“This is not the end!”: 1719!, Jacobite Ballads, and Scotland’s Cyclical History of Resistance

An image of the printed broadside The True Scots Mens LamentSince January 2019, the Scottish Opera has been holding interactive performances of a Jacobite-themed production entitled 1719! in dozens of primary schools across Scotland. The opera addresses the Jacobite wars, in particular, the minor rising of 1719, which the Scottish Opera’s press release calls “a key moment in Scottish history” (“Scottish Opera’s”). Clearly the Scottish Opera chose the 1719 rising as subject matter in part due to its tercentenary, but there is additional significance in reviving this rising as a part of Scottish cultural memory at all, let alone at this exact moment. I argue that 1719! echoes many of the culturally-centered interests of the so-called Jacobite ballads circulating around the time of the rising. Though 1719! does not necessarily draw from such ballads, it demonstrates shared patterns of thought: both 1719! and Jacobite ballads instrumentalize the past to cultivate a unique Scottish identity and sense of a cyclical history that resonates with contemporary cultural and political aspirations.

While its more famous predecessor, the Jacobite Rising of 1715, or the Fifteen, was inconclusive on the battlefield in the Battle of Sheriffmuir, the 1719 attempt to restore the Stuart line to the British throne was, for all intents and purposes, a short-lived and failed endeavor. Yet, the rising was unique in terms of its foreign involvement: hoping to “cripple England” or, at least, distract the nation from its mercantile competition with Spain in the Mediterranean (Sinclair-Stevenson 168), Spanish Chief Minister Giulio Alberoni arranged for thousands of Spanish troops to partake in the rising. In reality, only about 300 Spanish forces would arrive in Britain due to poor weather (Worton 115). The small Spanish contingent along with Scottish Jacobites nonetheless undertook the rising and suffered a decisive defeat. 1719! provides an overview of these events and then some, first establishing the rivalry between James Stuart and George of Hanover and then referring to the 1692 Massacre at Glencoe. The opera goes on to offer a rendition of the Battle of Sheriffmuir, which is framed as an attempt by the Jacobites to avenge the massacre. Finally, the opera dramatizes its namesake, drawing particular attention to Spain’s involvement in the rising. It concludes with James’s reference to the birth of Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the promise that, “This is not the end!” (11).

In a sense, eighteenth-century broadside ballads act as analogues to 1719!: though perhaps not direct sources, examination of Jacobite ballads printed around 1719 in relation to 1719! reveals similar cultural and political sentiments articulated by similar methods, namely through a re-imagined Scottish history. To this end, I will first discuss the Jacobite ballad “The True Scots Mens Lament for the Loss of the Rights of their Ancient Kingdom,”[1] written before the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland and reprinted in 1718, and its strategic appeal to the past both in its content and in its 1718 re-distribution. I will then proceed to investigate resonances in 1719!

“The True Scots Mens Lament” repudiates the encroaching Act of Union between Scotland and England, shown in lines such as “The Union will thy [Britain’s] Ruine be” (45). While confronting the imminent union, the ballad also speaks both implicitly and explicitly to Jacobitism. In part, it is inevitable that discussion of the union be tied with Jacobitism: after all, the proposal of the union emerged in part as a way for the English government to persuade the “Scottish Parliament to accept the Hanoverian succession, and… stop it backing the Stewarts” (Bambery 55). However, it is the ballad’s recurring appeal to Scotland’s “old long sine” (8), also called “Guid Auld Lang Syne” or “good times long past,” that clearly aligns with Jacobite interests. According to William Donaldson, the concept of Guid Auld Lang Syne—imbued with the “doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings”—served as an “alternative history” for eighteenth-century Scotsmen: “it was made up of a tissue of myth and legend stretching back into the remotest antiquity, and provided a heroic backdrop against which they viewed themselves, a frame for their thinking, and the driving force behind their politics” (5). The use of Scotland’s glorious history in “The True Scots Mens Lament” reflects Donaldson’s assessment: appealing to the past, the ballad functions as an ideological tool for self-identification and, for some, a catalyst for political action.

Besides taking on “old long sine” as its refrain, the ballad reflects this theme in its portrayal of a valorous Scottish history: it memorializes Scottish victories against foes such as Caesar, idealizes heroes who resisted English domination such as William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and glorifies “our Nation sometime brave, / invincible and stout” (49-50). By establishing a distinctly Scottish history of bravery, pursuit of freedom, and struggle—against England specifically in many cases—the ballad not only fosters a distinctive Scottish identity but one defined by resistance and opposition to England. Furthermore, in chronicling struggle after struggle, “The True Scots Mens Lament” can also been seen as reflecting the “Jacobite commitment to typological/cyclical history” (Harol 55). More than a marker of Scottishness, rebellion appears as a natural and inevitable pattern in Scottish history. The ballad seems to validate the continuance of this cycle. Reflections such as “How oft have our Fore-fathers / spent their Blood in its [Scotland’s] Defence” (17-8) underscore such a reading: the ballad contributes to an imagined Scottish community with shared “Fore-fathers” and a shared history of resistance, which, ostensibly, should be channeled through further struggle against English domination.

The ballad also signals Jacobitical, political concerns by drawing attention to issues of dynastic reign. For example, queries such as “Shall Monarchy be quite forgot” (1) and “What shall become now of our Crown, / we have so long possest?” (9-10) clearly allude to the Stuart line, who had claim to the Scottish—and English—“Crown.” Significantly, no Scottish king reigned since James II’s deposal in 1689, making these questions less relevant to the impending union itself than to the restoration of the Stuart dynasty. Furthermore, the ballad also addresses the Stuart line through its appeal to the “Auld Alliance,” an agreement between France and Scotland in the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries that if one nation had a military dispute with England, the other would engage. After showing dissatisfaction at the encroaching union with England, the ballad entreats, “Why did you thy Union break / thou had of late with France” (105-6). As Murray G. H. Pittock argues, the ballad’s allusion to this alliance “refers to the dream of sixteenth-century Scottish Catholic monarchy: that Mary Stuart, Mary of Guise’s daughter, should be queen (as she briefly was) of France and Scots” (139). Though framed as a nostalgic view of the Scottish past, the ballad is in fact coded with nostalgia for the Stuart dynasty and what could have been. Furthermore, by glorifying Scotland’s relationship with France, a Catholic nation that was currently sheltering the exiled James Francis Edward Stuart and had assisted his father in the Williamite War, the ballad could also covertly show praise for France’s sympathy to the Jacobite cause and express persistent allegiance to the Stuart line. Under the guise of promoting a sense of nostalgia and lament—of remembering “old long sine”—the ballad urges the Scottish people to recognize their historical and cultural difference from England, reaffirm their dynastic allegiance, and, perhaps, perpetuate acts of resistance.

While the content of “The True Scots Mens Lament” demonstrates instrumentalization of the past for cultural and political purposes, its reprinting in Edinburgh in 1718—over a decade after the Act of Union—served a similar aim. In response to the Fifteen and the stirrings of the 1719 rising, government officials cracked down on seditious language: singing or possessing seditious ballads could result in imprisonment and, in rare cases, even execution, though the latter was generally reserved for ballad printers (McDowell 158-159). This compelled ballad-makers to use covert methods to express any Jacobite sentiment. Some ballads such as “The True Lovers Knot Untied” (circa 1687-1732) and “A New Song, Commemorating the Birth Day of her Late Majesty Queen Ann” (circa 1718) portrayed more distant and innocuous members of the Stuart line, such as Lady Arbella and Queen Ann, in a favorable light to show Jacobite allegiance. Another coded strategy was to portray the Jacobite identity and interests “as both de-activated and anachronistic (that is, both passive and in the past)” within ballads (Harol 584). By reviving old Jacobite ballads such as “The True Scots Mens Lament,” ballad distributors and their clientele could not only monopolize on the national consciousness-raising and Jacobitical themes inherent in the ballad, but appeal to contemporary political aspirations with impunity.

Like other Jacobite ballads circulating at this time, “The True Scots Mens Lament” functioned as “an ideological counter-core for those who wished to preserve Scottish cultural and political identity” post-Union (Pittock 134): its redistribution was, in effect, a reassertion of Scotland’s cultural and political difference from England, despite the its lack of governmental representation. Beyond reinforcing a shared Scottish cultural consciousness, however, the ballad’s reprint validated rebellion as an intrinsic, if not necessary, part of Scottish culture.[2] By disseminating a pre-Union ballad that established a trend of Scottish resistance in the aftermath of the Fifteen, ballad-distributors implied that this rebellion offered yet another episode in Scotland’s cyclical history. In other words, it attested to a pattern of struggle in Scotland’s past that continued—and would continue—unabated until the Stuart line was restored and the union with England broken. It also covertly suggested that future rebellions—such as the imminent 1719 rising—were inevitable, if not “providential” (Harol 588).

While “The True Scots Mens Lament” documented, and approbated, a Scottish culture of resistance through historical events, it is worth noting that contemporary ballads likewise reflected the perpetual fight for Scottish liberty through domestic, “individuated” subject matter (Pittock 139). The ballad “A New Song, To the Tune of Lochaber No more” (circa 1723), for instance, features a young man compelled to leave his love and land to fight “Since Honour commands me” (18). Though the ballad does not specify that he fights for the Jacobite cause, for obvious reasons, the fact that its “air at an earlier period is said to have been called ‘King James’s march to Ireland’” implies this (Whitelaw 137).[3] In any case, the lover’s almost natural imperative to fight and his hopeful conclusion, “And if I should luck to come gloriously Hame, / I’ll bring a Heart to thee with Love running o’er, / And then I’ll leave thee and Lochaber no more” (22-4), can be read as mirroring Scotland’s undying hope and unending struggle for liberty.

To return to “The True Scots Mens Lament” not only did the reprint—like many other contemporary works—covertly endorse Scottish resistance, but it also served to reaffirm Scotland’s continental ties and Jacobite allegiance. As stated, the ballad’s nostalgic gesture to the “Auld Alliance” engages in Jacobite coding as well as displays a preference for Scotland’s past alliance with France over a union with England. This reference had further, and slightly altered, significance in 1718. At this time, France’s focus had shifted from its Jacobite sympathies towards a fruitful alliance with England (Worton 31). That being said, the Jacobite cause still had links to France both because of its previous decades of support and the exiled Jacobites that still resided there. While the reference could continue to resonate in terms of Scotland’s connection to France—and in terms of its nostalgia for a shared Catholic sovereign—it could have also resonated with another continental nation: Spain. Though a tiny fraction arrived in Britain due to storms, there were plans for 5,000 Spaniards to take part in the 1719 rising (Sinclair-Stevenson 169). The ballad’s sentiments of idealizing Scotland’s continental relationships—and distancing Scotland from England in the process—would have thus had continued significance, and additional implications, at this time.

Interestingly, despite Britain’s in-roads with France, contemporary anti-Jacobite ballads also aligned these foreign nations with the Jacobite cause. One ballad “A New Song, Concerning Two Games at Cards, Playd Betwixt the King of England, King of France, and Queen of Spain; Shewing the true Honour and Honesty of Old England against the Pretender” (circa 1719), as its title implies, directly links Spain and France with the “Pretender,” or James Francis Edward Stuart. It also specifies “Old England” rather than Britain, purposefully disassociating England from Scotland. Another anti-Jacobite ballad, “A Hymn, to the Victory in Scotland,” similarly creates this division. Describing the 1719 Battle of Glen Shiel as “Battle, sharp and bloody, / Beyond the reach of humane study…‘Gainst study Scots and Spaniards proud” (252), the ballad makes a point of portraying Scotland as in league with Spain. Rather than calling the rebels Jacobites, throughout the ballad they are referred to by their Scottish identities only. Such ballads purposefully highlight the distinction, and opposition, between Scotland and England.

Examination of early-eighteenth-century Jacobite ballads reveals the promotion of a Scottish national consciousness defined by its distinction from England, its association with continental Europe, and its cyclical history of resistance. As suggested, similar patterns of thinking reverberate in the Scottish Opera’s 1719! show. An educational production, the opera teaches primary school students about the Jacobite risings and engages them directly: while members of the Scottish Opera take the larger roles of James Stuart, George of Hanover, and King Phillip of Spain, students sing along as groups of Jacobites, Hanoverians, and Spaniards. Far from a replication of the ballads that circulated around 1719, the opera nonetheless establishes a distinctive Scottish identity and perpetuates the notion of a cyclical Scottish history steeped in adversity and resistance. Coming as it does in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, which failed by a small margin, Brexit, which threatens Scotland’s continental relationships, and consequent appeals for another referendum, this cultural cultivation arguably has political resonance.

1719! opens with initial disputes between George of Hanover and James Stuart, during which it establishes the idea of Scotland’s perpetual desire for freedom: “Everybody dreams of a night / When we need no longer to fight / Happy we’d be: blessed and free” (3). Immediately, the opera characterizes Scotland’s history—and, implicitly, Scottishness itself—in terms of rebellion and liberty. The remainder of the opera follows this theme, chronicling cycles of Scottish struggle in the Massacre of Glencoe, the Fifteen, and the 1719 rising. Most likely, 1719! did not directly build off ballad tradition but is influenced by national poets like Robert Burns and Lady Nairne, who themselves “derived one imperative injunction from the Jacobites… to define resistance as the ground of Scottish national consciousness” (McGuirk 253). Nevertheless, in principle, the opera is reminiscent of “The True Scots Mens Lament” both in its memorialization of “old long sine” and its cultivation of a history of rebellion. The opera fosters a unique Scottish identity defined by resistance, which “is related to an entrenched sense of a distinctive national past, buttressed by successive generations of Scottish history writing” (Smith xi).

1719! not only validates this Scottish identity and documents a cyclical Scottish past but implies that Scotland’s “typological or providential history” lives on (Harol 588). This is shown when James Francis Edward Stuart proclaims towards the opera’s end, “now we place our hopes upon this bonnie new prince Charlie” (11). Within the circumstances of the opera, this allusion to the 1745 rising—undertaken by James’s son Charles Edward Stuart—implies that the fight will, must, or is even fated to continue. Perhaps even more interesting in this respect is the opera’s address to its audience:

Is there a just war?
What would you fight for?
Fight if you choose—you might lose.
Hands we extend—friend unto friend
Shall we contend—is this the end? (10)

The opera’s last words provide an answer: “This is not the end!” (11). After establishing an inevitable trend of Scottish resistance, 1719! concludes with the assurance that Scotland’s struggle for liberty will persist. While on one level it does refer to Bonnie Prince Charlie continuing the fight, given the opera’s direct address of its audience and the fact that Charles was obviously unsuccessful, one can assume that 1719! also speaks to current circumstances. Of course, the opera does not advocate violence—a fact underscored by its anxieties over whether “just war” is possible and its peaceful sentiment of “friend unto friend / Hands we extend.” Yet,
in the context of calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence, the opera implies Scotland’s contemporary desire for sovereignty follows a historical pattern or imperative.

The portrayal of foreign involvement in Scottish history also takes on renewed significance in this context. Just as the Jacobite ballad’s reference to the Auld Alliance aligned Scotland with continental nations and established its “antiquity as a nation apart from England” (Ichijo x), 1719!’s depiction of Scotland’s alliance with Spain in the Battle of Glen Shiel works to a similar effect. The opera foregrounds Spain’s participation in the rising. Given that few Spanish forces actually arrived in Scotland to assist in the rising, 1719! is obviously more concerned with the larger implications of the nation’s participation—of its connection to Scotland—than its practical impact.[4] Interest in highlighting this relationship is evident in the opera’s press release when Scottish Opera’s Director of Outreach and Education, Jane Davidson, notes that the Battle of Glen Shiel “is still recalled in the name Sgurr nan Spainteach (The Peak of the Spaniards) in recognition of the Spanish troops who fought there” (“Scottish Opera’s”). While the opera amplifies Scotland’s continental ties with Spain, it distances Scotland from England in the process. True, in 1719!, “England” is only referred to by the Spanish. However, the antagonism of the Hanoverians—seen in proclamations such as “We’ll whack ‘em and crack ‘em till they stop trying / We’ll shoot ‘em and loot ‘em the dead and dying” (9)—clearly magnifies their separation from the Jacobites—who are portrayed as Scottish—and the Spaniards and also pronounces the contrasting unity of the other nations.

Scholars such as Ichijo Atsuko have noted that uses of history in relation to the creation of a separate Scottish Parliament in late-twentieth-century Scotland reveal connections between Scottish “nationalism and European integration” (6). The instrumentalization of history within 1719! arguably demonstrates such connections: in the context of Brexit and renewed appeals for another referendum for Scottish independence, 1719! promotes a uniquely Scottish identity and culture while also foregrounding Scotland’s European associations. In echoing the distinctive national consciousness and unyielding cycle of Scottish resistance imagined by its eighteenth-century analogues, at its most political reading, the opera suggests that a break with the United Kingdom is a necessary, inevitable, and attractive option that would allow Scotland access to its historically-preferred continental ties. While the opera may not necessarily advocate Scotland’s shift away from the United Kingdom and towards the European Union in this manner, it arguably reflects this emerging transition ideologically.

Notes

[1] Going forward, “The True Scots Mens Lament for the Loss of the Rights of their Ancient Kingdom” will be referred to as “The True Scots Mens Lament” in this essay.

[2] Arguably, contemporary ballads regarding individual outlaws such as Rob Roy—who was involved in the Jacobite risings of 1689, 1715, and 1719—worked to a similar effect. For example, in “The Supplication and Lamentation of George Fachney, an Officer in Caldwells Regiment of Robbers, To Rob Roy in the Highlands, with Rob Roys Answer” (circa 1722), Roy is portrayed as engaging in the ‘right kind’ of resistance, breaking the law as a wronged party, not wronging others.

[3] After all, as Murray G. H. Pittock has suggested, “Airs…seem to have been used to indicate Jacobite support within a ballad tradition” (6).

[4] The opera references the storms but does not make clear the extent of their impact on the Spanish troops.

Works Cited

1719! Lyrics by Allan Dunn, music by David Munro, Scottish Opera, 2019, https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/media/3119/1719-lyrics.pdf.

“A New Song, Concerning Two Games at Cards, Playd Betwixt the King of England, King of France, and Queen of Spain; Shewing the True Honour and Honesty of Old England against the Pretender,” circa 1719. British Library – Roxburghe, EBBA 31099. English Broadside Ballad Archive, https://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/31099.

Bambery, Chris. A People’s History of Scotland. London: Verso, 2014.

Donaldson, William. The Jacobite Song: Political Myth and National Identity. Aberdeen: Aberdeen UP, 1988.

Harol, Corrinne. “Whig Ballads and the Past Passive Jacobite.” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 35, no. 4, 2012, pp. 581-595.

“A Hymn, to the Victory in Scotland.” The Roxburghe Ballads: Illustrating the Last Years of the Stuarts, edited by J. Woodfall Ebsworth, vol. 8, Hertford, Ballad Society, 1897, pp. 252-253.

Ichijo, Atsuko. Scottish Nationalism and the Idea of Europe: Concepts of Europe and the Nation. London: Routledge, 2004.

McDowell, Paula. “The Manufacture and Lingua-facture of Ballad-Making”: Broadside Ballads in Long Eighteenth-Century Ballad Discourse.” The Eighteenth Century, vol. 47, no. 2/3, Ballads and Songs in the Eighteenth Century, 2006, pp. 151-178.

McGuirk, Carol. “Jacobite History to National Song: Robert Burns and Carolina Oliphant (Baroness Nairne).” The Eighteenth Century, vol. 47 no. 2/3, Ballads and Songs in the Eighteenth Century, 2006, pp. 253-287.

“New Song to the Tune of Lochaber No More,” circa 1723. National Library of Scotland – Rosebery 37, EBBA 34263. English Broadside Ballad Archive, http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/34263.

Pittock, Murray G. H. Poetry and Jacobite Politics in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

“Scottish Opera’s New Primary Schools Show 1719! Commemorates the Jacobite Risings.” Press Release. Scottish Opera, 19 Nov. 2018, https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/press/#scottish-opera-s-new-primary-schools-show-1719-commemorates-the-jacobite-risings-7885.

Sinclair-Stevenson, Christopher. Inglorious Rebellion: The Jacobite Risings of 1708, 1715, and 1719. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971.
Smith, Anthony D. Foreword. Scottish Nationalism and the Idea of Europe: Concepts of Europe and the Nation. By Atsuko Ichijo. London: Routledge, 2004, pp. ix-xi.

“The Supplication and Lamentation of George Fachney, an Officer in Caldwell’s Regiment of Robbers, To Rob Roy in the Highlands, with Rob Roy’s Answer,” circa 1722. Huntington Library – Miscellaneous 180197, EBBA 32426. English Broadside Ballad Archive, https://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/32426.

“The True Scots Mens Lament for the Loss of the Rights of their Ancient Kingdom.” Edinburgh: John Reid in Pearson’s-Closs, 1718. National Library of Scotland – Rosebery 117, EBBA 34350. English Broadside Ballad Archive, https://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/34350.

Whitelaw, Alex. The Book of Scottish Song. London: Blackie and Son, 1844.

Worton, Jon. The Battle of Glenshiel – the Jacobite Rising in 1719. Warwick: Helion & Company, 2018.

“Prompted by the Violence of her Passion”: Gendered Crime in the 18th Century and Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess

A View of the South Front of the North Side of the Marshalsea Prison (1812), Unknown Artist after James Lewis, 1751–1820

When Melliora’s father dies in Eliza Haywood’s 1719 novel Love in Excess, she is entrusted into the care of D’elmont.  Despite her sadness for her dying father, Melliora cannot help but fall for the Count the moment that her father turns her over to him.  Haywood describes the complexity of Melliora’s feelings in this moment as follows:  “she had just lost a dear and tender father, whose care was ever watchful for her . . . she had no other relation in the world to apply her self to for comfort . . . [but D’elmont] whom she found it dangerous to make use of, whom she knew it was a crime to love, yet could not help loving” (Haywood 88).  The use of the word “crime” in this moment perfectly structures the tension within the narrative of Love in Excess.  Haywood’s reconceptualization of love as a “crime” treats characters’ actions in pursuit of love as forms of crimes of passion.  Furthermore, her criminality of love challenges gendered constructs of the eighteenth century.  According to the Old Bailey Online, while men were viewed as the stronger sex, they were expected to be more intelligent, courageous, and determined.  Alternatively, women were believed to be controlled by their emotions, leading to expectations of chastity, modesty, and compassion.  Therefore, the expected faults of men were primarily acts of aggression (including violence and selfishness), whereas female faults centered on sins of the body (including lust and shrewishness) (“Gender in the Proceedings”).  Sins of the body are exemplified in Haywood’s Love in Excess as women navigate their criminal affections.  Examining the proceedings of real trials from the eighteenth century in relation to Haywood’s Love in Excess creates a space to address how constructs of gender in both real and imagined narratives determined criminal activity.  Furthermore, this intersection between the real and imagined allows for a look at the ubiquity of widespread patriarchal institutions.  Haywood’s criminal love demonstrates not only the economic and emotional struggles that women were facing but also how the lengths they went to fulfill their needs were met with a gendered response.

The statistics of crimes committed in the eighteenth century show that women stood trial far less than men.  The Old Bailey Online reveals that from the 1690s to the 1740s, women accounted for 40% of defendants.  This number significantly declined over the course of the eighteenth century, until reaching as low as 22% at the start of the nineteenth century (“Gender in the Proceedings”).  In accordance, in examining the archives, I found that of the estimated 48,000 cases that saw trial from 1701 to 1800, about 69% consisted of male defendants, while 31% were female.  Since 2019 marks the 300th anniversary of the publication of Love in Excess, I examined the 433 cases that went to trial in 1719:  154 involved female defendants, whereas 279 involved male defendants (Table 1).  Although the majority of female defendants faced trials centered on killing and theft, their crimes were likely to be focused on their failure to adhere to expectations ascribed to their gender.  These gendered crimes included infanticide, concealing a birth, unlawful abortion, theft, and coining (including keeping a brothel) (“Gender in the Proceedings”).  Additionally, of the 154 females that stood trial in the year 1719, only 86 were found guilty, 10 of whom successfully received a respite for pregnancy (Table 2).

One reason behind female theft could be the economic hardships that women encountered in London.  Specifically, women’s wages were significantly lower than men’s and rarely guaranteed.  Knowing this, it should be no surprise to suggest that women perhaps participated in various acts of theft to make ends meet.  Of the 145 female theft cases in 1719, 15 involved shoplifting.  Chloe Wigston-Smith discusses her examination of the Old Bailey Online proceedings in her book Women, Work and Clothes in the Eighteenth-Century Novel (2013) and notes that many stolen items involved textiles, garments, or accessories.  She further explains how some women used their own clothes to assist in shoplifting (Wigston-Smith 95).  Similarly, I found a case in 1719 of Mary Wilson, who was taken to trial for stealing four pairs of Worsted stockings.  When she was apprehended, authorities found the stockings hidden “up her Coats” (“Mary Wilson”).  Wilson was found guilty and sentenced to transportation.  In addition to clothing, women would use accessories to assist in shoplifting.  Urphane Mackhoule, for example, was found guilty in 1719 for stealing a pair of silver buckles.  She did this by entering a shop and requesting some aniseed to distract the merchant.  When the merchant turned his back, Mackhoule placed the buckles in her basket.  She later confessed and was also sentenced to transportation (“Urphane Mackhoule”).  Although the proceedings do not address specifically why Wilson and Mackhoule were stealing stockings and buckles, it is reasonable to infer that female acts of shoplifting could be rooted in an inability to afford the items they needed or desired due to economic hardships brought on by the gendered wage gap.

In addition to shoplifting, pocket-picking consisted of 11 crimes that women saw trial for in 1719.  In the case of pocket-picking, Wigston-Smith explains that women “often worked together and that their schemes could involve between 2 and 7 women to distract the attention of victims” (Wigston-Smith 96).  In a 1719 case, Mary Clarke was accused of following John Burcher into an alley.  When Burcher was distracted by a “fight” between two women who had amassed a crowd, he claimed that Clarke slipped her hand in his pocket and stole seven shillings.  It is unclear whether Clarke was working with the women or taking advantage of the situation, but she was eventually found not guilty (“Mary Clarke”).  However, as Wigston-Smith notes, accusations of women pocket-picking can be further complicated by the number of cases that also involved prostitution.  She notes that “pick-pockets were often equated with prostitutes, as both professions shared the same working space of the streets” (Wigston-Smith 96).  The connection between prostitution and pocket-picking appeared so often that many judges would assume that men who claimed to be robbed in specific areas of London had actually been visiting a prostitute (96-97).  Lastly, cases involving female pocket-picking could be fabricated when men purposefully wrongly accused women of theft in retaliation of rejected romantic advances.  Some men even planted objects on their female rejectors to get them arrested (98).  The number of fabricated accusations of female theft by men that saw trial further creates a gendered divide.  In this moment the women are on trial twice:  first, for the knowingly incorrect accusation of theft and, second, for being a woman who dared to reject a man.

Aside from various forms of theft and coining, women of the eighteenth century also often worked in the streets of London by singing ballads.  Women flooded the ballad profession to use their voices to make money.  Tim Fulford examines how the increase in the number of poor women can be attributed to the number of deaths of soldiers in Europe, America, the West Indies, and India, as well as the growth of London as a space of promise of commerce that drew these women in from the country (Fulford 313).  Additionally, Branford P. Millar has described these women as often elderly and “tattered,” and Paula McDowell explains that they could sometimes be disabled or blind (Miller 129, McDowell 175).  Ballad singers would sing loudly in the streets, often encouraging passersby to purchase print copies.  Female involvement in ballad-singing not only provided women with some economic support but also a space for women to express their emotional responses to governmental structures through veiled lyrics.  While ballads could contain the news or bawdy jokes, the ones that focused on social and political issues often resulted in arrest.  Ballads were believed to be dangerous because they could stir up nationalist pride or feelings of unrest.  Much of the information that we have of these female ballad-singers comes from records of their time in and out of jails and correction houses (McDowell 156).  Elizabeth Smith, for example, was arrested for selling “The Highland Lasses Wish,” a Jacobite ballad that praised James Francis Edward, the Old Pretender.  A 1719 search of the English Broadside Ballad Archive yields a ballad about the Lady Arabella Stuart called “The True Lovers Knot United,” which also disguises Jacobite sentiment through the story of Arabella’s unsuccessful elopement.  These political ballads were, as McDowell describes, a “genre of ‘the people,’” but they also provided women with a means of money that could lead to legal danger.

While no characters are arrested in Love in Excess, Haywood’s conceptualization of criminal love shapes character behavior as crimes of passion.  Ultimately, “crimes of passion” often refer to violent criminal acts inspired by a sudden strong emotional response.  Although we stereotypically expect that strong response to be anger or hatred, it is possible to consider intense love as fuel for impulsive actions.  Haywood’s reflection of eighteenth-century gender expectations within Love in Excess further examines changes in the construct of gender, as well as how the different genders hold power.

Similar to female ballad-singers, the written word is a powerful tool for expressing emotional unrest in Love in Excess.  The novel opens with a description of Alovysa as “[suffering] her self to be agitated almost to madness between the two extremes of love and indignation” (Haywood 39).  The use of “madness” lends weight to how passionate emotions ultimately consume Alovysa.  Her obsession with D’elmont not only leads to her “rival” Amena’s life-long banishment to a monastery but also a lack of trust in her marriage, emotional suffering, and her untimely death.  Alovysa uses her skills in writing and speaking to act on her passion.  For example, when she realizes that D’elmont is pursuing Amena, Alovysa does not hesitate to write to him anonymously:  “you cannot without a manifest contradiction to its will, and an irreparable injury to your self, make a present of that heart to Amena, when one, of at least an equal beauty, and far superior in every other consideration, would sacrifice all to purchase the glorious trophy” (45).  Her strategic choice of placing D’elmont as a “trophy” flatters him as he realizes that he has more than one admirer.  Furthermore, despite being close friends with Amena, Alovysa does not consider whether her actions will hurt Amena when she writes that she believes herself to be “far superior.”  Tiffany Potter has observed that “Haywood undergoes a process of mastering this language of passion and claiming it for women as a creative, powerful, production value” (Potter 171).  Alovysa’s clever turns of phrase in her anonymous letters allow her to manipulate the situation to secure her ultimate desires.  Her willingness to do what she believes to be necessary in that moment–including sacrificing the wellbeing of her friend–assists in fulfilling her emotional needs.  Potter investigates Alovysa’s cunning use of language to act on her passion through an understanding of knowledge as power.  In the scene between Alovysa and the Baron, she is seeking information that only the Baron can tell her, while he wants sexual consent.  Potter notes that Alovysa’s “agency here comes from the ability she is granted by Haywood to empower herself through playing both sides of her culture’s gendered constructions of language as she uses the language of desire, seduction, and adultery” (171-172). Alovysa’s use of written and spoken language allows her to gain the information and future she desires.  Despite the emotional consequences of her actions, her use of language demonstrates her strength and willingness to act on her love for D’elmont.

Haywood’s discussion of crimes of passion further addresses the gender divide in the treatment of rejection and sins of the body through Melantha and Ciamara.  The two women cannot physically restrain themselves from acting on their lust for D’elmont.  At first Melantha tries to pursue the Count.  However, after overhearing a conversation between the Count and her brother, Melantha becomes uneasy.  She knows of her brother’s feelings for Alovysa, but the new information of the Count’s love for Melliora leads to her frustration with the men’s behavior.  However, Melantha does not become dissuaded by this realization.  Instead, she uses this information to her advantage to trick D’elmont to sleep with her and become pregnant.  Rather than perform her gender as perhaps expected, she decides to take what she desires.  When her crime of seduction is revealed, she is referred to by her brother as “that wicked woman” and as “deceitful” (Haywood 144).  He is further angered by her “scandal” as well as what he sees as the betrayal of the family name, and he threatens to “stab [her] here in this scene of guilt,” an act prevented by D’elmont (144).  Although Melantha is frightened that her brother will follow through on the threat, she argues:  “neither am I guilty of any crime.  I was vext indeed to be made a property of, and changed beds with Melliora for a little innocent revenge; for I always designed to discover my self to the Count time enough to prevent mischief” (145).  Her word choice of “revenge” implies that she has become angered by the way that the men have been treating her.  Melantha takes control of what power she can have through the use of her body.  Yet, while it is perhaps socially accepted that the men pursue women how they please, the gendered response to a woman acting on her desire is a reaction asserting that she is something like a criminal.

In comparison to Melantha, Ciamara’s seduction not only fails but also further exacerbates the difference in gendered sins of the body.  Ciamara tries to act on her lust for D’elmont by disrobing for him, kissing him, and guiding his hands to her body, all to persuade him to be with her (225).  Unfortunately, for Ciamara, D’elmont is not convinced.  However, before rejecting Ciamara, he takes a moment to enjoy her body.  His actions are explained away as follows:  “he was still a man! and, ‘tis not to be thought strange if to the force of such united temptations, nature and modesty a little yielded . . . her behavior having extinguished all his respect, he gave his hands and eyes a full enjoyment of all those charms” (225).  This acceptance of D’elmont’s behavior is a stark difference from earlier in the novel, when he struggled to express the pain of his passion for Melliora.  Multiple instances depict D’elmont as attempting physically to force himself onto Melliora, and these acts drive her to prevent their physical connection by stuffing the lock of her bedroom with torn pieces of her corset.  Yet, in comparison to Ciamara, while it is inappropriate for a woman physically to act on her desires, the novel shows that it is ostensibly fully understandable for a man to do so.

Crime in eighteenth-century England was often understood to be driven by specific traits attributed to men and women.  While men were expected physically to act on their aggression and desires, women responded to threats to their emotional and physical needs.  Female crime in the eighteenth century was thoroughly addressed by popular fiction writers to much acclaim.  Haywood’s criminalization of love makes way for a larger examination of patriarchal institutions.  Her use of the written word as a means to establish control and her discussion of the unequal treatment of rejection and seduction show how gender expectations shaped responses to how individuals adhered or disrupted gender performance.

Works Cited

Fulford, Tim.  “Fallen Ladies and Cruel Mothers:  Ballad Singers and Ballad Heroines in the Eighteenth Century.”  The Eighteenth Century 47.2 (2006):  309-329.

“Gender in the Proceedings.”  Old Bailey Online. https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Gender.jsp. Accessed 15 March 2019.

Haywood, Eliza.  Love in Excess.  Ed. David Oakleaf.  Peterborough:  Broadview Press, 2000.

“Mary Clarke.”  Old Bailey Onlinehttps://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17190408-2-off9&div=t17190408-2#highlight.  Accessed 9 April 2019.

“Mary Wilson.”  Old Bailey Onlinehttps://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17190408-30-off151&div=t17190408-30#highlight.  Accessed 9 April 2019.

McDowell, Paula.  “‘The Manufacture and Lingua-facture of Ballad-Making’:  Broadside Ballads in Long Eighteenth-Century Ballad Discourse.”  The Eighteenth Century 47.2 (2006):  151-178.

Miller, Branford P.  “Eighteenth-Century Views of the Ballad.”  Western Folklore 9.2 (1950):  124-135.

Potter, Tiffany.  “The Language of Feminised Sexuality:  Gendered Voice in Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess and Fantomina.”  Women’s Writing 10.1 (2003):  169-186.

Smith, Chloe Wigston.  Women, Work, and Clothes in the Eighteenth-Century Novel.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2013.

“The Lovers Knot United.”  English Broadside Ballad Archive.  http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/32691/xml.  Accessed 20 April 2019.

“Urphane Mackhoule.”  Old Bailey Onlinehttps://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17190708-18-off93&div=t17190708-18#highlight.  Accessed 9 April 2019.

Human Waste and Wasted Humans: Flotsam and Jetsam in the Anthropocene

Slaves in the Hold of the Albanoz (1846) by Lt. Francis Meynell © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1973, the Zoe Colocotroni, an oil tanker commissioned by Mobil Oil Company, ran aground off the southwest coast of Puerto Rico near Bahía Sucia.  Before seeking outside help, the ship’s captain, Anastacios Michalopaulos, frantically ordered the crew to jettison over 37,000 barrels of crude oil—approximately 1.5 million gallons—into the ocean.  Dumping the oil lightened the ship enough to free it from the sand and allowed Michalopaulos successfully to deliver the payload, while absorbing only a partial loss (the Colocotroni had been transporting 187,670 barrels altogether).  The surrounding environment experienced more than a partial loss and the resulting disaster is part of a long history of environmental degradation in the Caribbean; one that dates back to the “ecological maelstrom” unleashed on the region in the eighteenth century amid the heyday of sugar cultivation and the dawning of the Anthropocene [1].  Flora and fauna from the reef and nearby mangrove swamps suffered extensive damage as the oil slick quickly spread, eventually covering a four-mile stretch of coastal waters.  Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board established that in total the spill cost approximately $6 million (equivalent to roughly $35 million in 2019) in damage and clean-up efforts and resulted in the deaths of over 92 million marine organisms [2].

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion washing up on Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (2010) by Jereme Phillips

Like many man-made environmental disasters, the Colocotroni spill is remembered today as a freak accident aggravated by human error; an exception rather than the rule of oceanic commerce.  It would be more appropriate, however, to locate in this incident something emblematic about maritime trade in the Anthropocene; the proposed geological epoch in which human activity has emerged as a “geophysical force on a planetary scale” [3].  Indeed, that it was petroleum—the cornerstone resource of the industrialized world—washing over the beaches and forests of a Caribbean island, ground zero for European imperial expansion, alerts us to the intersecting legacies of colonialism, capitalism, and ecological destruction underpinning Michalopaulos’s actions.  To label the Colocotroni spill as a mere externality, then, would be to ignore the ways in which the indiscriminate dumping of cargo into the sea has historically been employed in the service of modern political and economic regimes.  Tempting as it may be to attribute the disaster in Bahía Sucia to a simple miscalculation made in a moment of panic, we ought instead to identify in Michalopaulos’s decision to jettison the ship’s crude oil stores a specific, historically situated strategy of Anthropocene colonialism [4].

One of the major contributions of social scientists and humanists working in waste studies has been their recognition that the things we throw away say as much about who we are as the things we preserve [5].  This insight invites us to study the flotsam and jetsam cast off ships like the Colocotroni not as unfortunate byproducts of maritime trade but as tools enabling capital accumulation and colonial expansion.  Given how voluminous marine debris has become in the world’s oceans, a new approach that takes flotsam and jetsam more seriously as material actors is surely needed.  Cargo dumped from seafaring vessels—both intentionally and unintentionally—has in fact become so common that it now amounts to a stratigraphically legible form of human activity.  While industrial manufacturing, nuclear testing, and factory farming have become the de facto symbols of the Anthropocene, numerous geologists, paleontologists, and environmental historians have stressed the importance of commercial shipping (and ballast shipping in particular) in producing the stratigraphic signature of this human age [6].  In addition to the lifeforms jettisoned by ballast tanks, the plastic, metallic, and organic flotsam and jetsam routinely cast off cargo ships, cruise liners, and sailboats are now visible in the fossil record in and around busy ports and heavily trafficked shipping lanes throughout the world.

Jonah Cast into the Sea (17th Century) by Dominicus Custos

Flotsam, jetsam, and lagan have existed for as long as people have been sailing.  Before the practice appeared in the stratigraphic record, accounts of sailors dumping cargo in order to save ships in distress or in danger of sinking appear in the written record dating back to the Book of Jonah.  It is within the lexicon of colonialism, though, that these concepts take on their modern character.  Heightened interest in these terms was due in large part to the massive expansion of commercial shipping between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, when the extraction and transportation of resources from colonial outposts back to Europe increased exponentially.  As more and more ships began transporting commodities to and from Europe’s colonies, there was a corresponding increase in shipwrecks, attacks, and other accidents, filling the Caribbean with commodities, raw materials, and trash lost from these vessels and necessitating clearer parameters regarding how to define these objects and to whom they belonged.  Unsurprisingly, then, the Oxford English Dictionary dates the first recorded use of “jetsam” to 1491, on the eve of American colonization, while “flotsam and jetsam” first appear alongside one another in The Interpreter (1607), John Cowell’s early law dictionary [7].  Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, flotsam and jetsam appeared frequently in legal treatises, dictionaries, and pamphlets, emerging as concepts of immense social consequence within contemporary debates on property, ownership, and appropriation that would support the advancement of colonialism.

Implicitly included in these debates on property were the enslaved Africans whose bodies occupied a position as prime movers of the colonial economy.  Throughout the nearly four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade, the millions of men, women, and children subjected to the horrors of the Middle Passage were as expendable as any other commodity.  This became increasingly true at the turn of the eighteenth century when a “pricing revolution” in the marine insurance markets resulted in increasingly widespread use of insurance underwriters on commercial voyages [8].  Whereas flotsam and jetsam had long symbolized outright losses for stakeholders, lost cargo that had been properly insured could now be written off, leaving sailors more inclined to part with their commodities—human beings notwithstanding—if circumstances required.

Frontispiece of The Interpreter (1607) by John Cowell

When it comes to the jettison of insured cargo, there is no more shocking case than the events that unfolded aboard the slave ship Zong some two hundred years prior to the Colocotroni’s spill in Bahía Sucia.  The Zong, another cargo ship—this one transporting 442 enslaved Africans—was en route to Jamaica from Accra (in what is now Ghana) when it mistakenly overshot its destination, adding nearly two weeks to the voyage.  Overcrowded and running low on drinking water, the crew convened and determined that “part of the slaves should be destroyed to save the rest” [9].  Beginning on the night of November 29, 1781, the ship’s captain, Luke Collingwood, ordered the crew to jettison a total of 132 men, women, and children over the course of two weeks, while an additional 10 jumped overboard in an act of courageous defiance.  Having insured the slaves for £30 each, the crew claimed to have determined that the best option was to ensure that the majority of the slaves onboard made it to market by “destroy[ing]” all but whom their rations could support, and then filing insurance claims on those losses.  However, dating back to the abolitionist Granville Sharp, critics of the Zong massacre have noted that the ship may in fact have had enough water to make it to port, leading to speculation that the crew simply jettisoned the sick and dying because their deaths on board would not be covered by the voyage’s insurance policy.  The massacre, then, was carried out, according to Sharp, in an effort to “throw the loss upon the insurers, as in the case of Jetsam” [10].  A well-publicized court case followed, but at stake in the case was only the validity of the insurance claims made by the ship’s owners.  The murdered were, as Christina Sharpe has noted, merely committed to the official historical record as lost property—as jetsam [11].

“The Slave Ship” (1840) by J. M. W. Turner

In her reading of “The Slave Ship,” J. M. W. Turner’s painting inspired by the Zong massacre, Sharpe notes that Turner’s decision to leave the ship unnamed “refuses to collapse a singularity into a ship named the Zong; that is, Turner’s unnamed ship stands in for the entire enterprise” [12].  The generic quality of the painting Sharpe identifies is important in the context of this piece, for while the Zong is often invoked as a disturbing outlier, the jettison of enslaved passengers was standard operating procedure in the transatlantic slave trade.  Like the Colocotroni, the massacre that took place aboard the Zong was no mere accident, nor was it simply the act of a psychopathic crew.  Rather, both events present us with instances of the same deliberate strategy of the colonial economy; in each case, a manufactured loss that ultimately engendered a profitable return.

Separated by two centuries, the incidents that occurred aboard the Colocotroni and the Zong might appear unrelated if not for their shared production of oceanic waste in the form of the petroleum and human cargo jettisoned from their respective holds.  It is possible to imagine the sea floor along the heavily trafficked shipping routes of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea littered with a combination of human and nonhuman remains jettisoned from the countless slave brigs, container ships, and oil tankers that have passed through those waters.  That this emblematic form of human activity in the Anthropocene was also employed as a deliberate strategy of the transatlantic slave trade calls to mind the notion of a “Plantationocene” popularized by Anna Tsing and Donna Haraway; a term used to highlight the radical transformation of land into “extractive and enclosed” plantations through the use of “slave labor and other forms of exploited, alienated, and usually spatially transported labor” [13].  The pairing, moreover, affirms Kathryn Yusoff’s contention that the onset of the Anthropocene cannot be distinguished from the institution of slavery.  Yusoff focuses on the “grammars” of extraction that enable industries like slavery and surface mining–and colonialism and geology more generally–but these entwined logics also remained in place when it came to disposing of the commodities produced by these systems [14].  The intersecting histories of environmental degradation and racial violence that have come into focus in the work of environmental justice scholars and activists come together yet again when we consider how, why, and under what conditions flotsam and jetsam are produced; when we interrogate what or who is expendable within the extractive logics of the Anthropocene.

Notes

[1] Philip D. Morgan, “The Caribbean Islands in Atlantic Context, circa 1500-1800.”  The Global Eighteenth Century.  Ed. Felicity Nussbaum.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.  57.

 [2] Commonwealth of Puerto Rico vs. The SS Zoe Colocotroni, 456 F. 1327 (District of Puerto Rico 1978).

 [3] Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology:  For a Logic of Future Coexistence.  New York:  Columbia University Press, 2016.  20.

 [4] My use of “strategy” here is borrowed from Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things:  A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2017.

[5] See Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives:  Modernity and its Outcasts.  Cambridge:  Polity, 2004; Vittoria di Palma, Wasteland:  A History.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2015; Sophie Gee, Making Waste:  Leftovers in the Eighteenth-Century Imagination.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2010; William Viney, Waste:  A Philosophy of Things.  London:  Bloomsbury, 2004; Traci Brynne Voyles, Wastelanding:  Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

[6] For a discussion of the relationship between commercial shipping and the onset of the Anthropocene, see J. R. McNeill and Peter Engelke, The Great Acceleration:  An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2016; N. Neeman, J. A. Servis, and E. Naro-Maciel, “Conservation Issues:  Oceanic Systems.”  Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene.  Vol. 2.  Ed. Dominick A. DellaSala and Michael I. Goldstein.  Amsterdam:  Elsevier, 2017.  193-200; James Syvitski, Jan Zalasiewicz, and Colin P. Summerhayes, “Changes to Holocene/Anthropocene Patterns of Sedimentation from Terrestrial to Marine.”  The Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit:  A Guide to the Scientific Evidence and Current Debate.  Ed. Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N. Waters, Mark Williams, and Colin Summerhayes.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2019.  107.

 [7] “flotsam, n.”  OED Online.  March 2019.  Oxford University Press.  http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/view/Entry/71946?redirectedFrom=flotsam (accessed March 28, 2019); “jetsam, n.”  OED Online.  March 2019.  Oxford University Press.  http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/view/Entry/101177?redirectedFrom=jetsam (accessed March 28, 2019).

 [8] See A. B. Leonard, “The Pricing Revolution in Marine Insurance,” working paper presented to the Economic History Association, Sept. 2012, http://eh.net.eha.system/files/Leonard.pdf (accessed 3 June 2019).

 [9] Testimony of James Kelsall, National Maritime Museum (NMM) REC/19 (formerly MS 66/069); quoted in Andrew Lewis, “Martin Dockray and the Zong: a Tribute in the Form of a Chronology.”  Journal of Legal History 28.3 (2007):  364.

 [10] Granville Sharp, Memoirs of Granville Sharp.  Ed. Prince Hoare.  London:  Colburn, 1820.  Appendix viii.

 [11] Christina Sharpe, In the Wake:  On Blackness and Being.  Durham:  Duke University Press, 2015.

[12] Ibid.

 [13] Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitolocene, Plantationocene, Cthulucene:  Making Kin.”  Environmental Humanities 6 (2015):  162.

[14] Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes Or None.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

She-Pirates: Early Eighteenth-Century Fantasy and Reality

John Massey Wright, 1777–1866, British. Pirates (undated). Watercolor with graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

In “The Tryals of Captain John Rackam and Other Pirates” published in 1721, witnesses have testified that when the she-pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny “saw any Vessel, gave Chase, or Attacked, they wore Men’s Cloaths; and, at other Times, they wore Women’s Cloaths” (28).  While this testimony proves that both female criminals were crossdressing on board the pirate sloop, it reveals an interesting characteristic that marked these two women seafarers different from their female cohort in the early eighteenth century:  they were not interested in concealing their feminine identity at all.  If this is true, one cannot help but wonder why Mary Read and Anne Bonny would even consider crossdressing when they had the freedom to choose what they would wear in the first place.  Through analyzing the trial record of the said she-pirates and Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, I argue that the crossdressing she-pirate was not just a literary fantasy but a possible identity that women could choose to adopt because of the unique social understanding of identity in early eighteenth-century society.

To figure out why Mary Read and Anne Bonny would want to cross-dress as pirates, we should begin by knowing that identity was not considered as “naturally” gendered in the early eighteenth century.  Therefore, the she-pirates’ crossdressing might not seem as uncommon an act as it is today.  According to Dror Wahrman, “[a]lthough expectations of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ were generally well defined, contemporaries did not perceive them as necessarily pinning down each and every individual” (40).  That is to say, “delineations of maleness and femaleness [. . .] are perceptual and relational rather than natural or self-generated” (Dugaw “Female Sailors Bold” 44).  In early eighteenth-century society, a biological male could be delicate and sentimental while a biological female did not have to be maternal and caring.  These seemingly “unnatural” identities would be met “with resignation, tolerance, or sometimes even appreciation” (Wahrman 40).  From this perspective, the she-pirates’ crossdressing should not be regarded as a serious transgression because they lived in a society that allowed more freedom in terms of gender and identity.  Although they would be expected to appear more feminine, femininity was by no means the only quality they could use to present themselves.

Yet Mary Read and Anne Bonny’s crossdressing denotes more than gender.  Indeed, the clothes they wore shaped the role they were playing.  As a letter in a 1711 issue of the Spectator notes, “People dress themselves in what they have a Mind to be, and not what they are fit for” (Addison and Steele 45).  Although the author was referring to his experience going to a masquerade, Dianne Dugaw reminds us that the eighteenth century was a period “in which pervasive metaphors of masquerading conditioned the very terms in which people thought and behaved” (Warrior Women 132).  Adopting a different identity was not a privilege for one attending masquerades, acting on the stage, or appearing in literary works—people would don on a different persona even in their daily lives by wearing different clothes.  This prompted Maximillian E. Novak to call the period “The Age of Disguise” (7), for one’s clothes, as Terry Castle indicates, “spoke symbolically of the human being beneath its folds” (55).  Early eighteenth-century society is unique for its belief that clothes are used “to make identity” (Wahrman 178, italics original).  Like going to a masquerade, a contemporary could alter their appearance and begin performing the role that their clothes designated.  There existed the possibility for one to have multiple identities instead of just one fixed persona.  This cultural belief thus provides the ground for women to wear a pirate’s outfit and begin acting as one.

Although the pirate identity was an option for women in the early eighteenth century, the pirate community was, unsurprisingly, not particularly friendly to women.  Captain Bartho Roberts, who was active at the beginning of the eighteenth century, clearly states in his often-quoted pirate code that “[n]o boy or woman [is] to be allowed amongst them [the pirates]” (Johnson 183).  On speculating why women would cross-dress to be soldiers in contemporary ballads, Dugaw also notes that if a single woman is undisguised in the predominantly male environment, she “was subject to harassment and violence” (Dugaw, Warrior Women 130).

Furthermore, Frederick Burwick and Manushag N. Powell have noted that pirates “largely regarded women or indeed any sexual attachments at sea as a perilous distraction” (102); therefore, they avoided having them on board as much as they could.  While Marcus Rediker believes that Captain Roberts was “more straitlaced than most pirate captains” (9), it should be evident that the pirate profession was predominantly masculine and potentially dangerous to women.  Therefore, besides trying to perform the role of a pirate, another possible and practical reason for Mary Read and Anne Bonny to disguise themselves was that crossdressing would carve out a safe space for them to blend in the community that was predominantly masculine.

If we examine the descriptions of the she-pirates in the trial record, we can recognize that crossdressing certainly enabled Mary Read and Anne Bonny to mingle with the masculine pirate community.  According to a captive on the sloop, Mary Read and Ann Bonny “wore Mens Jackets, and long Trouzers, and Handkerchiefs tied about their Heads; and each of them had a Machet and Pistol in their Hands” (“The Tryals” 27).  Their outfits were obviously masculine, and the weapons in their hands enhanced their image as aggressive outlaws.  Additionally, other witnesses also reported that they have heard the she-pirates cursing and swearing, which further distanced them from the delicate feminine identity.  The testimony thus illustrates Dugaw’s observation that a woman disguised as a man “could move about the same world with safety and freedom” (Warrior Women 130).  As the trial record indicates, the female-pirates were “hand[ing] Gun-powder to the Men” and “very ready and willing to do any Thing on Board” (“The Tryals” 28).  While dressing up as pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny were clearly not distractions to the crew but part of the crew that made pirating possible.  They were not particularly different from the rest of the crew.

A General History adds more to the function of crossdressing for the she-pirates by demonstrating that each has successfully dealt with hardships in their lives through crossdressing.  Dugaw suggests that two of the common reasons women would cross-dress in contemporary ballads were pursuing “true love” and “breaking out of custodial confinement” (Warrior Women 130, 135).  Johnson’s account shows much reminiscence of these reasons.  His version of Mary Read, as a newborn baby, was dressed and raised as a boy to pass for her deceased brother so that “the supposed grandmother should allow a crown a week for its maintenance” (Johnson 131).  Similarly, his Anne Bonny, being an illegitimate child, had to be “put into breeches as a boy” before her biological father could take her home to live with him (Johnson 139).  After failing to divorce her husband, Anne Bonny “consented to elope with him [Calico Rackam], and go to sea with Rackam in man’s clothes” (Johnson 140).  With these episodes of the she-pirates’ early lives, A General History further supports the idea that gender identity can be constructed in these ways during the period.

While Johnson’s narrative successfully adds spice to the story, the dramatic depiction inevitably makes the account seem more fanciful than real.  As David Cordingly indicates, a reason that made Mary Read and Anne Bonny so popular is that they “were the only women pirates of the great age of piracy that we know anything about” (59).  However, besides a few brief accounts, our knowledge of them mainly comes from “The Tryals” and A General History.  While most scholars would deem the trial record somewhat credible, there are concerns about Johnson’s work, for its content cannot be cross-checked and the author is still somewhat of a mystery.  A comparison of the two could also reveal gaps in the history.

Indeed, one telling difference is that A General History seems to suggest that a cross-dressed identity only works for a specific occasion, which is conventional in contemporary literary depictions of women crossdressers.  As Dugaw notes, disguised heroines in ballads “do not remain at sea or in camp,” for they “almost always bring about the disclosure of the disguise and a ‘return’ to ‘normal’” (Warrior Women 155).  Thus, in Johnson’s account, we can find that by crossdressing Mary Read lets the comrade she loves “discover her sex,” and she is immediately recognized by him as “a mistress solely to himself” and a woman he would court “for a wife” (Johnson 132).  As soon as the war is over, the two “bought woman’s apparel for her, [. . .] and were publicly married” (Johnson 132).  When she reveals her feminine identity, she abandons the borrowed identity for good.  While it is true that Mary Read crossed-dresses as a soldier later in the narrative, it happens after her husband dies, and she joins a different regiment.  She could not resume her previous persona.

It is also interesting to note that the crossdressing patterns for Mary Read and Anne Bonny are highly similar and formulaic in A General History.  They were both illegitimate baby girls who were raised as little boys.  As they grew up, they resumed their feminine identities to get married.  Upon facing a critical challenge in life, both cross-dressed again to become pirates who eventually pleaded after being sentenced to die.  An identity is never recycled—at least not in the same context.  Johnson’s account thus seems to be following the contemporary literary convention that favored the “return” of the crossdressers, which seems to imply that a she-pirate would eventually return to “normal.”

However, this “return” motif is nowhere to be found in the trial records.  As the witnesses clearly stated, Mary Read and Anne Bonny were able to don and shed their pirate identities in order to suit their needs.  When they were performing their pirate duties, they wore men’s clothes; when they were off duty, they had the option of wearing women’s clothes.  This not only reflects the ideas that the pirate as an identity can be borrowed by changing clothing but also demonstrates that it is an identity that women could assume and resume without creating much fuss.  The fact that Calico Rackham’s crew knew that Mary Read and Anne Bonny were women and continued to work with them as their comrade suggests that the she-pirate was not a mere literary construction—it was something like an acceptable persona for women in the early eighteenth century.  Mary Read and Anne Bonny pleaded their respective cases not because their pirate identity was incompatible with reality reality but because it was a practical decision that would prolong their lives.

It is true that we do not have many records of she-pirates and that the case of Mary Read and Anne Bonny does not represent the whole picture of she-pirates in the early eighteenth century.  Yet the fact that they were rarely mentioned does not mean that they were not an option.  As both “The Tryals” and A General History demonstrate, women could cross-dress to present and perform different identities.  “The Age of Disguise” thus allowed women like Mary Read and Anne Bonny the freedom to become pirates not only in the realm of imagination but also on board Calico Rackam’s pirate sloop.  Thus, she-pirates should not be regarded as a female fantasy—at least not in the early eighteenth century when Mary Read and Anne Bonny were freely expressing themselves while sailing under the black flag.

Works Cited

Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele.  The Spectator.  Edited by Gregory Smith.  J. M. Dent, 1907.  Hathi Trust, hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015050175952.

Burwick, Frederick, and Manushag N. Powell.  British Pirates in Print and Performance.  Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Castle, Terry.  Masquerade and Civilization:  The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction.  Stanford:  Stanford UP, 1986.

Cordingly, David.  Under the Black Flag:  The Romance and the Reality of Life among the Pirates.  New York:  Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Dugaw, Dianne.  “Female Sailors Bold:  Transvestite Heroines and the Markers of Gender and Class.”  Iron Men, Wooden Women:  Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700- 1920.  Ed. Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.  34-54.

—.  Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850.  Chicago:  U of Chicago P, 1996.

Johnson, Charles.  A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates.  Ed. by Arthur L. Hayward, 1926.  New York:  Routledge, 1955.

Novak, Maximillian E.  “Introduction.”  English Literature in the Age of Disguise.  Ed. Maximillian E. Novak.  Berkeley:  U of California P, 1977.  1-14.

Rediker, Marcus.  “Liberty beneath the Jolly Roger:  The Lives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Pirates.”  Iron Men, Wooden Women:  Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700- 1920.  Ed.  Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.  1- 33.

“The Tryals of Captain John Rackam, and Other Pirates (1721).”  British Piracy in the Golden Age:  History and Interpretation, 1660-1730.  Ed. Joel H. Baer.  Vol. 3.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2007.  1-66.

Wahrman, Dror.  The Making of the Modern Self.  New Haven:  Yale UP, 2004.

“No less than High Treason”: Libel and Sensationalism in the Careers of Jacobite Periodicalists George Flint and Isaac Dalton

Unknown artist after Thomas Malton the Younger, 1748–1804, British. Newgate (1799). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

The early eighteenth-century British press was a hotbed for propaganda wars:  in the midst of the Succession Crisis, both Whig and Tory writers in London kept their fingers on the pulse of foreign affairs, war, and national politics.  Renowned writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele published on local goings-on, religion, and literature in their notably Whig periodicals, The Spectator and The Tatler.  Henry Fielding satirized Jacobites after the Rebellion of 1745 in The Jacobite’s Journal.  Though far less popular, the pro-Tory and pro-Jacobite press was booming, as well.  One pair of British periodicalists that quietly rose to notoriety was duo George Flint and Isaac Dalton, who published a series of treasonous Jacobite journals from 1715 to 1717.  Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick ran from 1715 to 1716 and landed Flint, its author, in Newgate Prison after he was arrested in July, 1716 for seditious libel.  He continued to write and have his periodicals published, though, and produced Robin’s Last Shift in 1716, which became The Shift Shifted later that year, and Shift’s Last Shift in 1717 as it attempted to outrun further government censorship.  Dalton, his printer, was arrested and imprisoned four separate times for offences to the crown.  Though their individual timelines are fascinating by definition, it is also worth investigating Flint and Dalton’s popularity and skill as periodicalists.  After the first arrests, Flint began to keep a log of their prison experiences, as well as the subsequent involvement and arrests of their family members, which proved quite popular with readers.  Through their persistence and command of pathos, Dalton and Flint’s periodicals provided both strength and exposure to the Jacobite movement in a time of unmatched government suppression.

Flint first published Weekly Remarks on December 3, 1715—just months after the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland and northern England, and only days before the Pretender himself would land on Scottish soil.  For years, tensions had been brewing between the Whigs, who supported the Hanoverian ascendancy to the British throne, and the Jacobites, who supported the Stuart line of succession and were planning to take immediate action.  With James II still in France, the Earl of Mar called a war meeting in Braemar, Scotland, to discuss plans for the rebellion.  In the fall of 1715, the Jacobites failed to capture Edinburgh Castle, but were successful in taking Inverness, Castle Gordon, Dundee, and Perth—“virtually the whole of Scotland” (Sinclair-Stevenson 96).  However, both the Scottish and English Jacobite forces failed to make an impact against the government armies in October when they fell in both the battles of Sheriffmuir and of Preston.  Shortly after, James sailed from France to Scotland; the December 24 edition of Weekly Remarks reports “this Day or Two, That the Pretender is Landed,” and that a number of Londoners were heard singing Jacobite ballads in the streets (Weekly Remarks, 4: 23-24).  Not long after arriving, however, James escaped from Scotland before the government began to severely persecute the Jacobites.

In his introduction to the first installment of Weekly Remarks, Flint claims the publication would be the source of “a pretty clear and impartial Judgement” (Weekly Remarks, 1: 1).  Each Saturday, the journal printed the news of a number of countries (like Spain, Italy, Germany, and Great Britain) and paired entries with a “Remarks” section, in which the author editorialized on that week’s foreign affairs.  For this Flint was arrested and tried in the summer of 1716:  the Old Bailey criminal court record states he “confess’d he was concern’d in writing the said Libel with another Person, which was to be of a different Nature from any yet publish’d:  That the Prisoner was seen to write some Part of the said Paper.  That it came from his own Hands to the Press.  And that he had own’d to my Lord Townshend and others, he wrote it for his Bread” (“Trial of George Flint”).  Though he had been arrested and imprisoned earlier that year for printing Robin’s Last Shift,I Dalton was again indicted and imprisoned alongside Flint; he was found guilty of cursing King George and attempting to pay prison guards to drink to the Pretender’s health.  He was also charged with seditious libel for printing Weekly Remarks, but “the Evidence failing in fixing that particularly, for which he was cried, upon the Prisoner, he was acquitted” (“Trial of Isaac Dalton” July, 1716).

Dalton would be found guilty of two more crimes related to his Jacobitical printing activities:  in November of 1716, he was charged with seditious libel for printing The Shift Shifted.  In May of 1717, he was again found guilty of libel—this time for printing a pamphlet (titled “Advise to the Freeholders of England”) a number of years previous to his work with Flint.II  This resulted in two additional imprisonments to be served following his July sentence of one year at Newgate, as well as fines to be paid and a day spent in the pillory.  In the article “Liberty and Libel:  Government and the Press during the Succession Crisis in Britain, 1712-1716,” P. B. J. Hyland describes this punishment as “a symbol of the ministry’s triumph, and perhaps to avenge its earlier humiliation” (Hyland 881).  But the Weekly Remarks would not be put down so quietly, no matter the efforts the government took to silence Flint and Dalton.  Through their own writing (before that privilege was taken away) and the interference run by family members, they continued to publish their periodicals, condemning the treatment of prisoners at Newgate and the overall actions of the government with a renewed passion.  One excerpt from the August 18, 1716, edition of The Shift Shifted describes Flint’s imprisonment as unthinkable and cruel.  As they starved and endured overly cramped quarters, the inmates were punished for attempting to share their rations with one another.  Flint himself “contracted another cruel Sickness,” and his wife was soon also sent to prison for helping publish The Shift Shifted (The Shift Shifted, 16:94).  The account, a dramatic exercise in pity and shock, reads,

“Yet his Wife for endeavouring to help her Husband, (which most think to be a Wive’s Duty) and in a way which she could not think unlawful, is also close imprison’d, and cannot be let out upon Bail, tho’ the Husband (beside the Bail) offers to take upon himself whatsoever his Wife can be charg’d with.  Now one would think her Crime could be no less than High Treason, and at the same time it is alledged to be no more than Ordering the Carriage of a few News-Papers.”  (The Shift Shifted, 16:94)

Neither man was stranger to this kind of rhetorical appeal.  In remarking on the Battle of Sheriffmuir in the December 3, 1715, edition of Weekly Remarks, Flint describes the horrors seen by the Jacobite soldiers on the battlefield:  they stood “like Motionless Statues, seeing their Friends cut to pieces by one third of their Number” (Weekly Remarks 1:5).  But perhaps the most provocative account Dalton and Flint provide is another entry in the August 18 edition of The Shift Shifted, following Dalton’s July arrest.  In an sensationally dramatized fashion, it details the subsequent arrest of Dalton’s sister, Mary, for continuing to print the treasonous periodicals after Flint and Dalton were arrested:

To do Good and Suffer Evil, is to act a Royal Part; and therefore I am not a little pleas’d that it is faln to my Share, to undergo so much Evil for endeavouring to do good to my Country … However, to imprison a Man for a Fancy, tho’ he be thereby ruin’d, we wave that as a Trifle, a Nothing to Moloch.  But to take his young Maiden Sister only for happening to receive a little Money for him; for this, I say, to cram her into a Messenger’s, and thence bring her directly to the Bar, all overwhelm’d with Tears and Confusion, without a Moment’s Preparation for her Tryal, and there after a Fine of 30 Marks, appoint the beautiful young modest Maiden to remain confin’d for a Twelvemonth in a loathsome Gaol, conversing with the Strums of Newgate.  Suppose she have innocently assisted her Brother in his Distress, does that (call it a crime) come up to this Punishment?  Was ever such a Virgin ever so unmercifully expos’d for such a Crime.”  (The Shift Shifted, 16:94)

As McDowell asserts in The Women of Grub Street:  Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace 1678-1730, Dalton was clearly crafting his words in an entirely gendered way to gain sympathy from the public for his and his sister’s situation:  “Isaac Dalton represented [Mary] as a sentimental heroine in the merciless clutches of an oppressive ministry … as a genteel young lady” who ultimately “became a martyr to the government” (McDowell 108-109).  And it worked.  Randall McGowen notes that the pillory “inflicted humiliation and brought notoriety to an offender, at least as much as physical suffering” (McGowen 123).  But the crowd that assembled the day Dalton was pilloried at Newgate did not curse at him or throw rotten tomatoes his way; they cheered him on and collected money for him to pay his fines instead (Hyland 881-882).

Flint and Dalton’s powerful publications accomplished what the English government wanted to avoid at all costs.  As Kathleen Wilson argues in “Inventing Revolution:  1688 and Eighteenth-Century Popular Politics,” they and other Jacobite journalists had become successful critics of Whig ideology, penning vivid editorials on the party’s corruption and abuse of power.  They believed “the government was a trust, based on popular consent, in which people of all ranks had residual rights separate from those of their representatives.  These included the rights to a free press, to lawful assembly, and to canvass public affairs and protest against bad governments and bad laws” (Wilson 372).  When those rights were infringed upon, Flint and Dalton were quick to remark on it in their writing, and their subsequent arrests only bolstered the frenzied reports featured in their periodicals.  They had amassed a following—both among fellow Jacobites, and among the pro-government Whig newspapers that continuously reported on their misdeeds and run-ins with the law.  What started out as an underground effort to undermine the politics of their enemies quickly became an intense and public battle that gave the Jacobite movement new exposure in London.  In using descriptive storytelling, interrogating moral and ethical norms, and appealing to the sympathies of their audience, Flint and Dalton brought the Jacobite movement to the forefront of English politics by changing the government’s own game.

Notes

I.  See both the March 17 and 31, 1716 editions of James Read’s The Weekly Journal, Or, British Gazetteer, Being the Freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick for briefs on Dalton’s original arrest.

II.  See both the November, 1716 and May, 1717 trials of Isaac Dalton on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online.

Works Cited

Flint, George.  “Great Britain.”  The Shift Shifted, Or, Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick.  August 18, 1716.

—.  “Great Britain.”  Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick.  December 24, 1715.

—.  “Introduction.”  Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick.  December 3, 1715.

Hyland, P. B. J. “Liberty and Libel:  Government and the Press during the Succession Crisis in Britain, 1712-1716.”  The English Historical Review 101.401 (1986):  863-888.  JSTOR.

McDowell, Paula.  “‘To Run Oneself Into Danger’:  Women and the Politics of Opposition in the London Book Trade.”  The Women of Grub Street:  Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace 1678-1730.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1998.  1-120.

McGowan, Randall.  “From Pillory to Gallows:  The Punishment of Forgery in the Age of the Financial Revolution.”  Past & Present 165 (1999):  107-140.  JSTOR.

Read, James. “Great Britain.”  The Weekly Journal, Or, British Gazetteer, Being the Freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick.  March 17, 1716.

—.  “Great Britain.”  The Weekly Journal, Or, British Gazetteer, Being the Freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick.  March 31, 1716.

Sinclair-Stevenson, Christopher.  Inglorious Rebellion:  The Jacobite Risings of 1708, 1715, and 1719.  New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1971.

“Trial of George Flint, July 1716 (t17160712-5).” Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed May 1, 2019.  https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“Trial of Isaac Dalton, July 1716 (t17160712-4).”  Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed May 1, 2019. https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“Trial of Isaac Dalton, November 1716 (t17161105-81).”  Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed 1 May, 2019.  https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“Trial of Isaac Dalton, May 1717, (t17170501-54).”  Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed May 1, 2019. https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“My Poor Nerves”: Women of a Certain Age on the Page

Portrait of a Lady (1768), John Russell, 1745–1806, British. Oil on Canvas. Yale Center for British Art, Bequest of John N. and Dorothy C. Estabrook.

When Mrs. Bennet complains of her “poor nerves” and her husband sardonically replies that he is long acquainted with them, we as readers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are to laugh.  The laughter may die into an awkward chuckle when the reader is a 40ish-year-old woman and realizes that most likely Mrs. Bennet is as well.  While her daughters come of age and dance at balls and flirt with officers, Mrs. Bennet is perhaps experiencing perimenopause or menopause and the end of one stage of a woman’s life.

When women’s lives are divided into maid, mother, crone, it is easy to overlook the moment between early motherhood and old age.  How did (and how do) women deal with life in their forties when their children are entering that “most interesting” and “most trying” times of their lives while they themselves are in “the most dangerous”?  Are they objects of ridicule?  Paragons of wisdom?  Are they even visible at all?

Menopause in Early Modern England (and Now)

As a 43 -year-old woman, I am finding that perimenopause, like greatness, is something that one finds thrust upon you.  It is also something that people do not discuss much even in 2019.

When Deanna Raybourn pronounced herself a “crone” on Twitter and welcomed questions about her newly menopausal state, numerous women responded.  Here at last was someone opening up in a public way about what has been considered a private milestone and offering to give advice to others in the process.  It was an act of bravery and of generosity and a welcome opening for people to talk more publicly about their bodies.

Menopause was a rarely spoken and private subject in the eighteenth century as well.  In the late eighteenth century (that conduct book loving age), the “first popular guidebooks for the menopausal woman appeared, some of which were reportedly sold out in a few months” (Stolberg 412).  Laura Gowing finds that “[i]t is still hard to recover women’s knowledge and interpretations of the body” (10), and most discussions of menopause are to be found in medical journals but not in women’s diaries or letters.

Then, as now, menopause generally arrived at age 50 but a woman was not considered old until 60 when it was certain she could no longer conceive.  Menopause was called “the cessation of terms” or “flowers” or “courses” (Read 37).  As Gowing notes, “Much vernacular printed discussion of the female body was specifically aimed at helping women conceive.  Sexual difference was discussed not in abstract terms but as the basis for heterosexual sex and conception” (19).  This means that when women are no longer fertile, their bodies are no longer objects of medical interest.

However, some historians see menopause as a “socially induced set of symptoms” and suggest that “modern physicians may have created a problem of personal identity” (Crawford 25).  Women most likely experienced actual symptoms–medical records show complaints of “flashings”–but those symptoms were subsumed in general ideas of old age.  Michael Stolberg explains that “[a]round 1740, an anonymous English practitioner marketed his secret purgatives and uterine drops against the disorders ‘that most women labor under, when being between forty and fifty years’” (422).  With no medical cure for the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, some women relied on quack cures for help.  Even now in the twenty-first century no real relief exists and women are told to take herbal supplements, exercise, do yoga, and eat right.  Turning to doctors for symptom alleviation was and is a fruitless endeavor.

Mrs. Bennet

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have been married for 23 years (Austen 5) when the novel opens.  Even if she married at 25, she’d be 48 at the oldest.  Most likely she was married at a younger age–Mr. Bennet, “captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour,–that youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early in their marriage put an end to real affection for her” (152).  This implies a younger woman, perhaps in her teens.  If she married at 18, she is 41 at the novel’s open.

Austen tells us that the Bennets expected an heir for “many years after Lydia’s birth” (197), but if “marital fertility had frequently concluded by age 40” (Botelho 53), this explains the lack of a pregnancy even in a youngish woman.  “Reproduction was a public business and women’s bodies a public domain” (Botelho 57), and Mrs. Bennet, who is unable to produce an heir to end the entail, finds her body’s failure to be public indeed.  For women who have exchange value as marriagable virgins and use value as fertile wives, their value and their identities had to be in flux in the time between motherhood and grandparenthood.  As Patricia Crawford notes, “After her child bearing was over, a woman was no longer powerful and less feared” (32).  Mrs. Bennet simply becomes ridiculous.

Her public and ridiculous body becomes symbolic of her failures as a mother.  “The female body was a public affair, the target of official regulation, informal surveillance, and regular, intimate touch by women and men,” writes Laura Gowing (16).  After Lydia elopes with Wickham, the spectacle of Mrs. Bennet’s hysterical but non-sexual body replaces the spectacle of Lydia’s sexualized body in her home.  The family is afraid of Mrs. Bennet’s loud cries and talk with Hill, but Hill and the other servants would know the bodies of all the women in the household well.  Women’s bodies may be considered private but “most houses were built around shared space” (Gowing 23), and five menstruating daughters produced a lot of linen.  What is happening in Mrs. Bennet’s body and, by proxy, the public sexualization of Lydia’s body, has been old news with any of the women scrubbing sheets.

The focus of Pride and Prejudice is on young women’s bodies, on “the most trying age” and “most interesting time” of their lives.  Lois Banner quotes one woman’s description of menopause as “the dangerous age”:  “between 40 and 50” “‘we are all more or less mad’” (Banner 273).  The Bennet household is in a dangerous age–the daughters must be married before their father dies and the entail takes effect, and Mrs. Bennet feels this necessity both in a financial and biological sense.  There is no heir.  Time has run out.  “You do not know what I suffer” (4) and “nobody can tell what I suffer” (76), Mrs. Bennet tells her family.

She also practices old age.  “At our time of life”(6), she often says of herself and Mr. Bennet.  “It was so pleasant at her time of life to consign her single daughters to the care of their sister, that she might not be obliged to go into company more than she liked,” writes Austen (67).  She is trying on cronehood, but in true middle-age fashion, she cannot help but see herself as still young.  Mr. Bennet tells her she is as handsome as her daughters, and she does not deny it.  She “still loves a red coat in [her] heart” (21).  Despite these occasional forays into youth, she seems very aware that menopausal women should shift into being grandmothers which, with the entail, could illuminate her desperation to make five single daughters into five married mothers.

Film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice tend to portray Mrs. Bennet as an older woman even if the actress portraying her is in her 40s.  Allison Steadman was 49 when she played Mrs. Bennet in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice.  Brenda Blethyn was 59 in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice.  Sally Phillips is the closest in age to the novel version of Mrs. Bennet at 46 in the 2016 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (IMDB).  Movie shorthand for a mother of grown daughters is a woman in her 50s or 60s, which is how Mrs. Bennet is visually constructed.  The liminal age of the young women between parents and husbands that is the subject of the films is easily rendered visual:  the Bennet sisters are young and beautiful and capless.  The liminal age of perimenopause is invisible and elided.

Lady Susan

We often to look to Austen for the romcom pattern, for stories about young people growing up, learning about life, and finding love.  However, her middle-aged women are just as fascinating.  Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bates, Lady Catherine, Lady Russell–and Lady Susan.  In Lady Susan, Austen’s 1794 (?) novel, we see an almost middle-aged woman attempting to seduce a younger man who could be her daughter’s suitor.  Lady Susan is 35-years-old and a widow but not past childbearing age which makes her both marriageable and dangerous, for as Gowing explains, “Sexually experienced and past the age of child-bearing, imagined as both lustful and undesirable, their [middle-aged women’s] ventures into sexual talk, still less sexual acts, could scarcely be contemplated with equanimity” (22).

“I have seldom seen so lovely a woman as Lady Susan,” writes one character, “and from her appearance one would not suppose her more than five and twenty, though she must be in fact ten years older” (143).  Lady Susan flirts with Reginald, a young heir loved by her daughter, and he falls in love with her.  When his father hears of a potential marriage with Lady Susan, he writes a warning to Reginald, saying her age is a “material objection,” but her conduct is so egregious that “the difference of even twelve years becomes in comparison of small account” (152).  Lady Susan is fleeing a friend’s home after she seduced her friend’s husband, and she takes full advantage of her relatively free position as a widow to indulge her sexual desires.  She could be the cliche of the lusty widow but is drawn so well by Austen that the reader can’t help but fall in love with her as well.  Lady Susan is a complicated character, a villain as well as a likable protagonist.  Her age is made clear in the novel and is a factor within the plot.  It is interesting that Austen made a middle-aged women between husbands the main character of a novel in her juvenilia but did not again dwell so closely on older women in her later novels.  The adult Austen chose to write about women who were marketable.

Conclusion

As women now talk more about menopause and about the transitions of the 40s, perhaps we can extend those conversations to the middle-aged women on the pages of the novels we read and teach and study.  Instead of seeing these women as “old,” we need to recognize that they are in flux and, like their marriageable daughters, their identities are shifting.  This dangerous time can be just as interesting as the trying time.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  New York:  Norton, 1993.  Print.

—.  Lady SusanSanditon and Other Stories.  Ed. Peter Washington.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.  Print.

Banner, Lois.  In Full Flower:  Aging Women, Power, and Sexuality.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.  Print.

Botelho, Lynn.  “Old Age and Menopause in Rural Women of Early Modern Suffolk.”  Women and Ageing in British Society Since 1500.  Ed. Lynn Botelho and Pat Thane.  London:  Pearson, 2001.  43-65.  Print.

Crawford, Patricia.  Blood, Bodies, and Families in Early Modern England.  London:  Pearson, 2004.  Print.

Gowing, Laura.  Common Bodies:  Women, Touch, and Power in Seventeenth-Century England.  New Haven:  Yale UP, 2003.  Print.

Read, Sara.  Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England.  Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.  Print.

Shail, Andrew and Gillian Howle.  Menstruation:  A Cultural History.  Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.  Print.

Stolberg, Michael.  “A Woman’s Hell?:  Medical Perceptions of Menopause in Preindustrial Europe.”  Bulletin of the History of Medicine 73.3 (1999):  404-428.  Print.

 

A visual version of this paper is available here. 

The Director’s Reflections on Staging The Mysterious Mother

When Cynthia Roman, Curator of Prints at the Lewis Walpole Library asked me if I would be willing to stage Horace Walpole’s 1768 The Mysterious Mother as part of the year’s “Walpolooza” events, I hesitated at first. Like Walpole himself, who “did not think it would do for the stage,” I nonetheless realized that I too “wish to see it acted” [1].  For those who are not familiar with the play, the story opens with Edmund, Count of Narbonne, returning to his ancestral home from the crusades with his friend and fellow soldier Florian. Edmund was banished by his mother, presumably because he arranged to sleep with a lady’s maid, Beatrice, the night after his father’s death. Edmund has had no contact with his mother for sixteen years, though she has sent him money from the estate she has inherited (a breach of patrilineal protocol motivated by her late husband in his love for her). Edmund assumes that she is being manipulated by the priest of the adjacent abbey, Father Benedict, and his protégé Father Martin, but on his return, he finds her defiant, refusing to confess, yet tormented. She is convinced she has hallucinated her husband’s ghost when she first sees him. Edmund, stunned by his mother’s majestic demeanor in the midst of her distress, nonetheless hopes for a reconciliation through his newfound love for her young ward, Adeliza. The Countess misunderstands the proposed union, thinking that Florian loves Adeliza. Father Benedict begins to connect the guilty dots, seizes the moment for his vengeful triumph over the Countess, and hastily marries Adeliza to Edmund who, when they come to seek the Countess’s blessing, instead drive her to the horrified confession that Benedict has been trying to extract for years: that her sexual longing for her husband, who unexpectedly died before he could return to her bed, drove her to disguise herself as the maid her son Edmund was to sleep with that night and put herself in his bed. Edmund is unaware of the bedtrick, but the Countess knowingly has sex with her son. They conceive Adeliza and launch a lifetime of alienation and guilt. When the secret finally explodes in the revelation of a now-double incest plot, the Countess commits suicide with a dagger. Edmund, shattered, vows to return to the wars while Adeliza retreats to a convent.

Walpole had declared it “delicious entertainment for the closet,” but our task was to bring it out of the closet. The Mysterious Mother’s incestuous “secret sins” led both Walpole and friends to claim it was too “disgusting,” too “dreadful,” and altogether too much for the London stage. Yet Walpole made surreptitious efforts to stage it and printed multiple editions [2].  Private readings, including one organized by Frances Burney at court while she was Keeper of the Robes for Queen Charlotte, introduced small audiences to its “dreadful” charms, and the Rev. William Mason’s commentary angled for a stage-ready version, in which the Countess’s crime would become accidental so that she could deserve pity and forgiveness, in true Aristotelian fashion. Walpole rejected these suggestions as undermining his main point, the Countess’s deliberate decision and the weight of her ensuing guilt. Burney and Coleridge both proclaimed their disgust with play and playwright after reading it, but Burney’s Edwy and Elgiva owes something to it, while a less squeamish Shelley, inspired by Walpole, dove headlong into the gothic-incest nexus with The Cenci. My ambivalence about this tantalizing offer mirrored the ambivalence of the author and early readers: is this something that could be done in public? Was this, as Walpole feared, “a tragedy that can never appear on any stage?” Reader, we did it.

Hypertheatricality on a Budget 
As George Haggerty has noted in Queer Gothic, stage tech after Walpole became more hypertheatrical, especially in Lewis’s The Castle Spectre. We tried to produce the hypertheatricality the play evokes and helped to usher in using digital projections and animations. With the help of Alice Trent’s design, we unfolded Walpole’s tale in the valley between a shadowy gothic castle and a monastery, as fog rolled, thunder rumbled, and crows cawed. The 55-minute production, with all tech run out of Keynote, included 26 discrete animated slides with sound cues. The soundscape began with Ola Gjeilo’s 2012 “Ubi Caritas,” an homage to medieval choral textures. Other sound cues included short pieces of Gregorian chant, favoring those performed by Benedictine nuns and monks. The Countess entered to a child singing “Ave Maria.” A Greek orthodox boy’s choir layered over droning became our “chorus of orphans,” with their ghostly outlines floating in the foreground. A clap of thunder erupted from a dark screen, underscoring the Countess’s unraveling as the action transitioned to a garden with a blasted monument in act III. A final thunderclap and a screen that flickered against rain, then faded to black, closed the play. It was campy, dark, and effective.

This production was an elaborate staged reading, many months in the preparation but with less than three days to work together in person. The embodiment of the play was always, therefore, an “as if” proposition. To realized what we could of a production, we used the simplest of blocking that allowed actors to navigate the space with certainty while holding scripts in hand. We played in the Yale Center for British Art’s lecture hall, with its raked auditorium seating, a 33 x 16 stage, and fixed lighting. The auditorium’s side stairs allowed the actors to enter to the final strains of “Ubi Caritas.” We used the arc created by a fixed overhead spot to establish the playing area. The corners of the space were comparatively dark and served as retreats or hiding spaces for eavesdropping characters. The edge of the lit area formed a circumnavigational path for the tormented Countess. The monastics used it as well, adding serpentine, labyrinth-like patterns as they disgorged their plots to secure the Countess’s confession. With no back stage or wings, the cast took seats on the front row corresponding to the spaces of the castle and the monastery.

The final scene of The Mysterious Mother

Though the staging was fairly simplistic, there was nothing low-budget about the space and the costumes. The rich costumes, rented from various theatre companies in the area, were nearly fully realized versions of Lady Diana Beauclerk’s drawings, which lent the production a grandeur and gorgeousness beyond the scale of a staged reading. Their gilded details shone in the stark light and clean grey lines of the signature Louis Kahn concrete walls of the Center for British Art. Those walls played a leading role in the production and were forced into the part of visual straight man to the irreverent, haunting, yet campy production. Onto their smooth surface we projected a ruined castle among cliffs and roiling fog, then a ruined monument. Turning Kahn’s high modernism into grey castle walls felt wicked, and we contemplated the architect spinning in his grave as the projector forced the concrete monument to modernism to bear the image of the ruin and the emotional chaos of the fall of the house of Narbonne.

Incest, Camp, and Queerness
As I told the cast early on in our abbreviated process, the only way out of such a play is over the top. The deliberate shock, the “too horrid” subject of incest made the first players at the first private theatrical version of the play giddy. We came to sympathize with George Montagu’s house full of “schoolboys” (George Osborn, John Burgoyne, Capt. George Boscawen), who gleefully read and memorized parts of The Mysterious Mother in 1769. Jill Campbell has observed that Walpole’s use of incest in particular in both The Mysterious Mother and The Castle of Otranto is the displaced sign of queer desire. In our 21st-century performance, the play’s queerness energized moments of campy, panto over-iteration and exaggeration. The campiness of the gothic, with its exaggeration of horror, the in-joke of its material bed-trick, and its queerness avant la letter came out in our initial laughter, our campy gestural exaggerations, and the embodiment of the perverse passion at the center of the story. The young men strutted, Adeliza melted, and the priests gleefully rubbed their hands together in a pantomime of villainy. We ran the risk of laughter, our own and the audiences, while trying to use exaggeration to find the horror of the situation. It is was both fitting and an additional gift from the universe that of the rented costumes, Florian’s (Gilberto Saenz’s), had been made for a young Nathan Lane.

Asking a Blessing

Nunning Up 
In order to make the play performable in an hour, David Worrall had removed most of the theological and discursive monologues, but the presence of religious debates over agency, will, and guilt haunted our cut. The Countess’s refusal to submit to Catholic authority, in the form of her would-be confessor Benedict, defines the action of the play. Set in Narbonne, France, with its unfinished gothic cathedral, at some point immediately after the Reformation, the play is as much about the Reformation as it is about incest. The Countess’s majestic outline and her genuine psychological torment, which she refuses to mediate or absolve through religious confession, make her modern. She is Walpole’s attempt to “exhibit a character whose sincere penance was not degraded by superstitious bigotry,” a walking trope of defiance to clerical authority that also forced her to bear her own sins. Georgina Lock, in her widow’s weeds and with regal bearing, gave us a Countess who could defy Benedict but then implode under the weight of her guilt, folding in from the solar plexus, from the womb, as she contemplated the horror of her situation. Her majesty, wilting into near collapse, was the gestic signature of the erotic and religious crisis at hand. She dislocates guilt from a religious to a secular realm and bears her own sins. As a woman who refused to be sexually passive or religiously compliant with the Mother Church at the dawn of the Reformation, she defies the terms of both gender and piety in favor of a modernity that embodies the tension between spiritual and secular accounts of the human condition.

The nunnery and the abbey are familiar locations for transgressive figures. Convent porn is almost a cliché in the eighteenth century, with the monastery, especially after the Mad Monks of Medmenham, close behind. George Haggerty has more thoroughly mapped out the connection between “the heteronormativity of sexual violence and the patriarchal law of the father on which Catholicism depends” that leaves sexuality and religion “inextricably bound” in the English cultural imagination [3].  Knowledge becomes carnal knowledge; secret sins are both religious defiance and sexual perversity. Having two Yale Divinity graduates, one an Episcopal priest (the Rev. Justin Crisp) and the other a Roman Catholic theologian and performance studies scholar (Charles Gillespie) playing the evil priest-tormenters added a delicious frisson for those in the know, but they also brought their own reflections on Reformation history and the concept of confession to the performance. The Iago-like incommensurability of Gillespie’s Benedict and his determination to extract the Countess’s confession and to claim her as a confessing Catholic is fueled by the contest between a passing orthodox and an emerging secular age. Benedict’s fight for her soul and his parting words, “Who was the prophet now? Remember me!” signify for him the triumph of Papal authority over her defiance. Outside the circuit of heterosexuality, he finds a way to inseminate from the space of the seminary by other means.  What Stuart Curran has noted of The Cenci applies to The Mysterious Mother: “the paternal power in this play is almost mystical, a direct reflection of God’s authority and the Pope’s. A daughter’s rebellion, like an angel’s, opens an intolerable breach in the fixed hierarchy of nature, which tyranny or no, must be maintained” [4].  Walpole revels in the rupture, glorifying it in the Countess’s regal bearing and steadfast refusal to submit to the authority of the church, yet he also finds himself architecturally enthralled by the Catholic church and thematically drawn to themes of guilt, sin, and transgressions that will out.

 

Notes

  1. Horace Walpole to Montagu, April 15, 1768, Correspondence, 10.259.
  2. Mason to Horace Walpole, May 8, 1769, Correspondence, 28.9.
  3. George Haggerty, Queer Gothic (Chicago: U Illinois P, 2006), 64.
  4. Stuart Curran, Shelley’s Cenci: Scorpions Ringed with Fire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 67.

Abridging Walpole’s The Mysterious Mother

Having been the one who abridged Walpole’s five-act semi-Shakespearian play down to a c.45-50 minute running time for this staged reading, I was amazed at the underlying economy of Walpole’s dramatic writing. Those familiar with his Castle of Otranto will no doubt share a sense of that novel’s flat characterization but here his characters are expressive, singular, readily identifiable and distinguishable.  We were fortunate to have such good players for Benedict and Martin, bringing out the friars’ dedicated manipulation of a situation they had readily recognized for what it was and then deliberately utilized for their own ends.  In lots of ways, it was their show.  How brutally gentle Walpole’s anti-Catholic, anti-French, aims were delivered.