The “Royal” Wedding: An Eighteenth-Century Invention?

In some senses, English subjects have always cared about whom their queens, kings, princes, and princesses chose to marry, and speculations about marriage agreements and relationships have long preoccupied courtiers, members of parliament, and the wider public. Despite popular anxieties about her authority and the perpetuation of the succession, for instance, Elizabeth I chose not to marry, although she engaged in delicate courtship rituals and marriage negotiations as tools of foreign and domestic policy. Charles I, when still Prince of Wales, undertook a disastrous trip to Madrid to negotiate an ultimately unsuccessful (and unpopular) match with the Infanta Maria, daughter of Philip III of Spain. Instead he wed the French Catholic Henrietta Maria by proxy in 1625, and despite their union getting off to a rocky start, by the late 1630s Parliamentarian critics satirized the king as an uxurious husband who put the interests of his papist wife above the welfare of the kingdom. During the Succession Crisis and debates about Exclusion in the later 1670s and early 1680s, some Whig-leaning writers insisted that Charles II had secretly married the Duke of Monmouth’s mother, Lucy Walter, in 1649, thereby establishing the Protestant Monmouth as the legitimate heir in place of the king’s Catholic brother James, Duke of York. Others urged Charles to divorce his Catholic, childless queen, Henrietta Maria, and remarry. Indeed, any list of royal matrimonial escapades must mention George I’s ill-fated marriage to Sophia Dorothea, whom he locked away in a castle in Ahlden in 1694 after he discovered she had been unfaithful (possibly also ordering her lover to be murdered and tossed into the Leine river). And who can forget George IV’s secret marriage to the widowed Catholic Maria Fitzherbert in 1785 when he was still Prince of Wales, or his public estrangement from Caroline of Ansbach and his infamous (and unsuccessful) attempt to divorce her amid widespread criticism and out-of-doors demonstrations of loyalty for the wronged queen? [1]

But when we search for historical antecedents to the rise of the “royal” wedding as a mediated cultural phenomenon that disseminates the spectacle of monarchy and the romance of regal conjugality to an increasingly mass audience, we usually look to the nineteenth century, especially the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840. In the weeks prior to the ceremony, newspapers carried effusive stories about court preparations and the queen’s chosen bridal color—“Lily, or English Pure White,” of entirely British manufacture—which was predicted to become the “prevailing colour of the season.” [2] Victoria’s dress, stitched of Spitalfields silk and Honiton lace, included a long train trimmed with orange blossoms, and journalists reported that the lace alone cost more than £1000. [3] Houses along the queen’s procession route between Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace were decorated with flags, banners, and illuminations. Despite the rainy February weather, throngs of anxious spectators lined the city streets or purchased tickets to watch the couple pass from windows, balconies, and the roofs. “Every eye was directed to the state carriage,” one newspaper reported, “and as soon as it was in motion, the sounds of loud huzzas, and the strains of the national anthem rent the air, while on every side the waving of hats and handkerchiefs greeted her Majesty.”[4] Those unable to witness the marriage in person, of course, purchased broadside renderings of the royal couple, delicate engravings of Victoria in her wedding clothes, and panoramas of the marriage procession. [5]

Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange and William Charles Henry Friso Prince of Orange.

I want to suggest, however, that the most promising place to look for the origins of the royal wedding as a celebrated event that also turned the royal family into quasi-celebrities is in the eighteenth century, and specifically the 1730s. This was a moment shaped by the continued maturation of London’s newspaper and periodical press after the expiry of print licensing in 1695, and the emergence of the patriotic opposition to Robert Walpole’s ministry, which overlapped with emerging divisions within the royal household. Although George II is still remembered as a rather frugal but staunchly Protestant ruler, adverse to large crowds and baroque spectacle, the Hanoverian court continued to function as a center of elite cultural life within London. [6] And a brief examination of the printed representations of the weddings of George II’s two eldest children—Princess Anne to William IV, Prince of Orange, in 1734, and Frederick, Prince of Wales, to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in 1736—reveals the ways in which the royal nuptials had become a space of popular longing, partisan criticism, commercial celebration, and affective political drama, especially as the events became the focus of new journalistic practices. Newspapers eagerly covered all aspects of each wedding, offering their readers vivid descriptions of the activities and engagements of the betrothed, the decoration of palace buildings and apartments, and the au courant fashions worn by courtiers and royals at each marriage ceremony.

The Prince of Orange was small of stature with a misshapen spine and slumped right shoulder, and when he arrived in England in November of 1733, he immediately contracted a fever, delaying his marriage with Anne until the following spring. London newspapers eagerly reported on William’s recovery, though, and his subsequent travels through Bristol, Bath, Oxford, and Windsor the following February, with some writers intending their glowing coverage of the prince’s popular acclaim as a dig at the king’s seeming inaccessibility and frequent trips to Hanover. Upon his arrival in Bristol, the Daily Journal and the Penny London Post, among other newspapers, reprinted lengthy extracts from a letter detailing the prince’s entry and entertainment in that city of pleasure. Met on the main road into town by two sheriffs in a chariot and six, over eight hundred horsemen, and gentlemen and merchants in private coaches, the procession marched to the common led by the Company of Wool-Combers dressed in white shirts and “Orange-Coloured Wool-Perriwigs.” “The Streets and Houses being so thronged with Spectators,” the correspondent reported, “that the City appeared as one great living Body bespangled with Eyes.” [8]

Anne and William’s wedding was held in March at St. James’s Chapel, which had been richly decorated for the occasion by the celebrated architect and painter William Kent. A contemporary engraving of the ceremony captures the prince and princess with hands clasped in the act of exchanging vows before the Archbishop of Canterbury, while ostentatiously dressed courtiers fill the chapel, gossiping and fanning themselves flirtatiously. [9] The wedding was thoroughly documented in almost every London newspaper, and writers emphasized the size of the crowds at the palace, the rich appearance of the nobility, and the voluntary festivities of London’s citizenry, which included the illumination of the Monument and Ludgate with glass lamps, plentiful bonfires, and fireworks. The Daily Journal published a laboriously detailed narrative of the entire wedding procession to and from the chapel, concluding with a public dinner in the State Ballroom, before the nobility filed through the prince and princess’s bedchamber to view them sitting up in their marriage bed “in rich undress.” The London Evening Post and the Penny London Post offered rambling descriptions of the wedding costumes and other finery observed at court. The bride wore diaphanous “Virgin Robes of Silver Tissue, having a train six Yards long, laced around with a massy Lace, adorn’ed with Fringe and Tassels; on the Sleeves were several Bars of Diamonds of great value; the Habit was likewise enrich’d with several Rows of oriental Pearl.” The women of the beau monde donned “fine laced Heads, dress’d English,” and their dresses featured “treble Ruffles, one tack’d up to their Shifts in quil’d Pleats and two hanging down; the newest fashion’d Silkes were white Paduasoys, with large Flowers of Tulips, Peonies, Emmonies, Carnations, &c. in their proper Colours, some wove in Silk, and some embroidered.” Other papers claimed that the “Embroidery and Beauty” of the princess’s wedding clothes “exceed any thing that has been ever seen here, tho’ all of Manufactures of this Kingdom.” [10] These lengthy and exacting descriptions of fashionable and fine court costume as reproduced in metropolitan newspapers broadcast important political messages. Expensive and newly purchased court attire was used to demonstrate allegiance to the crown and respect for the person of the monarch, while careful accounts of hairstyles, dress cuts, and fabric patterns portrayed the court and royal family as taste leaders who followed fashion trends and encouraged native industry. [11] At the same time, the wedding inspired the production of a whole range of commemorative commercial objects for consumers in Britain and the Netherlands, including medals, highly ornamental engraved paper fans, and enameled porcelain bowls decorated with the portraits of Anne and William, who seem to gaze into each other’s eyes. [12]

The broad journal coverage of Anne and William’s wedding evinces both desire for accessible royal figures and readers’ fascination with the theatrical spectacle of British court culture. Although newspaper coverage did not spotlight individual personalities or the intimate side of the royal family in the same way that later eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century journalists and periodical authors would, this reportage, nonetheless, opened the royal palace to the public gaze, inviting spectators and entire cities “bespangled with Eyes” to take part in the drama of royal romance.

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales

Frederick’s 1736 marriage follows these same journalistic patterns, with newspapers offering glowing coverage of Augusta’s arrival at Greenwich in late April. “Several thousand people” were reported to have flocked to glimpse Britain’s new princess at the Queen’s House—the editor of Read’s Weekly Journal estimated that the crowds numbered no less than 10,000 persons—and Augusta was described as having “very beautiful features, a fine complexion” and “a very Majestick and becoming Air.” The press circulated rumors that the wedding would take place not at the chapel at St. James’s Palace, but at the much larger St. Paul’s Cathedral, which could accommodate additional spectators and would allow a state procession through the City in full regalia and coronation robes. [13] Ultimately, this story proved false, a mere reflection of public desire for access to the pageantry of royal romance that would have represented a far-reaching departure from the precedents governing state marriages. Newspapers printed encomiastic verses about the princess’s august Protestant pedigree, plays were performed in honor of the royal couple, and the wedding gave enterprising churchmen an excuse to publish sermons on virtuous love and conjugal duty. Church bells rang, bonfires were lit, and toasts were given throughout cities and villages in England, Scotland, and Ireland, all of which was reported in the metropolitan press. And again journalists offered tedious descriptions of court dresses, stockings, shoes, jewels, and hairstyles worn for the wedding celebrations, with entire pages dedicated to reproducing the lavish spectacle of the British crown and the beau monde. [14] The bride’s dress and the court costumes of her ladies in attendance were embroidered by a Mrs. Ganderoon, Her Majesty Queen Caroline’s appointed embroideress, requiring “above 120 persons at work in making the rich cloaths.” “There’s the greatest Demand at this Time for Gold and Silver Stuffs (against the Prince of Wales’s Wedding) that ever was known,” the London Daily Post announced, “and those that are now made, are reckon’d the richest Patterns ever seen.” Indeed, individuals of rank were invited to view Augusta and Frederick’s wedding clothes displayed in their newly renovated apartments at Kensington Palace in the week prior to their betrothal. [15] Charles Philips also painted a three-quarter-length portrait of England’s newest princess in her heavily embroidered couture silver dress, topped with ermine-lined state robes, and the acclaimed engraver John Faber Jr. soon after produced a mezzotint copy of the picture for consumers. [16]

By the 1730s, then, the royal wedding was invented as a theatrical and theatricalized spectacle of statecraft and romance, fostered through the commercialized newspaper and periodical press and a growing marketplace in regal pictures and objects. The eighteenth century was the great age of celebrity, Joseph Roach has argued, engendered through media representations, especially the circulation of charismatic stage icons and cultural luminaries who stoked desire by offering spectators the illusion of intimacy despite the reality of physical inaccessibility. [17] Whereas we are quick to recognize the theatricality and affective appeal of Victorian monarchy, which permitted consumers to imagine personal attachments to individuals whom they would never meet in real life, I want to draw attention to the ways in which the early Hanoverian royal family was adapting to and adopting the characteristics of celebrity culture (whether they were entirely reluctant to do so, like George II, or eager to chase popularity, like Prince Frederick). Newspapers offered new possibilities of royal publicity, allowing spectators access to exclusive palace rooms, court finery, and the nuptial bed in completely novel ways that mark an abrupt departure from discussions of state weddings in the later Stuart period. At the very least, we should recognize that our contemporary fascination with royal engagements and the extravagant wedding dresses worn by English princesses has an eighteenth-century origin—for better, (or) for worse.

Notes

[1] For further reading, see Carole Levin, Heart and Stomach of a Queen: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), chapter 3; Kevin Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); Laura Lunger Knoppers, Politicizing Domesticity: From Henrietta Maria to Milton’s Eve (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Andrew C. Thompson, George II: King and Elector (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), chapter 1; Marilyn Morris, Sex, Money, & Personal Character in Eighteenth-Century British Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014); Thomas Lacquer, “The Queen Caroline Affair: Politics as Art in the Reign of George IV,” Journal of Modern History 54 (1982): 417-66.

[2] “Queen Victoria’s Bridal Colour,” Woomer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 11 January 1840, 2504. On the tension between domesticity and sovereignty in representations of Victoria as bride, wife, and mother, see John Plunkett, Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 29-35; Margaret Homans, Royal Representations: Queen Victoria and British Culture, 1837-1876 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 17-32.

[3] “Marriage of Queen Victoria,” The Bradford Observer, 13 February 1840, Issue 314.

[4] “Royal Marriage,” The Blackburn Standard, 12 February 1840, Issue 265. See also “Marriage of the Queen,” The Morning Post, 11 February 1840, 21542.

[5] See, for instance, British Museum: 2006,U.2079; 1902,1011.886; 1894.0516.59; and 1902,1011.8909.

[6] See Hannah Smith, Georgian Monarchy: Politics and Culture, 1714-1760 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Hannah Greig, The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 99-130.

[7] For excellent discussions of William’s recovery and his wedding to Princess Anne, see Marilyn Morris, Sex, Money and Personal Character, 103-09, and Thompson, George II, 108-13.

[8] The Daily Journal, 26 February 1734, Issue 4091; Penny London Post, 27 February 1734, Issue 80.

[9] Jacques Rigaud after William Kent, The Wedding of Princess Anne and William of Orange in the Chapel of St. James’s as Decorated by William Kent, 1734. National Portrait Gallery, NPG D32900.

[10] Daily Journal, 16 March 1734, Issue 4107, and 18 March 1734, Issue 4108; London Evening Post, 14-16 March 1734, Issue 986; Penny London Post, 18 March 1734, Issue 88; and Penny London Post, 19 October 1733, Issue 24.

[11] Greig, The Beau Monde, 119-25; Hannah Smith, “The Court in England: 1714-1760: A Declining Political Institution?” History: The Journal of the Historical Association 90.297 (January 2005): 23-41.

[12] See British Museum: Anonymous unmounted engraved paper fan, c. 1734-35, 1891,0713.375; Martha Gamble, Unmounted fan-leaf with orange tree, rose bush, and poem celebrating the marriage of Princess Anne, c. 1734-35, 1891,0713.426; Qing Dynasty Porcelain Bowl, c. 1734, Franks.1447.

[13] Daily Gazetteer, 27 April 1736, Issue 260; Reads Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer, 1 May 1736, Issue 608; Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal 28 February 1736, issue 386. See also 20 March 1736, issue 389.

[14] For instance, see Reed’s Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer, 1 May 1736, Issue 608; London Evening Post, 27-29 April 1736, Issue 1318.

[15] London Daily Post and General Advertiser, 2 April 1736, Issue 443, and 17 April 1736, Issue 456; London Evening Post, 13-15 April 1736, Issue 1312.

[16] Charles Philips, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales, c. 1736, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 2093; John Faber Jr, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, after Charles Philips, c. 1750, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D10778.

[17] Joseph Roach, It (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2007).

Jane Austen, the Prince of Wales, and Mr. Trump

What would Jane Austen say about Donald Trump? Easy to answer, because she had seen it all before. A Regency girl in a golden age of satire, she attacked the Prince of Wales for his much-lampooned appearance, his lewdness, his licentiousness, his instability, his outrageous spending, his fondness for over-the-top building ventures, his implicit treason, his desire for absolute power, his vanity, his braggadocio, and his love of holidays and sport. Throughout her entire writing career, she kept close watch on the extravagant, dancing prince. At a time when most people were poor, and black lives didn’t matter, she satirized the vulgarian whose wish to become a second Sun King was bringing the country down. In 1813, she would write that she hated him.

Austen was never more than a few degrees of separation away from Prince George. When she was young, he lodged at Kempshot Manor, only three miles from Steventon, and her brother James went hunting with him. At the Wheatsheaf Inn, Basingstoke, where Jane and Cassandra collected the mail, the prince held riotous Hunt Club dinners. As they walked back through those green and leafy lanes, they must have marvelled at the latest excesses of the boorish young man.

At Kempshot, Prince George entertained Mrs. Fitzherbert, and appalled the county with his wild parties; at Kempshot, on honeymoon with Princess Caroline, he reluctantly sired Princess Charlotte. His cohort of “very blackguard companions” were “constantly drunk and filthy, sleeping and snoring in boots on the sofa,” said the Earl of Minto, so that the whole scene “resembled a bad brothel much more than a Palace.” Austen was not prudish, but patriotic, and the prince’s behaviour threatened the nation. She would satirize him through avatars: John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, Tom Bertram and Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, Frank Churchill in Emma, and both Sir Walter Elliot and William Walter Elliot in Persuasion.

Like the prince, Thorpe is a “stout young man of middling height,” with a “plain face and ungraceful form.” Like the holiday prince, he lies, boasts, swears, hunts, and talks of nothing but his horses and his rides; like the royal voyeur, he utters “a short decisive sentence of praise or condemnation on the face of every woman they met”; like the prince jeering at his parents, he asks his mother, “where did you get that quiz of a hat, it makes you look like an old witch?” Austen’s lacerating portrait suggests close knowledge of the prince’s vulgar ways.

Even palace insiders said that the heir was unfit to rule. In 1811, just as Austen was revising Pride and Prejudice, he was widely mocked for spraining his ankle while teaching a courtier the Highland Fling. If Austen found that as funny as I do, she may have inserted Mr. Bennet’s exclamation about Mr. Darcy, “For God’s sake, say no more of his partners. Oh! that he had sprained his ancle in the first dance.”

The matter was not trivial. Overweight and overwrought, the regent had gone to bed for ten days. Some said he was avoiding hard political decisions, others that he was going mad like his father. In George Cruikshank’s Princely Agility or the Sprained Ancle (1812), doctors prepare a strait waistcoat; in his Merry Making on the Regents Birthday (August 1812), the regent prances on a petition for the poor. As Austen once wrote, “How much are the Poor to be pitied, & the Rich to be blamed,” and in 1811, at a time of severe economic hardship, he had celebrated the inauguration of his regency in ludicrously opulent style. As Percy Shelley wrote wearily, this entertainment would not be “the last bauble which the nation must buy to amuse this overgrown bantling of Regency.” When the prince became regent, Austen anticipated the king’s death by buying mourning clothes instead.

The prince spent staggering amounts of money on Brighton Pavilion and the Royal Lodge at Windsor. With instability at home and peril abroad, he supported dead Bourbons, hosted exiled French royalty and nobility, bought up their gilded furniture for Carlton House, and planned a second Versailles at Buckingham Palace. Many called his obsession with all things French treasonable; others accused him of coveting the absolute power of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

In newspapers, journals, and cartoons, “the rising sun” went viral as code for the king’s son/sun. Even the title of a scurrilous magazine, The Rising Sun, signalled his obvious impatience for power, and in Persuasion, Charles Musgrove refuses to meet with Sir Walter Elliot’s heir, William Walter, crying out, “Don’t talk to me about heirs and representatives.” As he says to Anne, “I am not one who neglects the reigning power to bow to the rising sun. If I would not go for the sake of your father, I should think it scandalous to go for the sake of his heir.”

Like Thorpe, William Walter resembles the prince, for he is all too keen to claim the titles and privileges he once despised. The sick king was pitied and loved, but not his impatient son. In a bitter jest about her brother James inheriting many beloved possessions before the family left Steventon for Bath, Austen wrote, “My father’s old Ministers are already deserting them to pay their court to his son: the brown Mare, which as well as the black was to devolve on James on our removal, has not had patience to wait for that, & has settled herself even now at Deane.” In Persuasion, Austen would explode the patriarchal hierarchy that privileged her oldest brother and the prince. Snubbed by powerful but ridiculous others, Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth simply walk away from society’s toxic obsession with “rank, people of rank, and jealousy of rank.”

To judge from Persuasion, Austen was alarmed that the prince, now regent, was spending a large proportion of the national income on high living and ostentatious parade. Beau Brummel had taught him the importance of elegance, just as in Persuasion, “Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.” Surrounded, like Prince George, by mirrors, he finds it not possible to spend less, “given what Sir Walter Elliott was imperiously called on to do.” His failure to economize gestures to the regent, whose refusal to retrench was threatening the nation.

“Retrench” became another code word for the regent. In Cruikshank’s Economy of 1816, Lord Chancellor Brougham warns him, in an obvious allusion to the French Revolution, “Retrench! Retrench, reflect on the distressed state of your country, & remember the Security of the Throne rests on the happiness of ye People.” In Persuasion, however, Anne and Lady Russell are on “the side of honesty against importance.” To clear Sir Walter’s debts, they urge “a scheme of retrenchment,” and Lady Russell sheets Austen’s satire home by asking, “What will he be doing, in fact, but what very many of our first families have done––or ought to do?”

Personal as well as patriotic reasons fuelled Austen’s loathing of the prince, for he borrowed from the Earl of Moira, who borrowed £6000 from Jane’s brother Henry. Moira defaulted on his debts by becoming Governor-General of India. Thus the regent was partly responsible for Henry’s bankruptcy and consequent heavy losses for other family members, as E. J. Clery explains in Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister. No wonder that Austen hated him.

In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram’s absence in Antigua, like the absence of the sick king, allows his pleasure-loving son to take charge. Like the regent, Tom Bertram wastes both his health and his wealth, and occupies himself mainly with the theatricalities of his position, such as miniature battles in the Serpentine. Henry Crawford provides yet another proxy for the regent, for his “freaks of a cold-blooded vanity” never receive the punishment they deserve, while in Emma, the light-minded Churchill rids himself of his money and his leisure “at the idlest haunts in the kingdom.” The prince’s beloved Brighton, perhaps.

Three days before she died in Winchester on July 17, 1817, Austen wrote an odd little poem about Winchester races. The regent attended them every July. Here St. Swithin accuses “the Lord & the Ladies” all “sattin’d & ermin’d” of being his “rebellious subjects,” rebukes them as “depraved,” and announces that “By vice you’re enslaved/ You have sinn’d & must suffer.” To punish them, he vows to bring down regular rain showers on “these races & revels & dissolute measures/ With which you’re debasing a neighbouring Plain.” It was the satirist’s last fling at a regent who was dissolute, depraved, and a danger to the nation.

Jane Austen’s in-jokes demonstrate her worldliness, her fascination with celebrities, and her relish of rumor. She criticized the Prince of Wales in the only way she could, through her characters and plots. In her resistance to corruption and perversions of power, this savvy, brave, and thoroughly modern woman would have had plenty to say about Mr. Donald Trump.

 

 

 

The Restoration Printed Fiction Database

Restoration Printed Fiction

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

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

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

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

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.

The Great Forgetting: Women Writers Before Austen

GreatForgettingThe Great Forgetting: Women Writers Before Austen is a free podcast series addressing the lives and works of eighteenth-century women writers,  devised and produced by one journalist and three academics.  One day while chatting on Twitter, Helen Lewis (deputy editor of the New Statesman, a leading British weekly magazine focusing on politics and culture) Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent), Sophie Coulombeau (Cardiff University), and Elizabeth Edwards (University of Wales) discovered that they shared not only a love of eighteenth-century women’s writing but also a conviction that the world needed to know more about it.  An idea was born: a six-part podcast series, aimed at the non-specialist listener, about the lives, works and legacies of the women who changed the face of literature – but had, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, been gradually subjected to what Clifford Siskin calls “The Great Forgetting.”

Each week, we came up with a different theme to shape our conversation.  In the first week, Rewriting the Rise of the Novel, we asked: who gets overlooked when we let Defoe, Fielding and Richardson hog the “rise of the novel” narrative?  In this episode we aimed to explain the importance of some of the eighteenth century’s most prolific and innovative female novelists; from Aphra Behn and Frances Burney to Eliza Haywood, Maria Edgeworth, and Delarivier Manley.  We asked what sorts of challenges these women overcame in order to make it as successful writers, and what flak they received in return.  And we spoke about some of our favorite moments in female-authored novels: from Evelina’s odd monkey to the glorious butch of Harriot Freke.

In the second week, we put Bluestocking culture under the microscope.  Who were the Bluestockings, why did they matter, and was their footwear really as lurid as we’ve been led to believe?  We explained how, through salons hosted by the likes of Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, and Hester Thrale Piozzi, this group of highly educated women helped shape a new age of sociability and creativity, making it commonplace rather than controversial to assert that a woman might be the intellectual equal of a man.  And we also revealed juicy details about Elizabeth Carter’s snuff-snorting habit.

Week three saw us turn to the subject of Sociable Spaces.  We focused first on the Lady’s Magazine, asking who wrote it, read it and published it, and how far its subject matter might be defined as “feminine.”  We then turned to think about the proliferation of all-female debating societies, such as La Belle Assemblée, in the early 1780s.  What topics did women want to chew over?  How were their debates alternatively valorised and satirised?  And why did these societies die out?  Highlights included discussions of eighteenth-century mansplaining in the pages of the Lady’s Magazine, and #everydaysexism in the galleries of the debating chamber.

In week four, we examined the Unsex’d Females, advocates of radical politics – and the conservative powerhouses who opposed them.  Novelists, poets and pamphleteers including Charlotte Smith, Anna Barbauld, and Mary Wollstonecraft all engaged with major political questions of their day including the French Revolution, the slave trade, and women’s rights – and argued for radical reforms.  But not everyone approved of their zeal: Hannah More and Hester Thrale Piozzi argued in favour of conservative agendas, and Richard Polwhele lamented the “Female Band, despising Nature’s Law” in his memorable poetic rant, “The Unsex’d Females.”

Week five saw us roll up our sleeves and enter the ring for Fight Club, each of us slugging it out on behalf of our favorite woman writer of the eighteenth century.  Sophie was in Frances Burney’s corner, Liz flew the flag for Hester Thrale Piozzi, and Jennie championed an unusual candidate – “Anomymous.”  Who won? Listen to find out…

In the sixth and final week of the podcast, we put the idea of “The Great Forgetting” under the microscope.  Why, exactly, do the vast majority of people now draw a blank at the mention of these women’s names?  How did they go from enjoying fame and success to obscurity?  How did their works shape the literary canon?  And why is it important that we remember and celebrate them in an age when female writers and scholars still face disadvantage and marginalization?

The podcast was devised and recorded in early 2016 and broadcast in April and May via the website of the New Statesman.  It remains available to stream or download here and through iTunes.

Our hope in creating The Great Forgetting was that we would be able to help a wide non-academic audience to become familiar with these writers and their works, and to stimulate reflection on the gendering of literary prestige in the past and present.  In that, we seem to have succeeded: in just the first three weeks, the podcast received almost 3000 listens, exclusive of iTunes downloads.  We continue to be delighted and excited to think that, as the podcast remains online, more thousands of people might encounter the writing of women like Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, Delarivier Manley, Frances Burney, Hester Thrale Piozzi, Mary Wollstonecraft, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Hannah More, Ann Yearsley, Phillis Wheatley, Elizabeth Montagu, and Charlotte Smith.  We’re beginning to think about ways in which we might integrate the podcasts into our teaching curricula, and we would love to hear from anyone else who has done so.

But, although making the podcast was a rewarding experience, it also provoked some sobering reflections about what happens when traditional academic methodologies meet new media.  For example, we were chagrined to discover – even faced with the luxury of over three hours’ airtime – how many women writers we still ended up leaving out.  We were abashed to realize that we hadn’t managed to give novelists such as Sarah Scott and Sarah Fielding any attention, while our paucity of female playwrights was another sore point.  We spoke far more about the second half of the eighteenth century than the first.  In light of this, we were forced to ask ourselves what criteria (aesthetic? biographical? canonical?) we had unthinkingly imposed on our selection process for subjects for the programe, even as we railed against ideas of “literary value” that had been dominant in the past.  On a similar note, it was difficult – almost impossible – to credit the academics whose works we drew upon, heavily, in our conversations with Helen.  In other words, you can’t add a footnote to a podcast (though we did try to remedy this a bit by providing reading lists every week – see here).  With initiatives like this, then, might we run the risk of appearing to present ourselves in glorious intellectual isolation – ironically erasing the work of previous scholars (many of whom are women) even as we argue against that very process?

These, and other issues, preoccupy us as we evaluate the success of the podcast series.  If readers of The 18th-Century Common have any feedback, we’d be delighted to hear it.

Who Is a Terrorist? “Terrorism” in the Long 18th Century

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries. jacques-Louis David, 1812.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries. jacques-Louis David, 1812.  [Source]

Who is a terrorist?

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston marathon bomber, will be tried as a civilian and not as an enemy combatant.  Tsarnaev is an American citizen, but he’s also a suspected terrorist – hence debate over the mode of trial, and a related controversy over his Miranda rights. We tend to reflexively identify terrorists as international operatives, despite instances of (and increasing anxiety over) “homegrown” terrorists.  But what we call homegrown terrorism – plotting within a target nation – is in fact somewhat closer to the original English use of the word, which dates from the eighteenth century, and which was coined to describe the (potentially violent) thwarting of political participation.

“Terrorist” first entered the English language in Edmund Burke’s Letters on a Regicide Peace, written and published throughout 1795 and 1796 –the politician and philosopher’s extended argument against England ending its war with France, and his last reaction to the French Revolution. It came directly from the French “terroriste” and “terrorisme,” both of which came into use in 1794, during the most violent phase of the Revolution. The French Constitution of 1795 had been widely opposed; riots were put down by a young Napoleon Bonaparte.  “Twenty thousand regular Troops garrison Paris,” wrote Burke. “Thus a complete Military Government is formed…To secure them further, they have a strong corps of irregulars, ready armed. Thousands of those Hell-hounds called Terrorists…are let loose on the people.” He concluded: “The whole of their Government, in its origination, in its continuance, in all its actions, and in all its resources, is force; and nothing but force.”

Terrorism here is associated with government coercion, with wielding illegitimate power – illegitimate because it had no consent from the people: “This year’s Constitution…is the only one which in its very formation has been generally resisted… It never had a popular choice even in show.”

Burke’s usage was echoed by Jeremy Bentham some twenty years later in his Plan of Parliamentary Reform. Bentham listed “the Terrorist” as a figure “by whom freedom of suffrage is destroyed…The terrorist is he who obtains his seat by the motive of fear…he who repels, quells, subdues, or excludes any competitor.” For Bentham, too, terrorism represented a perversion of the political process.

In this emphasis on the nature of unsanctioned power, however, we can see that the emotional resonance of the word was the same then as now: unpredictability, violence, and fear.