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.

Interiority and Jane Porter’s Pocket Diary

Covers of Jane Porter's pocket diary.  Photograph by Sarah Werner.  Folger M.a.17

Cover of Jane Porter’s pocket diary. Photograph by Sarah Werner. Folger M.a.17

Julie Park, Assistant Professor of English at Vassar College, describes her fascinating recent research into the “written documents of daily life from real eighteenth-century lives” at the Folger Shakespeare Library:

It’s been a critical commonplace after Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel to view the novel as the first literary form to represent psychological individuality in the context of everyday life. My research, however, examines how the spaces and objects of daily life in eighteenth-century England worked as vehicles of interior experiences in their own right. Working from this angle might change our conceptions of the novel, not only its historical relationship to how selfhood is defined, but also its relationship to the material culture of the greater society around it.

By using my Folger long-term fellowship to look at written documents of daily life from real eighteenth-century lives, I thought I might complicate claims about the early novel’s method of representing interior or psychological experience through diurnal structures.1 One line of my exploration was how a form of portable interiority surfaced in the small books that were designed for carrying in one’s pocket. The novel itself, in its eighteenth-century print manifestation, was pocket-sized, conveying not only its affordability and portability, but also its ability to be held in the hand and worn against the body. Just as the novel conveyed its own interior worlds to readers, the experience of reading the physical book created an interior world between the novel and its reader, even when carried into exterior settings, from pleasure gardens to carriages for travel.2

Among the holdings of eighteenth-century pocket-sized books I found at the Folger is The Ladies Memorandum Book, for the Year 1796 (M.a.17), a green leather book with gold tooling around its edges. At 12×7.5 cm, it can easily be held in the palm of one’s hand. Its fore-edge is covered by a flap that extends from the front cover and is attached to the back by a gold clasp. Flipped to its back, with its diagonal seamed flap, the book resembles a modern day envelope. Yet its sides are left open, and there is a thickness to its body created by the stack of pages sewn into its spine. Further examination of the book will reveal it indeed functions as much of an envelope and a pocket as a book.

Read the rest of Julie Park’s account of this object at the Folger’s blog.

Seduction or Assault? Eliza Haywood and the Eighteenth-Century Rape Culture of Today

Jacob Gole's Susanne, surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards.  Mezzotint on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper.  Sheet: 10 7/16 x 7 11/16 inches (26.5 x 19.5 cm) Plate: 10 x 7 3/16 inches (25.4 x 18.2 cm) Image: 9 5/16 x 7 1/8 inches (23.6 x 18.1 cm).  Inscribed in graphite, on back, lower center: "405"; on back, lower right: "27431", Lettered in black ink, lower left: "Ces deux infames scelerats | Ne pouvant assouvir leurs impudiques flames;"; lower center: "Susanne surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards."; lower right: "Veulent faire perir la plus chaste des femmes; | Mais Dieu punit leur attentats. | J. Gole fec: et ecx: Amstelog: cum Privil."  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

Jacob Gole’s Susanne, surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards. Mezzotint on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper. Sheet: 10 7/16 x 7 11/16 inches (26.5 x 19.5 cm) Plate: 10 x 7 3/16 inches (25.4 x 18.2 cm) Image: 9 5/16 x 7 1/8 inches (23.6 x 18.1 cm). Inscribed in graphite, on back, lower center: “405”; on back, lower right: “27431”, Lettered in black ink, lower left: “Ces deux infames scelerats | Ne pouvant assouvir leurs impudiques flames;”; lower center: “Susanne surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards.”; lower right: “Veulent faire perir la plus chaste des femmes; | Mais Dieu punit leur attentats. | J. Gole fec: et ecx: Amstelog: cum Privil.” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

How could some three-hundred-year-old author interest me?” modern students gasp with dismay.  But the century that coined the term “rape culture” has a lot to learn from eighteenth-century writers like Eliza Haywood because although we might have invented the term, we only inherited the concept.  Haywood would be dismayed to find just how much hasn’t changed in this century of female “equality.”  Consider this 2013 interview with tennis star Serena Williams in the wake of the Steubenville rape trial:  “[Those boys] did something stupid […] but why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? […] she shouldn’t have put herself in that position…”

 

This is rape culture at its finest:  Young victims accused of  “willingly behaving like a drunken whore,” while their rapists have only “[done] something stupid.”  It’s a modern problem, we say, because “back in the day,” men knew how to treat a lady, and ladies knew how to behave.  But Haywood teaches us that rape happens when we train women to value attracting men above independence, and more importantly, when we encourage men to devalue and sexualize women.

 

In the early-eighteenth century, Haywood quickly became known as the queen of romance, but her work encompassed more than today’s Danielle Steel.  An actress and author, she wrote in every existing genre—all as a single mother of two.  Throughout her work, she stresses the dangers of a society that encourages women to be sexually attractive, yet blames them for attracting sexual assault.  Her characters struggle against the label of ‘whore’ for saying “yes,” but ‘liar’ for saying “no;” they ‘bloom unseen’ at home, but ‘spoil’ themselves by leaving; they live in a world where sleeping can be an invitation for sex.  

 

Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze (1725) is perhaps Haywood’s most intriguing example of amatory fiction, and it provides a good case study for understanding the similarities between contemporary rape culture and the sexual conventions of the eighteenth century.  The protagonist of Fantomina is not unlike many contemporary victims of rape; she is an attractive young woman who finds herself on the brink of adulthood.  Fantomina is also uneducated in the ways of the world and is naturally vain and curious.  A social butterfly, Fantomina frequents the theatre and there observes prostitutes interacting freely with gentlemen.  Curious, Fantomina visits the theatre the next night dressed as a prostitute in order to try her hand at what she assumes is flirting.  The narrator indicates that Fantomina does not understand the gravity of a young gentlewoman playing at this game, and the night ends with her being solicited by a gentleman by the name of Beauplaisir.  

 

Though a gentleman, it is socially accepted that Beauplaisir might solicit the favors of prostitutes while also courting virginal young women for a potential wife.  This double standard, which mirrors contemporary society’s penchant for shaming sexually active young women, yet sympathizing with young men, situates Fantomina’s role-playing on very risky ground.  Haywood describes Fantomina as sexually excited yet very confused by Beauplaisir’s direct solicitation of her body:  “strange and unaccountable were the whimsies she was possessed of, wild and incoherent her desires, unfixed and determined her resolutions” (Haywood 44).  At this point, the similarities between drunkenness and Fantomina’s state should be very clear:  diction such as “strange,” “unaccountable,” “wild,” and “incoherent” lead the reader to believe that Fantomina is sexually aroused to the point of deep confusion.  Beauplaisir arrives at Fantomina’s lodging, but what ensues is most certainly rape.  The scene is worth repeating here to show the juxtaposition between what Fantomina thinks she wants and what Beauplaisir takes from her:

 

She had now gone too far to retreat.  He was bold; he was resolute; she, fearful, confused, altogether unprepared to resist in such encounters [because she is a virgin], and rendered more so by the extreme liking she had to him.  Shocked, however, at the apprehension of really losing her honour [her virginity], she struggled all she could.

 (Haywood 46, our emphasis)

 

The syntax in the first sentence parallels Beauplaisir’s forcefulness with Fantomina’s fear.  She does not consent; she is punished for her sexual curiosity.  She is ruined while he is satiated.  Even after Fantomina’s confession that she is really a gentle-born virgin who did not understand the implications of going to the theatre dressed as a prostitute, he continues to take advantage of her by using her as a mistress until sex with her becomes “tasteless” and “insipid” (Haywood 50).  This would seem like Haywood chooses to punish the young Fantomina, but the story does not end there.  Fantomina reinvents herself three more times in order to attract Beauplaisir, and he takes advantage of each “new” woman every time.  Creating her own sexual agency, Fantomina’s plot is foiled only by pregnancy and Beauplaisir’s refusal to ask for her hand in marriage—a sharp reminder from Haywood that female sexual agency is short-lived in a world where women are punished for both desire and innocence.

 

In another novel from Haywood’s amatory repertoire, Love in Excess; or The Fatal Inquiry (1719-1720), Haywood readers learn that seduction/rape is not the woman’s fault; it springs from false male perceptions of women (rape culture).  Like Fantomina, the novel shows one man, Delmont, taking repeated advantage of women’s love, confusion, and fear of reprisal to press them for sex.  In one such encounter, the woman is labeled a whore and sent to a convent for sneaking out to meet him; he escapes without blame.  But, Haywood doesn’t believe women can prevent rape by staying home.  Delmont’s next amour is a young woman living in his home as his ward.  Though she’s fallen for him, he is married, so she strives to avoid him.  Relentless, Delmont breaks into Melliora’s room while she sleeps.  In his mind, her feelings for him mean “yes,” and in his home, she is fair game.  Melliora is in a ‘drunken’ dream state and unknowingly responds to his advances.  Reading her unconscious failure to fight him as consent, he “[seizes] her;” she awakens in protest (“What is this?” “leave me”), but he claims he would be less of a man if he stopped now (Haywood 117).  

 

This is important.  Haywood shows that men can control their sexual urges, but male culture teaches them otherwise.  Like Beauplaisir, Delmont has learned to take advantage of women whenever he can.  His friend Despernay calls him a fool for not molesting MellioraHow could “‘a man of wit […] let slip so favourable an opportunity.’”  Despernay insists that ‘no’ means ‘yes’:  “Women are taught by custom,” he explains, “to deny what most they covet, and to seem angry when they are best pleased.”  When Delmont balks at “ruin[ing] such sweetness,” his friend sneers that not pressing for sex would be an insult to his–and every man’s–masculinity (Haywood 113).  

 

What Melliora and Fantomina show us is that for eighteenth-century women, the body is not one’s own.  In states of psychic shutdown, Melloira and Fantomina appear drunk and disordered and are therefore fair game.  Governed by the laws of strict social code, women’s bodies are available to men (who are taught to take advantage wherever possible).  Sound familiar?  Beauplaisir’s and Delmont’s names could easily be changed to those of the Steubenville rapists, and Fantomina and Melloira could be the Jane Doe of the Stuebenville case or any of the nameless women who never report rape because they assume they won’t be taken seriously.  Ultimately, what we see here are the ruinous effects of misunderstandings about women’s bodies and who controls them, and Eliza Haywood has much to offer today’s students regarding the history of such control and its brutal effects on women.

 

 

Works Cited:

Haywood, Eliza.  Fantomina and Other Works.  Ed.  Alexander Petit, et al.  Ontario:  Broadview Press Ltd., 2004.  Print.

 

—–.  Love in Excess.  Ed. David Oakleaf.  Ontario:  Broadview Press, 1996. Print.

 

 

 

Manners Envy

Elegant Company Dancing (undated). Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827, British). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Elegant Company Dancing (undated). Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827, British). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

One of the great pleasures of Austen’s fiction derives from her relentless focus on social conduct.  All of Pride and Prejudice’s characters, with the possible exception of thoughtless Lydia, are self-conscious about their own and judgmental of the behavior others.  As such, Austen has been long recognized as a brilliant observer of sociation, small group interaction, and the rules of conversation.  In her capacious understanding of not just the hows of behavior in public places, but the whys of behavior in public spaces, Austen prefigures the development of micro-sociology, those analyses of specific rituals, such as Georg Simmel’s study of cocktail party talk and flirtation, or Erving Goffman’s later analysis of civil inattention (how not to attract stranger’s attention on the street) or waiting room or elevator behavior.  While the connection of Austen’s novels to twentieth-century social science might seem dubious, any reading of her letters shows an active empiricist at work, recording the most minuet details of dress, expression, and conversation in her lab book, drawing quick and witty conclusions for Cassandra about fashion and character.

Reading Austen from a sociological perspective enables us to see more clearly not just the vivid description of social interaction, but her analysis of that action.  This distinction between the arbitrary rule and its ethical basis or form is perfectly exemplified in the following paragraph from Mansfield Park, at the visit to Sotherton, which proves to be a perfect playground for all the younger characters to exercise their selfishness.  Julia is unhappily left behind with the elders [Aunt Norris and Mrs. Rushworth], while everyone else scatters:

The politeness which she [Julia] had been brought up to practice as a duty made it impossible for her to escape; while the want of that higher species of self-command, that just consideration of others, that knowledge of her own heart, that principle of right, which had not formed any essential part of her education, made her miserable under it.

Julie understands the letter but not the spirit of the law, the outer form but not its object.

Pride & Prejudice is particularly amenable to the interests of Erving Goffman, for he meditates on first impressions in Presentation of Self in Ordinary Life, and more deeply in Stigma, which helps us to understand how Darcy is complicit in his first and terrible impression at the Merytown assembly.  Darcy and Elizabeth’s aggressive conversation at the Netherfield Ball demonstrates just about every imaginable violation of polite conversation.  And finally, if the first half of the novel charts a series of offences up to Darcy’s disastrous and wounding proposal at the Huntsford parsonage, everything from his exculpatory letter onward is remedial, and follows the essential form of apologies that Goffman lays out in Relations in Public.

Austen’s Domestic Fiction and the Network Form

The Sense of Sight (1744-7). Philippe Mercier, active in Britain (from 1716). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The Sense of Sight (1744-7). Philippe Mercier, active in Britain (from 1716). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Counter to my own argument in Desire and Domestic Fiction (1987)  that domestic fiction proposes a self-enclosed household as a model for the modern nation, I’m contending that each Austen novel tears open the traditional household and disperses its members (especially daughters) by putting them into circulation. This is indeed what it means for a woman to be “out.”  It is thus because Austen’s novels propose a network as the model of a nation increasingly dependent on international trade that I now see them as the very examples of what a novel is and does.

If Austen’s households eventually settle down and the boundaries of her imaginary shire prove less permeable than at the novel’s opening, it is because she figured out a way of regulating the risk of self-devaluation that accompanies the dispersal and circulation of propertied families through a relatively open system of courtship. “The social season” was supposed to ensure that women of some breeding but little claim to property traveled in what Leonore Davidoff calls “the best circles.”  But Austen’s pump room and country dances never fail to include a few people–usually men–who exploit the rules of civility in order to put romance at odds with finance.  Those who engage with such people risk happiness, on the one hand, and security of position on the other.  In exposing the gap between emotional and economic value, the destructive energy of romance allows Austen to reorganize her household as a hub–a kind of relay station in a network whose managers minimize the risks of courtship.

“Man, are you capable of being just?”: Fighting for Women’s Rights Then and Now

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, "The English Lady at Paris" (1771).  Gray wash with black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper.  Sheet: 12 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches (31.8 x 24.4 cm).  Inscribed in gray ink, lower left: "S H Grimm fecit 1771"; in gray ink, center right: "To Alderman | Paris"; in brown ink, verso, upper center: "The English lady at Paris - No. 8.", Signed and dated in gray ink, lower left: "S H Grimm fecit 1771"  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, “The English Lady at Paris” (1771). Gray wash with black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper. Sheet: 12 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches (31.8 x 24.4 cm). Inscribed in gray ink, lower left: “S H Grimm fecit 1771”; in gray ink, center right: “To Alderman | Paris”; in brown ink, verso, upper center: “The English lady at Paris – No. 8.”, Signed and dated in gray ink, lower left: “S H Grimm fecit 1771” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

We often think of feminism as something belonging to the twentieth century.  But in 1791, Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) wrote:  “Man, are you capable of being just?  It is a woman who asks you this question…  Tell me, what gives you sovereign empire over my sex?”  The first lines of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizeness might seem, to many of us, ahead of their time.  De Gouges responded to the lauded and well-respected Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) by publishing a feminized form of the text two years later.  In it, she demands access to the political sphere for women and imagines a re-conceptualized form of marriage.

De Gouges was not, however, the only feminist of her time.  The French Revolution saw several women’s rights activists, and her ideas evolved along with and responded to the chaotic and rapidly changing events of her era.  Like that of many of her contemporaries, de Gouges’s story ends in tragedy:  she was executed in 1793.  Her other progressive ideas—which she took pains to make public—did not aid her in her cause.  She argued against slavery and was openly hostile to Maximilien Robespierre (whom she invited to a duel!).  To this day, the circumstances leading to her death and execution remain a subject of debate.  Was she killed, as so many others, because of her support for the king or was the fact that she was a woman more to blame?  What was the effect of the abolitionist play that she published in 1792?  There are compelling arguments that all of these issues helped bring about her demise.  De Gouges was tried soon after the Girondins, many of them abolitionists, including Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  Madame Roland, and Marie Antoinette were also killed during the same month-long span as de Gouges.  A Jacobin newspaper suggested cruelly just days after their deaths that these women had somehow deserved their fates.[1]

De Gouges’s story is long and complex, but in this short blog piece I will focus on her legacy.  She has, in the past two hundred years, been considered a maligned revolutionary, a disregarded loon, and an inspiring martyr.  The story of how we remember this early feminist reveals more about us than it does about her.  It also offers a poignant example of the continued importance of studying the eighteenth century.

Marie Gouze was born in Montauban in southern France in 1748.  Though her parents were not noble, she claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Pompignon (1709-1784), also a playwright.[2]  The date that she arrived in Paris is somewhat unclear, but she fashioned a name for herself among the aristocracy and became Olympe de Gouges in the 1780s.  During this time, she was involved in a long-lasting controversy with the Comédie Française about the performance of her abolitionist play—which finally occurred in December 1789.[3]  Abolitionism was one of many political issues about which this playwright made her opinion known.  The Revolution seemed to respond to her ardent desire to change the world for the better:  she joined the abolitionist Société des Amis des Noirs, attempted to raise money for young women’s dowries, and opposed the common practice of sending unmarried women to convents.  An enslaved female character in her 1792 play, L’Esclavage des Noirs, ou l’heureux naufrage, declared boldly that slaves “would not always be in chains.”[4]  In her letters written from prison in 1793, she seems sincerely befuddled that her ardent political fervor would have endangered her life, but it did.

A burst of what we would read today as admirable activity demanding women’s equal rights ended tragically in 1793 and was replaced by outright hostility.  The century following the French Revolution was not the most progressive period for women’s rights in France.  They lost the right to divorce.  The feminist movements of the 1830s and 1840s argued for women’s inclusion in the public sphere based on their innate emotional nature.[5]  These arguments for rights look very different than those of the Revolution and often seem less than radical to the modern reader.  By the end of the nineteenth century, ideas of hysteria contributed to a false but powerful notion of women’s innate biological inferiority.  Women did not win the right to vote in France until 1944.

De Gouges’s legacy as a forgotten and maligned woman who was not respected for her political positions began with the Jacobin newspaper article claiming that she deserved her fate.  She was quickly remembered as someone who somehow deserved to die for her beliefs, then she became an historical figure who was largely forgotten.  When she was remembered, she was belittled.  In the mid-nineteenth century, historian Jules Michelet dismissed her as an illiterate, weak-minded woman caught up in a world she did not and could not understand.[6]  In the late 1850s, Charles Monselet condescendingly explained her desire to write by what must have been her fear of becoming unattractive after thirty.[7]  At the end of the nineteenth century, early psychologists examined her works in detail for proof of rampant hysteria among female revolutionaries.  Alfred Guillois’s 1904 work on the playwright studied her œuvre as “the document that best allows [us] to judge the disorder of her judgment and reasoning abilities.”[8]  Guillois read through her medical records to find proof of some kind of disorder that would make her belief in women’s rights understandable.  Appallingly, a century after her death, daring to claim that women deserved equality was understood to be a psychological condition.

Happily, feminist scholars have done significant work to revive the legacy of de Gouges in the last few decades.  Simone de Beauvoir wrote about her in The Second Sex (1949).  In 2011, her Declaration became available in its entirety in English.  In 2010, her philosophical text, Le Prince Philosophe, was added to the many of her works already available in German.  Former French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal just published a book on stories of courage, including de Gouges’s.  There are now streets and schools named after her in France.  De Gouges is now revered rather than reviled.

I would like to suggest that when we think of feminism as a phenomenon unique to our time, it is due, at least in part, to this long period of hostility—a time during which de Gouges was either maligned or forgotten rather than respected.  Her ideas—though over 200 years old—are actually quite modern and often remain, even today, revolutionary.  De Gouges fought ardently, albeit sometimes imperfectly, for the rights of society’s many downtrodden.  How we have remembered her fight shows us that progress toward equality is perhaps more cyclical than linear, which means that the past has much more to teach us than we often imagine.

 

Further Reading on Olympe de Gouges, Her Life and Times:

Beauvoir, Simone de. Le Deuxième Sexe.  Volume II. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.

Blanc, Olivier.  Marie-Olympe de Gouges:  une humaniste à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Paris:  René Viénet, 2003.

Diamond, Marie Josephine.  “The Revolutionary Rhetoric of Olympe de Gouges.”  Feminist Issues 14, no. 1 (1994):  3.

Dorigny, Marcel, and Bernard Gainot.  La Société des amis des noirs, 1788-1799Paris:  Editions UNESCO:  1998.

Kadish, Doris and Françoise Massardier-Kenney, eds. Translating Slavery:  Gender and Race in French Abolitionist Writing, 1780-1830.  Volume 1. Kent, Ohio:  Kent State University Press, 2009.

—.  Translating Slavery:  Gender and Race in French Abolitionist Writing, 1780-1830Volume 2.  Kent, Ohio:  Kent State University Press, 2010.

Ripa, Yannick.  Les Femmes, actrices de l’HistoireParis:  Sedes, 1999.

Mousset, Sophie.  Women’s Rights and the French Revolution:  A Biography of Olympe de Gouges.  Trans. Joy Poirel.  London:  Transaction Publishers, 2007.

Scott, Joan W.  “A Woman Who Has Only Paradoxes to Offer,” in Sarah Melzer and Leslie Rabine, eds.  Rebel Daughters:  Women and the French Revolution.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1992.

Vanpée, J.  “La Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la citoyenne:  Olympe de Gouges’s Re-Writing of La Déclaration des Droits de l’homme,” in Literate Women and the French Revolution of 1789.  Summa Publications:  Birmingham, Alabama, 1994.


[1] Feuille du Salut Public:  Septidi Brumaire l’An 2e de la République, 3-4.

[2] Pompignon, Jean-Jacques Lefranc de.  Didon:  Tragédie en cinq actes et en vers.  Paris:  Chez la Veuve Duchesne, 1781.

[3] You can find all three versions of her play, along with information about the battle with the theatre, in Sylvie Chalaye’s 2006 reedition of L’Esclavage des nègres, ou, l’heureux naufrage.

[4]L’Esclavage des Nègres, Act II, Scene II. 

[5]For more information on this subject, see the work of Claire Goldberg Moses and Naomi Andrews.

[6] Jules Michelet, Les Femmes de la Révolution (Paris:  Adolphe Delahays, 1855), 105-107.

[7] Charles Monselet, Les Oubliés et les Dédaignés:  Figures littéraires de la fin du 18e siècle (Alençon:  PouletMalassis et de Broise, 1857).

[8] Alfred Guillois, Etude médico-psychologique sur Olympe de Gouges: considérations générales sur la mentalité des femmes pendant la Révolution française (Lyon:  A. Rey, 1904), 59.  My translation.

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

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

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) would suggest that celebrity clothing and accessory lines are, in fact, nothing new.

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

It is November 1794. The French Revolution has taken a sharp turn for the worse, and Britain and France have been at war for well over a year and a half. The English have recently witnessed the Treason Trials and the suspension of Habeas Corpus at home and the September Massacres, the Reign of Terror, the Glorious First of June, and the execution of Robespierre across the Channel. Soldiers are dying, the British government is hunting down spies and locking up radicals, and the nation is in a state of social and political unrest. It is at this time, at the very height of this tension, that Mary Robinson—the former actress, fashion icon, celebrity sensation, and mistress of the Prince of Wales—debuted her two-act comedy Nobody at London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The 29 November 1794 performance did not go well.

350 Years of Dangerous Women

350 Years of Dangerous Women

Kathleen Winsor’s historical romance Forever Amber (1944) and Laura Linker’s Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures, and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730 (Ashgate 2011).

Cultivating Philosophy in the Epicurean Garden

Cultivating Philosophy in the Epicurean Garden

The physical garden was to Sir William Temple and other Epicureans a reflection of one’s mental landscape, and in the best of all possible worlds, one would stay in the garden–a position that Voltaire would later and more famously endorse in Candide. Like seventeenth-century definitions of wit, Temple’s philosophy of the garden expresses a balance of judgment and fancy, those gendered faculties of the mind, and an appropriate blend of reason and passion. The act of gardening for Temple was the practice of freeing the self from the disordered passions, unavoidable but capable of being subdued like wild weeds. One needs only a patch of earth, a shovel, and a life of the mind.

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

The Graces of 1794. Issac Cruikshank. British Museum.

The Graces of 1794. Issac Cruikshank.  British Museum.

Picture this.  It is November 1794.  The French Revolution has taken a sharp turn for the worse, and Britain and France have been at war for well over a year and a half.  The English have recently witnessed the Treason Trials and the suspension of Habeas Corpus at home and the September Massacres, the Reign of Terror, the Glorious First of June, and the execution of Robespierre across the Channel.  Soldiers are dying, the British government is locking up radicals, and the nation is in a state of social and political unrest.

It is at this time, at the very height of this tension, that Mary Robinson—the former actress, fashion icon, celebrity sensation, and mistress of the Prince of Wales—debuted her two-act comedy Nobody at London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  The 29 November 1794 performance did not go well.  “On the drawing up of the curtain,” Robinson recounts in her Memoirs, “women of distinguished rank hissed through their fans.”  And while they were temporarily hushed, they soon resumed their vocalizations “with redoubled violence” (Memoirs 141).  Dorothy Jordan, one of the play’s comic leads, became so “agitated” by the audience’s “ill-humour” that she omitted lines from the Epilogue and botched it altogether (The Sun).  The Times reported that “the little effect intended, was utterly destroyed.”  In the course of only three performances, Drury Lane increasingly “presented a scene of confusion,” with the final staging culminating in a near riot (Memoirs 142).

For modern readers, Nobody may appear merely to offer a lighthearted gibe at voguish faux pas.  Fashionable life—comprised of narcissistic daily rituals, risible clothing choices, theatergoing, outings in carriages, and high-stakes gambling—proves, over the course of the drama, both farcical and foolhardy.  But what Nobody’s riotous reception makes clear is that Robinson’s spotlighting of fashionable excess was no laughing matter, particularly for some of the play’s aristocratic spectators.  Indeed, once the drama is placed within the timeframe of the French Revolution, it becomes clear that Robinson’s critique of fashion is, in fact, a political critique—one that links aristocratic behavior with the welfare of the nation, questions established social hierarchies, and advocates a more meritocratic form of leadership.  Even more surprising than its message is that Robinson managed to get the drama staged at all.  Produced during the time of the Licensing Act, Nobody reveals how playwrights found ways to circumvent censorship through allusive techniques—a fact that challenges the notion that licensed theater during this time was wholly apolitical.

Over the past twenty years, Robinson’s life and work have received fresh attention from scholars and biographers who have become fascinated, as her contemporaries once were, with her dazzling personality, social prowess, thespian skill, and literary artistry.  Despite this resurgence in interest, however, relatively little is known about what was one of her most striking productions: Nobody.  It is for this reason that I have recently recovered the play, the controversy surrounding it, and its socio-historical context by publishing an edition of it, along with explanatory notes, contemporary newspaper accounts, visual satire, and other relevant commentary on the academic website Romantic Circles.

A Gaming Table at Devonshire House. Thomas Rowlandson (1791). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1941.

A Gaming Table at Devonshire House. Thomas Rowlandson (1791). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1941.

Readers of the edition will notice that a central area of fashionable excess the comedy showcases is female gambling.  In fact, Nobody focuses attention on the Faro Ladies—a notorious group of high-society women who regularly held gaming parties.  Pre-show puffs for the play highlight this element of the comedy.  Two-and-a-half weeks before its premiere, The Morning Post, for instance, observes,

The scarcity of Ladies in the lower Side Boxes, may be attributed to the rage from Plays amongst our Dames of haut ton. Faro, and rouge et noir, have wholly banished a gout for rational amusements. This is indeed a serious, disgraceful evil; that “has encreased, is encreasing, and ought to be diminished.” (10 Nov. 1794)

And after mentioning, in a separate issue, that upcoming soirées are to be hosted by Mrs. Concannon, Lady Buckinghamshire, and Lady Archer, The Morning Post remarks,

The proud excesses of the Gay World this Winter will occasion no inconsiderable number of Bankrupts the next. Since the War, the Tradesmen’s Books are over-laded with Debts, and if one of them should press a Nobleman for his money, he is immediately denounced, ‘a Jaçobine!’ (12 Nov. 1794)

By linking aristocratic profligacy with the country’s wartime ills, these lines boldly assert that high-society socialites drain the nation’s coffers, and what’s worse, claim justification in doing so.

Just days before the curtain rose on Nobody, The Morning Post optimistically proposed that dramatic comedy could prove “beneficial to Society” when “the preposterous manners of high life and Fashionable Folly” are “checked by the pen of fair and unoffending satire” (13 Nov. 1794).  While Robinson certainly intended this outcome for her play, it was, perhaps, too lofty a goal.  In the weeks following its condemnation, The Morning Post contained the following entry: “If certain persons, in high life, are allowed to damn every piece that aims to correct their follies, the Stage will cease to be the mirror of the times, and vice will triumph over public opinion” (9 Dec. 1794).  While Nobody may not have achieved theatrical success, recovery of the drama reveals how it can yet serve as a “mirror of the times”—one in which domestic welfare contended with aristocratic vice.

Works Cited

For Further Reading

On Mary Robinson’s Nobody:

On Mary Robinson and Her Literature:

  • Brewer, William D., ed. The Works of Mary Robinson. 8 vols. Pickering & Chatto, 2009-2010.
  • Byrne, Paula. Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, and Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson. New York: Random House, 2004.
  • Davenport, Hester. The Prince’s Mistress: Perdita, a Life of Mary Robinson. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2004.
  • Gamer, Michael, and Terry F. Robinson. “Mary Robinson and the Dramatic Art of the Comeback.” Studies in Romanticism 48.2 (Summer 2009): 219-256.
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Perdita: Royal Mistress, Writer, Romantic. London: Bantam, 2005.
  • Ledoux, Ellen Malenas. “Florizel and Perdita Affair, 1779-80.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. 2 June 2013.
  • Pascoe, Judith. Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1999.
  • Robinson, Daniel. The Poetry of Mary Robinson: Form and Fame. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

On the Faro Ladies:

  • Russell, Gillian. “‘Faro’s Daughters’: Female Gamesters, Politics, and the Discourse of Finance in 1790s Britain.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.4 (Summer 2000): 481-504.

What Jane Saw: New Virtual Gallery Reconstructs Art Exhibit Attended by Jane Austen

What Jane Saw 201331959

What Jane Saw.  (Photo by Marsha Miller).

I am proud and pleased to finally be able to invite you to attend an online reconstruction of a famous art exhibit as novelist Jane Austen saw it on 24 May 1813 – exactly 200 years ago to the day.  Our website and virtual gallery is titled What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org).

The original exhibit featured 141 paintings by British portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds, which were displayed at the 1813 exhibition at the British Institution in Pall Mall, London.  The show amounted to the first large commemorative exhibition devoted to a single artist.  The What Jane Saw e-gallery displays these same Reynolds paintings on virtual walls, in precise imitation of the show’s original curatorial “hang.”

Although I provided the historical research for the site, this digital humanities project was a large collaborative and interdisciplinary effort.  What Jane Saw was constructed over several years by a talented team of student assistants and staff in the Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) at the University of Texas at Austin.  For a short narrative about the making of the site and some of the people involved, see this story on the UT English Department’s website: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/english/news/6550.

Even if Jane Austen had not attended this public exhibit, it would still be well worth reconstructing.  The British Institution’s show was a star-studded “first” of great magnitude for the art community and a turning point in the history of modern exhibit practices.

Among the canvases in the retrospective gallery, the many celebrity portraits of 18th-century politicians, actors, authors, and aristocrats offer concrete examples of just how someone like Jane Austen, who did not personally circulate among the social elite, was nonetheless immersed in Georgian England’s vibrant celebrity culture.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Austen joked how she would be searching for a portrait of Mrs. Darcy among these pictures. Two hundred years to the day after Austen attended, the What Jane Saw website restages this Regency blockbuster.

The website takes advantage of the current digital toolkit to help transport visitors back to a specific event in 1813, the same year that Austen published Pride and Prejudice.  Today, the paintings that took part in the 1813 exhibit are dispersed across the globe while the original building in Pall Mall that once housed the British Institution is so altered as to be unrecognizable.  Virtual reality was the only way to put these objects back together.

Seeing the art in situ also revives the interpretive consequences of proximity and distance.  For example, some sitters are judiciously juxtaposed while others – rival politicians or high-profile socialites – are hung at painstaking removes from key members of the royal family.  Only a visual reconstruction allows the retrieval of these hidden narratives, hinting at the implied concerns of the original curators.

We hope you will take a look at: www.whatjanesaw.org.  This educational website is free and open to the public.  So, come and see the celebrities Jane Austen saw in 1813.  Step back in time to walk among the paintings in the virtual gallery.  This may be the nearest thing to time travel on the web!

Afterwards, let us know what you think on the What Jane Saw Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/WhatJaneSaw.