with generous support from an National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant. We are grateful that NEH funding has enabled an international array of scholars writing for The 18th-Century Common to share research with nonacademic enthusiasts of eighteenth-century studies.

Read the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute’s Statement of Support for the NEH.

Jane Austen Summer Program Presents: 
“200 Years of Persuasion

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and The Jane Austen Society of North America—North Carolina

June 15 to 18, 2017
.

This summer more than 100 people, including Austen fans, established scholars, graduate students, K-12 teachers, and aspiring authors, will have the opportunity to hear expert speakers and participate in discussion groups on Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion.  Attendees will also partake in an English tea, dance at a Regency-style ball, attend Austen-inspired theatricals, and visit special exhibits tailored to the conference.

They will be attending the fifth-annual Jane Austen Summer Program from June 15 to 18, 2017 to explore this year’s chosen theme: “200 Years of Persuasion.”  The events will take place at the Hampton Inn in Carrboro, NC and at various locations on the UNC-CH campus in Chapel Hill, NC.

The discussions will consider Austen’s last completed novel Persuasion in its historical context as well as its afterlives in fiction and film.  “This year we are so pleased that Jocelyn Harris, a Persuasion expert and a delightful individual, is coming from New Zealand to join us as a keynote speaker,” says Inger Brodey, co-director of the program with James Thompson.  “We will also have a naval historian guide us through the mostly off-stage military dimension of the novel.”

Participants old and new praise the program’s accessibility, innovation, and community-building.  “Last year’s conference on Mansfield Park was my first experience of JASP—and now I’m hooked!,” says Vicky Brandt.  “It’s a wonderful idea to open up an academic conference to the interested public:  everyone should be able to experience the loving inquiry that is the heart of scholarship.  All the presentations were enlightening; the small group discussions lively and insightful; the Saturday evening Regency ball almost as beautiful to watch as the ones we see on film.  In short, I can think of no better way to describe it than with Austen’s own words:  ‘the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.’”  Attendees express special appreciation for the cultural and historical knowledge exchanged at the program.  Patrick McGraw states, “Over four days, I learned more about Austen’s novel than I ever imagined I could.  I cannot wait to return to UNC-Chapel Hill this coming summer to explore Persuasion.”

For more program information, to see comments and photos from previous programs, or to register, please visit the program’s website janeaustensummer.org/ or follow the program on facebook.com/janeaustensummer or via Twitter, @JASPhotline.  You may also contact us at [email protected].

Elementary and secondary school teachers are encouraged to visit the website for information on available scholarships and continuing education credits.

(This post was made available by Carlie Wetzel, UNC-CH)

Veiled Intent: Dissenting Women’s Aesthetic Approach to Biblical Interpretation

veiledintentIn the long eighteenth century, attitudes towards a woman lifting her voice within the religious public sphere varied denominationally.  In differentiation from Anglican and Presbyterian communities, Quakers accepted the idea of women preaching from the mid-seventeenth century onwards.  The process in the Methodist church was more gradual.  Though female Methodists were preaching by 1787, at first they could only share their personal conversion narrative or give an “exhortation” as long as they avoided the “taking of a text.”  In other words, a woman could lead through public speech, as long as she did not quote from the Bible.  Little wonder women needed to veil their biblical interpretation in forms viewed as acceptably feminine when writing for print.  Within Presbyterian and Congregationalist communities women were not engaged in public speaking at all, which is perhaps why they channeled their biblical interpretation so powerfully into poetry, hymns, plays, letters, and even novels, as well as essays on taste and aesthetics.  Extremely learned women in these Dissenting communities deployed their significant knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and theology in composing book-length works containing substantial biblical hermeneutics written from a female standpoint.

These women Dissenters focused on biblical content often overlooked by male biblical commentators.  Phillis Wheatley and Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck analyzed biblical stories of the weak overcoming the strong (e.g., David and Goliath) as a veiled analogy for women’s fight against systemic oppression.  Presbyterians Anna Barbauld, Helen Maria Williams, and Joanna Baillie explored biblical birth and mothering metaphors for God’s omnipotence, contra Edmund’s Burke’s focus on divine wrath.  Women cloaked their substantial biblical exegesis in works such as Poems on Various Subjects:  Religious and Moral (Phillis Wheatley, 1773), Hymns in Prose for Children (Anna Barbauld, 1781), A Poem on the Bill Lately Passed for Regulating the Slave Trade (Helen Maria Williams, 1788), and Poems, Wherein it is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and Rustic Manners (Joanna Baillie, 1790).  If modern readers pay careful attention, they will hear these women preaching through their printed works.

Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck, one of the first women to publish a comprehensive work of biblical interpretation in English, witnessed the empowerment of women’s voices within eighteenth-century Quaker and Methodist communities before eventually becoming a Moravian.  The Moravians were a somewhat experimental spiritual community to which William Blake’s mother – Catherine Wright Armitage Blake – belonged.  Schimmelpenninck was an anti-slavery activist and philosopher who referenced the work of Anna Barbauld and Joanna Baillie repeatedly in her prose.  Her modestly titled book Biblical Fragments (1826) draws on the church fathers and cites passages of the Old Testament in Hebrew to contest the King James translation.  Schimmelpenninck also boldly transcends historical divides between Protestants and Catholics by praising the biblical interpretation of seventeenth-century French nuns.  Her ground breaking ecumenical work has been undervalued in histories of Dissenting women’s social activism and the scriptural engagement that undergirded it.

My book Veiled Intent: Dissenting Women’s Aesthetic Approach to Biblical Interpretation asks how eighteenth-century dissenting women writers were able to ensure their unique biblical interpretation was preserved for posterity.  And how did their careful yet shrewd tactics spur early nineteenth-century women writers into vigorous theological debate?  Why did the biblical engagement of such women prompt their commitment to causes such as the antislavery movement?  Veiled Intent traces the pattern of tactical moves and counter-moves deployed by Anna Barbauld, Phillis Wheatley, Helen Maria Williams, Joanna Baillie, and Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck.  These female poets and philosophers veiled provocative hermeneutical claims and calls for social action within aesthetic forms of discourse viewed as more acceptably feminine forms of expression.  In between the lines of their published hymns, sonnets, devotional texts for children, and works of aesthetic theory, the perceptive reader finds striking theological insights shared from a particularly female perspective.  These women were not only courageously interjecting their individual viewpoints into a predominantly male domain of formal study–biblical hermeneutics–but also intentionally supporting each other in doing so.  Their publications reveal that they were drawn to biblical imagery of embodiment and birth, to stories of the apparently weak vanquishing the tyrannical on behalf of the oppressed, and to the metaphor of Christ as strengthening rock.