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.

“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.

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.

Open-Access Anne Finch Digital Archive

Readers of early British poetry and early women writers will soon be able to discover all of Anne Finch’s poems and plays in the first scholarly edition of her work:  The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, general editor, Jennifer Keith:  Volume 1:  Early Manuscript Books, edited by Jennifer Keith and Claudia Thomas Kairoff, associate editor Jean I. Marsden; and Volume 2:  Later Collections, Print and Manuscript, edited by Jennifer Keith and Claudia Thomas Kairoff. The print edition establishes for the first time an accurate record of all known work by Finch that has survived:  more than 230 poems (the number varies depending on how one enumerates different versions of some poems), two plays, and letters.

Already available is the open-access Anne Finch Digital Archive, which complements the print edition.  Materials on the open-access Anne Finch Digital Archive enable users to explore the archival elements of Finch’s texts.  The featured poems on this site have been selected from a great number in Finch’s œuvre to illustrate her work in different poetic kinds, including song, fable, biblical paraphrase, translation, verse epistle, and devotional poetry.  For every featured poem, the site includes commentary with embedded links to illustrations, information about composition and printing dates and sources, audio files of the poem read aloud, and source copies showing authorized manuscript and print texts with transcriptions.  We will continue to add resources to the site, including recordings of musical performances of the songs featured.  The multimedia elements of this site reflect the various ways that Finch’s work engaged her contemporary readers and listeners, who knew her work in manuscript, print, or performance, or in all of these forms.

Writing in an era known for the overtly public and political poetry of John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), articulated a different literary and political authority.  From her position as a female aristocrat, once at the center of the court and then for many years a political internal exile, Finch explored the individual’s spiritual condition as inextricable from social and political phenomena.  Her interest in affairs of state frequently informed her exposure of patriarchy’s constraints on women and men.  Finch’s work participates in the strategies of her contemporaries such as Dryden and Pope—the public speaker who sought to influence state politics, the renovator of classical mythology and pastoral who exposed contemporary mores, the fabulist who satirized state and society, the friend who used the couplet for conversation and exchange, and the wit who made discernment a moral good.  But Finch both furthers and deviates from these practices.  Readers will discover her innovative use of form and genre to explore a wide range of themes and her complex use of tone to enlist the reader’s discernment and develop a poetics of intimacy.

The edition has received generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Women’s Caucus of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Wake Forest University.

The Letters of Hannah More: A Digital Edition

The Collected Letters of Hannah MoreThe Letters of Hannah More: A Digital Edition brings together for the first time the fascinating letters written by the celebrated playwright, poet, philanthropist, moralist, and educationalist Hannah More (1745-1833).

More was one of the most important voices of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.  At the heart of a complex and extensive network of politicians, bishops, writers, and evangelical Christians, which included figures such as William Wilberforce, Samuel Johnson, and Elizabeth Montagu, More sought to redefine and reshape the social and moral values of the age.

Though More’s fame and influence were considerable throughout her fifty-year literary career, she has remained a peripheral figure in later assessments of the literary culture of the period.  In part this is because some of her views are unappealing to modern tastes (she argued strongly against women becoming more involved in political life, for instance, and she was fiercely opposed to Catholic emancipation), but it is also because she has acquired a reputation for dour, dreary earnest religiosity.  That her evangelical Christian beliefs were central to More’s life and works is undeniable, but she was also playful and light-hearted, and she especially delighted in the company of children.  More’s cheerless reputation developed after the publication in 1834 – just a year after her death – of William Roberts’s four-volume edition, Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More, in which More’s cheerful and teasing voice was deliberately and ‘primly’ edited out.  So badly did Roberts misrepresent More that her goddaughter Marianne Thornton begged correspondents not to “judge of Hannah More by anything […] that Roberts tells you she said or did.”

To her friends and family, the publication of More’s letters was inevitable.  In 1813, William Weller Pepys urged her to compose her letters so that “the subjects, though familiar, should be always interesting.”  He acknowledged that writing for publication ran the risk of producing mannered and contrived letters “yet I would not have you totally lose sight of the possibility of such a thing taking place” (Roberts, III, 380).  Prior to her death in 1819, Patty More undertook the initial editorial groundwork by collecting together relevant letters and papers (without her sister’s knowledge).  The task was continued by Mary and Margaret Roberts, to whom Patty had entrusted the papers and whom More later appointed her literary executors, who worked on arranging, copying, and dating the letters, “the most troublesome part of a posthumous concern,” More observed from a distance (Huntington Library, HM 30620).  The Roberts sisters also approached their brother, William, a lawyer and journalist, about taking on the role of More’s official biographer and editor.  The resulting four-volume Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More was published in 1834.

More had some experience of the administration of a literary estate.  In early 1781, she assisted Eva Maria Garrick, the widow of David Garrick, More’s theatrical mentor of the late 1770s, to arrange and dispose of his letters.  Among them she discovered her own letters but, observant of protocols for such matters, considered it “a breach of trust to take them till they are all finally disposed of” (Roberts, I, 193).  Garrick’s carefully ordered papers, however, contrasts with the disorderliness of More’s own extensive archive which fell increasingly into disarray as her mental faculties diminished in old age:  Mary Roberts worried how More, who was “no longer capable of exercising the same care & caution as formerly,” suffered private letters to “lie scattered on her Table” (British Library, Eg. 1965, f. 100).

The size and content of More’s archive inevitably fluctuated over the years.  The majority of the letters that she wrote, of course, ended up in the collections of their recipients.  Some groups of letters, however, found their way back into More’s archive, such as her letters to Horace Walpole and her early letters to William Weller Pepys, although what survives today cannot reflect the extent of the original accumulations.  Nor were all of More’s letters considered worthy of long term retention.  William Roberts observed that when More was afflicted by a pleuralic fever, “The letters which were received by her sisters . . . amounted to some hundreds.  They were destroyed; but had they been preserved, their unvarying topic would have excluded the variety to which letters owe their interest” (Roberts, III, 244).  More herself, concerned for her posthumous reputation, was not averse to destroying letters:  she burnt nearly two hundred letters sent to her by Clapham Sect friend, Henry Thornton, and requested that Marianne Thornton destroy a series of her own letters after her death (Huntington Library, MY 669 and MY 716).  Consequently, the letters that survive in manuscript and print must represent only a fraction of More’s epistolary output.

Although affecting disinterest in her biography while alive, More was concerned to assist in the reconstitution of her archive following her death:  a provision in her will, which requested that all the friends with whom she corresponded hand over her letters or copies of them to her literary executors, was designed precisely to facilitate the posthumous editing of her letters.  At least one friend, Marianne Thornton, refused to turn over her letters to Roberts believing them unfit for publication.  Other friends, however, were more cooperative, such as John Scandrett Harford and Lady Olivia Sparrow.  To the latter, Mary Roberts proposed a reciprocal exchange of letters and assured her that any “private or confidential matters” would be expunged before publication (British Library, Eg. 1865, fol. 100).  She also outlined the broad editorial methodology that had been adopted:  as many as possible of More’s letters to her “intimate correspondents” would be recalled at the earliest opportunity in order to allow sufficient time for their appraisal, and from each parcel a few of “most interesting & worthy of insertion” would be selected for the memoir.  A group of More’s letters to Lady Olivia Sparrow (with a few to her daughter, Millicent), was sold by her grandson, Lord Robert Montagu, to the British Library in 1865, and a selection of these form the basis for this pilot project.  Five letters from More to Lady Olivia Sparrow are preserved in what remains of her original archive (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library), and the project team will in due course establish the extent to which these particular manuscripts relate to the letters that Roberts selected for publication.  Today More’s 1,800 letters are scattered across some ninety repositories in Britain and North America with at least two groups of letters remain in private ownership.

The publication of More’s letters for the first time in a reliable and scholarly edition (which will also be fully searchable) will bring back together, for the first time since their dispersal in the nineteenth century, what remains of More’s epistolary output.  Doing this will enable a much-needed reassessment of her significance by making explicit the extent to which More was embedded within, and exercised great influence over, the major cultural, political and social networks of her era.  It will also make visible for the first time the larger patterns of More’s letter-writing activities:  already, visualizations of the data gathered so far offers insights into the way More’s letter writing changed over time; how her relationships with her closest correspondents shifted; to whom she wrote most often.  The rhythms of eighteenth-century life can also be seen to exert an influence over More’s letter-writing, with More writing far fewer letters whilst the fashionable were in London.  A staunch defender of Sabbath-keeping, More unsurprisingly wrote very few letters on Sundays, but she wrote more than might be expected of an avowedly strict Christian woman.

The edition of More’s letters is currently under construction:  a small collection (to Lady Olivia Sparrow) is available, and this will be added to gradually over the next six months.  It is hoped that all of More’s surviving letters will be available within the next four years.

The project is a collaboration between scholars from the UK, the US and Canada.

Project Leader:  Dr. Kerri Andrews, University of Strathclyde

Technical Adviser:  Professor Laura Mandell, Texas A&M

Modern Humanities Research Associate:  Dr. Sarah Crofton, University of Strathclyde

Advisory Board:  Dr. Nicholas D. Smith, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Dr. Sue Edney, University of Bristol; Dr. Anne Stott, Independent Scholar; Dr. Anne Milne, University of Toronto; Dr. Dahlia Porter, University of North Texas

The project has been supported by funding from the Carnegie Trust, the MHRA, and the University of Strathclyde.

The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre

LadysMagazineThe Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre’ is a two-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant scheme.  The team of academics behind it is based at the University of Kent and is led by Jennie Batchelor, who works closely with the project’s two full-time Postdoctoral Researchers:  Koenraad Claes and Jenny DiPlacidi.  Our aim is to shed new light on one of the first and longest running women’s magazines of all time.

In an 1840 letter to Hartley Coleridge, Charlotte Brontë wrote that she wished “with all [her] heart” that she “had been born in time to contribute to the Lady’s magazine,” a periodical that ran for 13 issues per annum from more than six decades and had an estimated circulation of 10,000 monthly copies at the height of its popularity.  170 years later the history and cultural and literary importance of a publication, the vast majority of the original content of which was produced by unknown and unpaid reader-contributors, remains undocumented.

Our project fills this significant gap through a detailed bibliographical, statistical and literary-critical analysis of one of the first recognizably modern magazines for women from its inception in 1770 until the launch of its new series in 1818.  In its two-pronged book history/literary critical approach, this project sets out to answer three key research questions:

  • What made the Lady’s Magazine one of the most popular and enduring titles of its day?
  • What effects might an understanding of the magazine’s content, production, and circulation have upon our conceptions of Romantic-era print culture?
  • What role did the Lady’s Magazine play in the long-term development of the women’s magazine and the history of women’s writing?

In response to these questions, we are producing an open-access fully annotated, downloadable index of the magazine’s content for its first 50 years, which will launch in September 2016.  Titles of articles are accompanied by the names or pseudonyms of their contributors, and their contributors’ status (author, translator, extracter, or pilferer) is given wherever it can be clearly ascertained.  Attributions are made where possible.  In fact, we are amassing a small but growing body of evidence about a number of regular and mostly unknown contributors to the magazine and their lives or careers beyond its pages.  We regularly publish about these discoveries, and many other topics besides, on our project blog.

In addition to illuminating the production and composition of the magazine, we also pay detailed attention to its diverse, text-based contents.  Since the titles of articles in the Lady’s Magazine are often misleading (an article purporting to be about women’s dress might make an impassioned plea for reforms in female education, for instance), our index tags content by genre, key stylistic features and prominent keywords (marriage, education, politics, for example) making it easy for readers to find items of particular interest.

We are mining the data we are collating and will be presenting our findings in the form of web, book, and journal articles on attributions, the career profiles of magazine contributors, and statistical and interpretive analyses of the shifting content of the magazine over the course of its long history.  Jennie is also in the process of writing a book about the magazine’s place in the Romantic literary marketplace.  By making the annotated index of contributor signatures and content analysis freely available online, we also hope to promote further research by scholars and other interested parties on the Lady’s Magazine, late-eighteenth-century periodicals, and authorship and print culture in the period more generally.

One of the greatest joys of the project has been disseminating and talking about our research in progress via our Twitter feed, Facebook page, and blog, all of which are regularly updated. Through social media, we have entered into conversations about the magazine, its diverse content, and the issues it debates and generates with modern-day readers all over the world.  Establishing a community of interested parties who felt they had a stake in the publication was vital to the success of the Lady’s Magazine, whose readers and subscribers were also its authors.  We like to think that, in a small way, the online community that has grown around the project captures and perpetuates something of the spirit of the magazine itself.

It has certainly been a genuine and generative collaboration that has advanced the project in ways that we could not have anticipated when we began.  For instance, Jennie’s happy acquisition of a copy of the periodical from one of our blog’s readers, which contained a number of rare surviving embroidery patterns, led to a flutter of Twitter excitement that snowballed into ‘The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off,’ a non-competitive sewing bee in which dozens of people all over the world have recreated 10 Lady’s Magazine patterns for display at an exhibition at Chawton House Library to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma (1816), a novel whose hero and a major plotline are taken from a short story in the Lady’s Magazine.

To find out more, do visit the project website and blog, or contact Jennie ([email protected])

The Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD)

NRD Logo 1

Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD)

The period from 1790 to 1820 was a significant moment in British women’s literary history.  During this period more women published novels than men, even as the novel was solidifying as a respected literary genre.  By the end of this period the novel was reputable enough a medium for Sir Walter Scott, celebrated poet, to pen the wildly successful Waverly series (1814).  His success, however, came on the backs of the many women novelists who paved the way before him in the previous thirty years.

But what was the contemporary critical response to such a momentous period in the history of the British novel?  The Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD) seeks to uncover just that.

The NRD is the first and only database to focus on one genre’s historical reception.  Cataloging reviews of novels from the period’s two foremost review periodicals, the Monthly Review and the Critical Review, the NRD brings together book reviews and book market data, providing a repository of criticism reacting in print to this period in the novel’s, and women’s, literary history.

The NRD includes 1,836 book reviews, representing 1,215 novels and 445 identified authors.  It features transcriptions of review criticism as well as data on women writers, novels, and review periodical makeup.  The NRD contains a unique combination of contemporary primary sources that speak to the novel’s solidification as a literary genre during this period, including review articles, advertisements, and novel prefaces, many from archival sources not available digitally.

The NRD also offers a data-set by which distant reading of this period in literary history can be explored, uncovering for the first time the Reviews’ role in shaping our modern novel canon.  Distant reading studies of the novel, such as this study from the NRD of publisher William Lane, offer a new means of asking questions about the history of the novel and how contemporaries experienced its evolution.  Its scope enables the NRD to encourage a broad survey of the literary marketplace in which the novel grew in the late eighteenth century, one that brings forward the many anonymously published and still obscure women novelists from this period that are often neglected in our study of the novel.  The NRD presents opportunities for text mining review criticism, tracing economic market changes in novel production and sales, or publishers’ trends, tracking the novel’s evolving gendered authorship, understanding how reviewers discussed and understood a novel’s authorial gender, and excavating growing genre parameters by which the novel was evaluated and effectively produced.

The NRD is currently in Phase I of three phases of development.  Phase I features transcriptions of review criticism—criticism that due to poor OCR in digital archives and scattered periodicals collections, are currently unavailable to most scholars.  The NRD seeks to make this text corpus available to scholars in an open-access relational database platform.  This platform, Phase II, which introduces a review bibliography, novel publication data, and authorial gender demographics, is under construction with hopes of a 2017 release.  Phase III will provide users with review page images and the ability to read issues of the Reviews in their entirety, tagged review subjects and the power to create their own tagging profile, and a formula builder to manipulate NRD data for their own research.

Adverts 250 Project

We live in a world saturated with advertising.  In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, new technologies and new media have been created or adapted to deliver so many marketing messages to potential consumers that sometimes it has become impossible to recognize advertising when we encounter it.  Other times advertising is blatant, obvious, and even infuriating as it infringes on the rest of our daily activities.  Many of us tend to think of advertising as a modern invention, something that became ubiquitous in American life as a result of radio, television, and the Internet.  Sometimes we assume that widespread advertising got its start in the twentieth century.

The Adverts 250 Project, however, offers a different story of advertising in America.  This blog features a new advertisement every day, an advertisement that appeared in a newspaper printed in colonial America exactly 250 years ago that day.  Each advertisement is accompanied by short commentary providing additional context, explanation, and interpretation.  I guide readers through the world of buying, selling, and promoting products in colonial America.  On occasion, students from my Colonial and Revolutionary America courses at Assumption College join me as guest curators, bringing their own perspectives and curiosity to the project as they select and research everyday life as revealed in the advertisements.

Although colonists placed advertisements for a variety of reasons, the Adverts 250 Project primarily focuses on commercial notices for goods and services in order to better understand how products were marketed in eighteenth-century America.  In comparing advertising then and now, the Adverts 250 Project often discovers that many of the strategies considered innovative today actually had precursors in the colonial era, such as limited time only sales and money-back guarantees.  In addition, some standard marketing practices were already in place or being developed in eighteenth-century America.  The Adverts 250 Project documents a variety of standard appeals–such as low prices and high quality and cutting-edge fashion–that continue to be central components of modern marketing.  It also examines the origins of other familiar marketing strategies, including “Buy American” campaigns that emerged in the decade prior to the Revolutionary War.  Colonists promoted merchandise they had made themselves instead of importing from England as a means of resisting Parliament’s abuses.

On occasion, the Adverts 250 Project features other kinds of advertisements, including domestic squabbles revealed in runaway wife advertisements.  Such advertisements appeared frequently.  Husbands warned merchants and shopkeepers against extending credit to disobedient wives, sometimes prompting responses defending the wives.  In an era before reality television or primetime dramas, readers followed complicated and messy family dynamics revealed in newspaper advertisements.  Other advertisements from the period expressed frustration about thieves who stole merchandise from shops or listed the amenities included in houses or land for sale or announced what we would consider garage sales when colonists wished to get rid of things they no longer wanted or needed.

Every advertisement tells its own story.  The Adverts 250 Project connects modern readers to some of the stories told in the advertisements printed in colonial newspapers, demonstrating in the process that advertising has been a part of American life since before the Revolution.

Manuscript Fiction in the Archive

The Life of Frederick Harley by Lady Katherine Howard

The Life of Frederick Harley by Lady Katherine Howard, Chawton House Library

“As these sheets will never appear in the form of a book, and I have not the fear of the Reviewers last before my eyes . . .” writes a wise older friend in the introduction to a novel written to a young woman in the middle of a years-long lawsuit.  Another young woman writes a novel in 1799 as a gift to a friend she loves so much that over forty years later they will be buried side by side.  These novels—and many others—survive in single copies, often all-but lost in the corners of unlikely archives, never brought together.  Until now.

This project will create a vocabulary and taxonomy for discussing manuscript fiction in the age of print (c.1760-1880).  While significant and exciting research has been done on the process of manuscript circulation and “publication” by scholars such as Margaret Ezell, Harold Love, and others following in their wake, those accounts of manuscript culture do not extend themselves very far (if at all) into the eighteenth century.  Moreover, studies of later eighteenth and nineteenth-century manuscripts concentrate on those that achieve fame by association (the Brontë juvenilia, the Dickinson fascicles, the working manuscripts of various published authors) or those that have value as social documents (friendship books, copybooks, etc.).  The 2015 conference “After Print: Manuscripts in the Eighteenth-Century” at the University of California Santa Barbara gathered together those interested in manuscript in this period, but most of those researchers worked on manuscripts that ultimately saw print, political, or scientific nonfiction, and the literary form most common in manuscript culture:  poetry.

Where is fiction in manuscript during the age of print?  While difficult to find the archive, it exists, and I collect it.  Since 2009, I have collected examples of what I call “manuscript fiction”:  a term I use to describe works (complete or incomplete) of fiction that survive during the age of print culture, despite never seeing print.  (You can see my early work on this here).  Some are found in the archive bound and resembling print in sizes ranging from heavy tomes to tiny packets, while some survive only in fragments.  Some resemble print editions closely and include elaborate title pages, while others are barely decipherable without intense deciphering.  Some contain chapters and a clear plot, and some ramble in ways worthy of Smollett or Richardson (or are, indeed, parodies of those famous novelists).  Some are written by those famous in other fields (such as playwright/actor Charles Dibdin or Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings), while some linger just on the edges of the historical record.  While a few may have been imagined as future printed books, none of them made that leap.  Most challenging, none of it appears in obvious ways in any cataloguing system.

I currently have thousands of pages of this material from the American Antiquarian Society, Chawton House Library, the National Library of Scotland, the British Library, and the London Metropolitan Archive.  At the time of this writing, I am preparing to collect more examples from the University of Pennsylvania, the New York Public Library, and Princeton University,  and I know of examples at Newberry Library and Yale University.  From meticulous searching of various finding aids, I also have evidence of more in various libraries, public records offices, and other archives in the United Kingdom and the United States.  Together, this growing collection provides exciting and illuminating insights into the writing and reading lives of the period.

Dr. Freidman and Kelsie Shipley

Dr. Friedman and Kelsie Shipley

Thanks to in-kind support from Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts information technology and digital projects departments, as well as internal grant funding from the College, a two-year University-level seed grant, and support from the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities, I am creating a database that includes full-text transcriptions of these texts.  These texts will be fully encoded according to best practices so that they can be used for the full range of digital projects, including easy interface with many other projects in eighteenth and nineteenth-century studies, such as the aggregation tools 18th Connect and NINES.

The first phase will use the currently collected material to create a text-only proof-of-concept database, designed to include later images of the manuscript pages themselves in another phase if possible.  In fall of 2016 Auburn’s metadata specialist Dana Caudle has pledged at least 40 hours of her time to create the data dictionary that is the foundation of the project.  During the 2016-17 academic school year, I will be training (with assistance from Dana) both undergraduate and graduate students in the finer points of transcription, TEI markup, and metadata tagging.  One student, Kelsie Shipley, was awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship, while others are members of my year-long Honors Research Seminar and will receive course credit for their contributions to this project.

In the summer of 2017, I will return to the UK to access relevant manuscripts I know to be in the collection of the Yorkshire Archeological Society.  The holdings of the YAS are being moved to the University of Leeds and will not be available in any form until the transfer is complete in 2017.  I am hoping by that time I will have still more leads for further collection.  This is the challenge of this project:  because these are works that are not often catalogued specifically in library holdings, I often rely on word of mouth from the knowledgeable archivists and librarians who know their collections.

Margaret Cochrane Corbin and the Papers of the War Department

Claude Joseph Sauthier, "A plan of the attack of Fort Washington, now Fort Knyphausen, and of the American lines on New-York Island by the King's troops, on the 16th of November 1776."  col. map, 48 x 27 cm.  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

Claude Joseph Sauthier, “A plan of the attack of Fort Washington, now Fort Knyphausen, and of the American lines on New-York Island by the King’s troops, on the 16th of November 1776.” col. map, 48 x 27 cm. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

Within the records of the early United States War Department, amidst the pay receipts and accounts of treaty negotiations with Native American tribes, there are glimpses into the life of relatively ordinary Americans, many illiterate, who served their country during the war for Independence.  Although the official copies of these records were destroyed in a fire in November, 1800, a project to approximate the papers of the early War Department in digital form reconstructs that resource by bringing together digital copies of letter books, sender and receiver copies from archives in the United States, France, and Great Britain.

Included in the papers of the War Department is a letter book kept by William Price, Commissary of Military Stores at West Point from 1784 to 1787.  In the early years of the 1780s, West Point was home to the Corps of Invalids, a regiment of permanently disabled Revolutionary War veterans that had been established in 1777.  Although the Corps was disbanded in 1783, at least one of its members remained in the Hudson Valley and appears in Price’s letter books:  Margaret Cochrane Corbin, also known as “Captain Molly.”

Corbin was born in south-central Pennsylvania in 1751, and she was raised by relatives after her parents were killed in a conflict with local Native Americans when she was only five years old.  She married John Corbin around 1771.  When John enlisted in the army during the American Revolution, Margaret accompanied him, joining the many women who provided necessary support services for the American army.  When John, an artilleryman, was killed during the British attack on Fort Washington in November 1776, Margaret took his place at the cannon for the remainder of the battle.  She received permanent wounds to her left arm and the left side of her chest and face.

In 1779, Congress awarded Margaret a monthly pension equal to half of a soldier’s pay to last “during her natural life, or the continuance of the said disability” (Journals of the Continental Congress, Tuesday, July 6, 1779), and she was the first woman to be awarded a military pension by Congress.  Margaret was also enrolled in the Corps of Invalids that same year, during which time the Corps was stationed in Pennsylvania.  She traveled with her regiment to West Point in 1781 but remained in the Hudson Valley after the unit was disbanded–likely lacking anywhere to go or at least sufficient means to travel, especially given her continued disability.  Because Congress guaranteed Corbin a lifelong pension, her welfare became the responsibility of Price, West Point’s Commissary.

According to Price, “Captain Molly” was “such an offensive Person that People are unwilling to take her in Charge” (William Price to Henry Knox, Jan 31, 1786).  She cursed, was rude, and was a generally unpleasant person with whom to live.  Nonetheless, Price took his responsibility to Captain Molly seriously.  His reports to the War Department describe the difficulty of finding someone willing to provide Corbin with room and board, but he was willing to remove her from a situation where she was “not so well treated as she ought to be” (William Price to Henry Knox, October 7, 1786).  It is unclear whether it was Corbin’s identity as a veteran or as a woman, or the combination, which guided Price’s sense of how she ought to have been treated.  He may have been simply trying to ensure that her treatment was equal to what she had received before the Corps of Invalids was disbanded.

Corbin was a woman from a farming family whose presence in the archives rests upon one extraordinary action.  While the Papers of the War Department collection contains many famous names—Judith Sargent MurrayHenry KnoxJames McHenry—it also holds the stories of many ordinary people who otherwise left little or no documentary records.  Although we do not have Corbin’s own hand to tell her story, Price’s letters and reports allow us to discover something of her life after the revolution, a period often overlooked by those recounting her history.  The Papers of the War Department digital collection allows anyone with an internet connection to access and explore the stories of Corbin, her fellow veterans, and others whose experiences were long presumed lost.

The Papers of the War Department is an online, open-source documentary edition of papers of the War Department in the last decades of the eighteenth century.  All are welcome to volunteer as transcribers and contribute to the scholarly project.