The Life Writing of Elizabeth Marsh, an Eighteenth-Century Global Woman

As I found it in vain to contend, I had a trunk opened, and they fixed the cloaths I was to put on, which were very new; but I wrapped up my head in a night cap…as I was told they did not intend to let me wear a hat. When I was ornamented, as they imagined, instead of being placed, as before, on my own mule, I was seated before Mr Crisp on his; and at the same time, one of the guards pulled off his hat and carried it away with him, which treatment amazed us extremely. But our astonishment increased when our fellow sufferers were made to dismount, and walk two and two, bareheaded, the sun being hotter than I had ever felt it.   

–Elizabeth Marsh on being prepared by her Moroccan captors to enter their country after being abducted on a ship in 1756.

An exhibit of Elizabeth Marsh materials at UCLA Library Special Collections, May 2018

The twentieth year of Elizabeth Marsh’s life can hardly be said to have been uneventful. In July 1756, while traveling alone to England, Marsh, an English woman, was captured by corsairs (pirates) off the coast of North Africa on her way to England, and taken by force to Barbary, now known as Morocco. There, she was nearly turned into the sexual slave of Sidi Muhammed, the acting sultan, but was saved by both her firm resistance and James Crisp, a fellow captive pretending to be her husband.

Close to two decades later, when she was nearly forty years old, she defied social custom by traveling alone again, this time as a wife (now married to Crisp in reality) and mother, on an overland journey by palanquin throughout East India. During this journey, which involved seeing many local sights as well as dancing, singing, and drinking tea with her company, she escaped abduction but kept a diary.

Marsh lived from 1735 to 1785. Born in Portsmouth, England she was conceived in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father was a ship’s carpenter and dockyard official for the Royal Navy. These bare details appear mundane at first, yet the cosmopolitan significance of these places in the eighteenth century and of her father’s naval career intimates the extraordinary richness that a fuller account reveals of this headstrong and independent woman’s life. Filled with severe shocks, pains, and turns of fortune, Marsh’s life was profoundly shaped by the dramatic changes taking place in the world at large in the eighteenth century, including those brought on by England’s global commerce and expansion, increased opportunities for travel, and economic mobility for the English, as well as different wars, including the Seven Years’ War and American War of Independence.

UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library’s Special Collections holds a bound manuscript volume of Marsh’s written accounts of the two noteworthy episodes in her life as a traveler, mentioned above. In addition to the stories they tell, the accounts are notable for their ethnographic details, and their view of eighteenth-century culture, including the role of women in this time period, as well as British imperialism and race relations. Material culture scholars might be interested in Marsh’s descriptions of Moroccan and Indian landscapes and gardens, architecture, interior décor, household objects, and food, in addition to the dress of native inhabitants.

Marsh also describes the different states of horror, melancholy, grief, joy, and boredom that accompanied her experiences, which in Morocco were especially turbulent, and in India reminiscent of the eighteenth-century social worlds depicted in the novels of Frances Burney and Jane Austen. Throughout, she records the physical experiences of extreme climates, including her acute thirst and fatigue when taken captive by Moroccans and forced to ride for hundreds of miles on a mule, and of being unable to lie on her sleeping mat in India because the ground was so hot.

As material documents, the manuscripts indicate the different processes involved in recording and creating the memories of Marsh’s experiences on paper and make them available for posterity. The two—Marsh’s Moroccan captivity memoir and her East Indian tour diary—were bound together by John Marsh, her brother, in red leather. A bookplate bears his name, and notes inserted by him introduce the memoir and the diary, placing them in the context of her life. The memoir appears to be written in John’s neat hand and the diary in Elizabeth’s own, which he explains was given to him by her daughter, Elizabeth.

Because there was no way for Marsh to keep a diary during her Moroccan captivity, she was compelled to record the experience several years later. The smoothing effects of temporal distance and a text already written can be detected in the memoir’s even and regular hand—obviously written with the convenience of a steady, dedicated writing surface and setting. At the same time, the narrative itself is smooth, unbroken by the unit of individual days that divide diary writing, and aware of its own narrative arc. Marsh eventually turned her memoir into a published narrative—as a way to make money after her husband’s business dealings foundered—that appeared anonymously in London in 1769 under the title The Female Captive.

The diary’s handwriting, less smooth and regular than the memoir’s, reveals the instability of the circumstances in which it was written as well as the immediacy of the impressions described. With each entry, knowledge of what will happen next, as well as the end of the journey, remains unknown. Marsh only knows how each day she describes ends. The same can be said of the reader’s own initial encounter with this and other archival material, as only acts of further research can provide the information needed to understand the greater context of Marsh’s diary and the events described, as well as the end of her story, which runs well beyond the pages of the diary.

She eventually died in 1785 in Calcutta of breast cancer at the age of forty-nine after undergoing a mastectomy without anesthesia a few months earlier. The extracted tumor was said by her uncle George Marsh to have weighed five pounds. In its very fragmentariness, the diary manuscript offers direct contact with the vital impulse that led Marsh to exert her own hand in shaping what she must have known were remarkable circumstances at the time—a woman traveling without her family in a remote country—by documenting them in writing. In doing so, she has left a precious record of her life as an eighteenth-century woman who inscribed her own way into the history of the modern, globalizing world.

This post originally appeared at the UCLA Library Special Collections Blog and is reposted with permission of the author.

Items on exhibit at UCLA Library Special Collections through May 2018:

1. Elizabeth Crisp (née Marsh). Journal of a Voyage by Sea from Calcutta to Madras, and of a Journal from there back to Dacca; Narrative of her Captivity in Barbary (1756). December 13, 1774-June 20, 1775. YRL Special Collections 170/604.

2. Thomas Pellow. The History of the Long Captivity and Adventures of Thomas Pellow, in South-Barbary. Written by Himself. London: R. Goadby, 1740? YRL Special Collections DT 308.P36h

Marsh was one of several thousands of European travelers abducted by Moroccan corsairs throughout the early modern period. Pellow’s account of his experience precedes Marsh’s. The title of his narrative suggests the popular influence of such fictional travel narratives as Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner (1719).

3. Linda Colley. The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History. Anchor Books: New York, 2007. College Lib. CT 788 M2187C65 2008

The life of Elizabeth Marsh was made more widely known over a decade ago by the publication of Linda Colley’s gripping biography, which was named one of the top ten books of 2007 by The New York Times. Her book contributes greatly to the understanding that the events in Marsh’s apparently inconsequential life were direct functions of the sweeping changes taking place in world history during her lifetime.

4. Eliza Bradley. An Authentic Narrative of the Shipwreck and Sufferings of Mrs. Eliza Bradley, the Wife of Capt. James Bradley, of Liverpool, Commander of the Ship Sally, Which was Wrecked on the Coast of Barbary, in June 1812. Written by Herself. Boston: James Walden, 1820. YRL Special Collections G 530.B72a 1820

Marsh’s experience as a female taken captive off the Moroccan coast is highly unusual. Bradley’s story of her captivity by Arabs, fifty-six years later, provides her with company as another narrative of female captivity (though there is no documentation of her existence in England, from which she alleges to be). Like Marsh, Bradley describes having her hat taken away by her captors, a situation that also left her extremely vulnerable. She reports “since my captivity, I had many times begged of my master that he would return me my bonnet, as the only means by which he could expect to preserve my life.”

5. Joseph Morgan. Complete History of Algiers. To which is prefixed, an epitome of the general history of Barbary, from the earliest times: interspersed with many curio. London: J. Bettenham, 1731 YRL Special Collections 284.M822c 1731

The English people during Marsh’s lifetime became acquainted with the culture and history of Morocco through books such as Morgan’s. The author, an English man who claims to have been a long-time inhabitant of Morocco, states in the preface that he hopes to disabuse readers with his book of the “misinformation” that “those who vilify” Moroccans rely on when “judg[ing]” them “wrongly.”

Janet Lunn and the Serious Work of Writing for Children

Janet Lunn, a writer of historical fiction for young people and a strong advocate for the importance of children’s literature, ruefully claimed that it was not an esteemed occupation. But her description of the arduous, two-year process that went into her books establishes that she did not distinguish between texts for children and adults. When asked why she wrote for children she said that “my head is full of stories, and when I write them, they always turn out to be for kids.” Her books contains those necessary tugs between authenticity and accessibility, the familiar and the strange, that create the special brew that we expect when we pick up any historical novel. She follows the classic method of describing major historic events in North American history in terms of small communities and individual lives.

Born in Texas, she spent most of her childhood in New England and moved to Canada to attend Queen’s University. She spent the rest of her life there, much of it in an eighteenth-century house in Hillier, Prince Edward County, Ontario, where some of her writing is set. According to the obituary in the Globe and Mail, most of her working life was dedicated to children’s texts, as a writer, a book reviewer, and the first children’s book editor for Clarke, Irwin and Co. She was a founder of the Writers’ Union of Canada, which she led from 1984-1985, the first children’s writer to do so.

She writes that British children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff created myth through attention to both historical detail and the specific characteristics of place, a description that applies equally to herself [1]. Her Hawthorn Bay trilogy, comprising The Hollow Tree (1997), Shadow in Hawthorn Bay (1988), and The Root Cellar (1981), follows the fortunes of a community initially torn apart by the American Revolutionary War, through the settlement of the Loyalists in southeastern Ontario, the arrival of Scottish immigrants, the American Civil War, into the present. The inclusion of A Rebel’s Daughter: The 1837 Rebellion Diary of Arabella Stevenson and the biography of Laura Secord, an iconic War of 1812 figure, creates a path through Canadian history’s formative events, from the American Revolution to within a few years of Confederation, comparable to Sutcliff’s novels about Roman and Saxon Britain.

The first two books, which are most relevant to The 18th-Century Common, are typical: she does not hide the conflicts of the past, create false heroes, or sugarcoat her characters. Maud’s House of Dreams: The Life of Lucy Maud Montgomery, describes the difficulties of the motherless girl’s childhood, her fraught relationship with her stepmother, an engagement that she realizes is a mistake, and her grandmother’s declining health: “She may have been in the early stages of senility or Alzheimer’s Disease…but all that Maud knew was that she was very difficult” (126).

The Hollow Tree is set in New England at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The rupture in familial and social relationships caused by competing loyalties to the Crown and the nascent United States are depicted through the experiences of Phoebe Olcott, the daughter of a Patriot, who, after his death, goes to live with her Loyalist relatives, the Robinsons, in a small town in Vermont, where the Loyalists are in the minority. Deborah Williams, whose husband, John, is rumored to be fighting on the British side, and her four children are dragged from their house in the early hours of the morning, forced into their oxcart, and sent away with a few possessions; a prized family clock is stolen from the cart. When Deborah protests, “Where will we go? We’ll starve!” the ringleader replies, “Starve if you must…that ain’t no never mind of ourn” (22). Meanwhile, Phoebe learns that her beloved cousin, Gideon, is a spy for the British. The next morning, his body is found hanging from the “Liberty Tree”:  “On his shirt a note was pinned. It read ‘Death to all Traitors and Spies’” (32). Her cousin Anne attacks her: “You did this. You and your father and his rebel friends!” (33). Bereft, she visits the place where she, Gideon, and Anne used to meet. Reaching into a hollow tree where they had left messages to each other, she finds a packet “addressed to Brigadier-General Watson Powell, at Fort Ticonderoga.” The packet is wrapped in a paper directing that, should Gideon be captured, it should be delivered to the Mohawk leader, Elias Brant (35-36). The text is in code, but it contains an uncoded request for safe passage for three New York families, the Collivers, the Andersons, and the Morrisays.

Thus begins Phoebe’s long and dangerous journey, which finally ends in Canada amongst the expatriate Loyalists. Along the way, she is befriended by Peter Sauk, a First Nations man, and his family; she exchanges her own clothing for his sister’s so that she can travel through the woods more easily. She is robbed by both rebel and British soldiers, and she concludes that the signature of war is that it causes good and decent people to do terrible things to each other. Nor does she absolve herself. When she first meets the Loyalists, who have left the town shortly after herself, Anne still holds her responsible for Gideon’s death. Thus she does not tell any of them of their mission. But when they are reunited and Anne wonders why Phoebe did not ask for her company on the mission, Phoebe realizes that “[i]n fact, … she had never considered Anne’s thoughts or feelings about anything” (196). The reconciliation of Patriot and Loyalist, and Phoebe’s marriage to Jem Morrisay, are the foundations for the new community in Upper Canada.

Shadow in Hawthorn Bay pulls together three of the dominant cultures in the settlement of Upper Canada: the First Nations, the Loyalists, and the Scottish immigrants. It takes place in 1815-1816, three years after the War of 1812. In her brief biography, Laura Secord: A Story of Courage, Lunn explains, “Neither the British nor the Americans won the war. The only people who really won were the Canadians. The boundary lines between British North America and the United States remained unchanged” (n.p.). One of the characters in Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, who arrived there as a child, describes it more personally: “Then, when we hadn’t more than just gotten ourselves settled into these backwoods—not quite thirty years later—didn’t those old Yankee neighbours come along and start another war! They thought they’d kick us out of here too. Well, I guess they got a surprise!” (105-106).

The protagonist, Mary Urquhart, from the Scottish Highlands, hears the call of her cousin Duncan Cameron through her “two sights,” and she sets out on a hazardous passage over the Atlantic to the settlement in what is now southeastern Ontario. When she arrives, she discovers that her relatives have just left, and Duncan is dead. She settles uncomfortably into the Loyalist community, which includes Phoebe and others from the previous book. They have no patience with her strange Highland ways and reject the idea of the second sight. When her prediction that there will be no summer comes true, some of them accuse her of causing those events and remove their children from the school where she teaches. They distrust her for being on good terms with the First Nations people, in whom she sees many of the characteristics of the Highlanders, especially their quiet speech and knowledge of the medicinal properties of local plants.

By incorporating Mary’s “two sights,” Lunn aligns with Walter Scott’s claim that the supernatural is appropriate when it represents the cultural norms of a novel’s setting. Lunn presents these visions as true for Mary and a cause of fear and skepticism in the community dominated by pragmatic English descendants. The story also presents the dark side of early settlement life: the whiskey-fueled rape of a young woman; the mother whose infants die of neglect while she retreats into alcoholism.

In the Quill and Quire review of The Hollow Tree, Sarah Ellis remarks that “In language and in her portrayal of attitudes, Lunn pays her material and her readers the respect of recreating a time that was genuinely different.” Lunn fulfills the purposes of  both historical and young adult fiction, focusing on a young protagonist as she learns about herself and a world that is both recognizable and different from our own.

Note

[1] Lunn, Janet. Myth, Story and History. Helen E. Stubbs Memorial Lecture. Vol. 7. Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1996.

Books by Janet Lunn referred to in this piece:

The Hollow Tree. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Laura Secord: A Story of Courage. Illus. Maxwell Newhouse. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2012.

Maud’s House of Dreams: The Life of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Toronto: Doubleday of Canada, 2002.

A Rebel’s Daughter: The 1837 Rebellion Diary of Arabella Stevenson, Toronto, Upper Canada, 1837. Dear Canada Series. Toronto: Scholastic Canada Ltd., 2006.

The Root Cellar. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Ltd., 1981.

Shadow in Hawthorn Bay. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Ltd., 1986.

“Heavy Fumes of Charcoal Creep into the Brain”

Lake Eola (2005) by Steven Willis

In March of 2018 I attended the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference in Orlando, Florida and delivered a brief paper on John Evelyn’s late-seventeenth-century pamphlet Fumifugium: Or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated.  The panel’s topic was “Intimations of the Anthropocene/Capitalocene,” and it was scheduled on the conference’s final day and in its final time band, which seemed fittingly apocalyptic given that we were all talking environmental cataclysm.  What follows is a reconceptualization of that paper based on insights from the other panelists as well as dialogue with the audience:

I am afraid I won’t have much that is meaningful to say about our unspeakably vexed environmental present—our “-cene,” be it “Anthropocene,” “Capitalocene,” or some other—except to stress its continuities to the past.  Obviously, the broiling present of our hotbox planet cannot be ignored, and nor can the climate refugees who are its victims.  But I am not yet convinced that there is anything actionable that eighteenth-century studies can say to those whom environmental degradation immiserates except “a lot of people in a lot of places and times saw this coming.”  Even so, the bottom-out environmental condition of “major system collapse after major system collapse after major system collapse,” as Donna Haraway puts it, must niggle at the consciences of those of us who drove to that conference with our sacred gasoline just as it must have weighed on the minds of those of us who flew there on the strength of aviation turbine fuel—a signal petro-chemical achievement in combustibility [1].  Even the Orlando International Airport, that great gateway to the Disney phantasmagoria, must drag down our ecologically privileged souls:  twenty square miles of concrete poured out over a drained swamp where airport employees likely fire propane cannons to scare birds lest their flights disturb ours.

Fumifugium (1661) by John Evelyn

To come back to Evelyn, his Fumifugium is quite simply an anti-air pollution pamphlet.  It was published in 1661 and then later reproduced several times in the eighteenth century, notably in 1772 by antiquarian Samuel Pegge the elder.  In the document proper, Evelyn outlines and Pegge reiterates a geo-engineering project in two strokes:  first the removal of certain industries from the pleasant—read upper class—urban places they are polluting, followed by the mass planting of fine smelling trees.  “But the Remedy which I would propose,” Evelyn writes, “require[s] only the Removal of such Trades, as are manifest Nuisances to the City, which I would have placed at farther distances [from the city]; especially, such as in their works and Fournaces use great quantities of Sea-Coale, the sole and only cause of those prodigious Clouds of Smoake” [2].  A simple and economically productive way to carve out a refuge:  move all the burning industries six miles south of London, for who knows what rabble lives and can be poisoned there.  The title of this post—“Heavy fumes of charcoal creep into the brain”—is W. H. D. Rouse’s English translation of the Latin epigraph on Fumifugium’s title page [3].  The epigraph itself comes from Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, a famed example of the consolation of philosophy.  I won’t gloss De Rerum Natura here, but the intertext is important [4].  In an atomistic universe, one in which the collision of primary particles determines events and happenings, the material residues of fire and smoke are essential.  Smoke’s waftings alter things in the human world—they alter the body and brain as Evelyn points out.  Smoke is the clinamen of atoms in perhaps its most obvious form—a classic example of the “airborne toxic event” that we all face down for the remainder of our days [5].  This is how Evelyn’s tract describes London’s repellent air pollution.  The unavoidable smoke and its “black and smutty Atomes […] insinuate[s] itself into our very secret Cabinets, and most precious Repositories,” both bodily and architectural [6].  “It enters by several branches into the very Parenchyma, and substance of the Lungs […] together with those multiform and curious Muscles, […] which becoming rough and drye, can neither be contracted, or dilated […]” [7].  According to Evelyn, the noxious burning of coal can be laid at the hands of “Brewers, Dyers, Soap-boilers and Lime-burners,” whose pursuits unquestionably endanger all.

A View from the East-End of the Brewery Chiswell Street (1792) by George Garrard

“[I]t is manifest,” Evelyn writes, “those who repair to London, no sooner enter into it, but they find a universal alteration in their Bodies, which are either dryed up or enflamed, the humours being exasperated and made apt to putrifie, their sensories and perspiration so exceedingly stopped, with the losse of Appetite, and a kind of general stupefaction, succeeded with such Catharrs and Distillations, as do never, or very rarely quit them, without some further Symptoms of dangerous Inconveniency so long as they abide in the place […]” [8].  Moreover, and because of the use of coal, the trees can no longer bear fruit, flowers no longer flower.  People are condemned to the “strange stupidity” of being “fumo praefocari,” that is, “suffocated by smoke.”  It is stunning that Evelyn’s understanding of the bodily effects of anthropogenic air pollution anticipates our own so neatly.  And so what is to be done to remediate these dangers?  On the one hand, “fumifugium” can mean “removal of smoke.”  According to this translation, the “constant and unremitting poison” of “smoake” can actively be eliminated, or “dissipated,” by human ingenuity and labor, both of which create value.  I’d like to gesture to an alternate construal of “fumifugium” as “flight from smoke.”  For me, this slant translation both anticipates the dire predicament of our own moment’s evaporating refugia and, conversely, gets to the heart of the inhuman dream of imperial capitalism from the seventeenth century to today:  whether by flights of industrious fancy or fleets of frigates, the Earth always offers a new territory lucratively to destroy [9].  At least, that is, until it doesn’t.  Evelyn is an environmentalist type who is legible in our own ruined moment.  Even as he condemns the “sordid and accursed Avarice of some few particular persons” whose means of being produce the inescapable London smoke that Evelyn finds so “impure” and “uliginous”—a word that I learned means “slimy” and “miasmic”—Evelyn’s condemnation is also actually a statement of his own worth as projector.  When Evelyn describes what others have done to make London the “Court of Vulcan” and—one of my favorite of his metaphors—the “Suburbs of Hell,” he does so in order to announce his own value as improvement thinker, one who will lead the king and (some of) his people toward a more wholesome future by way of industrial displacement and tree planting.  These are labor-producing endeavors, the green jobs of long ago.

John Evelyn (1689) by Godfrey Kneller

Fumifugium is an originary biopolitical text.  Its arguments are grounded in the fact, attested by eighteenth-century Bills of Mortality, that air pollution was a public health disaster even as it was caused by economic activities meant to keep the population alive and growing.  Evelyn writes:  “The Consequences then of all this is, that (as was said) almost one half of them who perish in London, dye of Phthisical and Pulmonic distempers.”  Smoke is killing children, which in any economy qualifies as biopolitical quandary.  Secondly, the Fumifugium is a prophetic text in its way.  Evelyn’s distaste for fire—that originary human experience of capitalism, log after log, coal after coal, without end—derives in part because fire threatens to ignite the city, as it would five years later in the Great Fire of London.  Perhaps most interesting for readers of The 18th-Century Common is the Fumifugium’s afterlife.  Samuel Pegge’s 1772 edition all at once dissociates the text from its Restoration context and repurposes it for the new polluting industries of the Georgian era.  One hundred years after the 1661 publication, nothing and everything was different.  “We may observe how much the evil is increased since the time this Treatise was written,” Pegge writes in the preface to the 1772 edition.  Industrial pollution has not abated but increased, a queer thought to think from 2018 looking at 1772 looking at 1661.  Regarding the term “Anthropocene,” the Invisible Committee writes, “At the apex of his insanity, Man has even proclaimed himself a ‘geological force,’ going so far as to give the name of his species to a phase of the life of the planet:  he’s taken to speaking of an ‘anthropocene.’  For the last time, he assigns himself the main role, even if it’s to accuse himself of having trashed everything—the seas, and the skies, the ground and what’s underground—even if it’s to confess his guilt for the unprecedented extinction of plant and animal species” [10].  For these authors, our hubristic term “Anthropocene” is more of the same:  it’s Evelyn in 1661, in 1772, in 2018.  “But what’s remarkable,” the committee writes, “is that we continue relating in the same disastrous manner to the disaster produced by our own disastrous relationship with the world” [11].  So how do we rethink this “disastrous relationship,” and, actually, can we?

Notes

[1] Haraway, Donna.  “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene:  Making Kin.”  Environmental Humanities.  Vol. 6 (2015).  1.

[2] Evelyn, John.  Fumifugium:  Or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated.  London:  B. White, 1772.  34.

[3] Lucretius.  “Carbonumque gravis vis, atque odor insinuator / Quam facile in cerebrum?”  De Rerum Natura.  Trans. W. H. D. Rouse.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard UP, 1924.  5.803-4.

[4] By “intertext,” I refer to a general connection between two different pieces of writing.  In this case, Lucretius’s work clearly influences and animates Evelyn’s project.

[5] In Lucretius, “clinamen,” or swerve, refers to the spontaneous and unpredictable movement of particles that lead to different potentialities.  “Airborne toxic event” is a reference to the second part of Don Delillo’s White Noise (1985).

[6] Evelyn, Fumifugium, 20.

[7] Evelyn, Fumifugium, 26.

[8] Evelyn, Fumifugium, 24.

[9] See other articles in this series, including Cynthia Williams’s “Napoleon, an English Poet, and the Gas Lighting of London” and Nick Allred’s “Locke’s American Wasteland.”

[10] The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends.  Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e) (2014).  32.

[11] The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends, 32.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion or Contempt? Eliza Haywood and Frenemy Dynamics between Women

Thomas Gainsborough. “Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, The Artist’s Daughters,” c. 1756.  Victoria and Albert Museum, The Forster Bequest (1876)

“Frenemy” is a word that has been so commonly used in media and everyday conversations that it made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2008. A combination of the words “friend” and “enemy,” the OED defines “frenemy” as “a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry; a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy.” The first appearance of this term happened as early as 1953 when American journalist Walter Winchell used it in his article “How about calling the Russians our Frienemies?” but representations of this double-edged relationship exist from a much earlier date. Even in the eighteenth century, for instance, authors like Eliza Haywood portrayed this sensitive and ambiguous relationship in her works, especially that between women. Today, frenemy is more often used to refer to personal relationships between women so much so that it has become a stereotype, for as Alison Winch contends, “The figure of the toxic friend or ‘frenemy’ is pervasive in girlfriend culture” (57). This stereotype, however, comes from a long history of such representations. While the OED definition, with “a person” as its subject, implies a focus on the emotional attachment between individuals, Haywood’s novels, especially her final novel, show how the word “frenemy” can be applied to a broad and complex range of female relationships.

Although Winch, in her book Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood, focuses on present-day media representations of women’s friendships, her analysis offers a lens through which eighteenth-century narrative representations of the intersection between the personal and public aspects of female friendship can be examined. As Winch points out, conduct books today that “advise women on how to behave themselves in a neoliberal society where the self is perceived as an entrepreneurial project” (34) also “belong to a specific literary tradition rooted in the eighteenth century, whose objective is to govern gendered behavior as classed” (34). According to Winch, “Women [today] are looking to the lifestyle industries, but also to each other—to girlfriends—for normative performances of femininity” and in the case that “they do not conform to the normalizing impulses of the authors [of conduct books], then the reader is punished through shame” (34). More importantly, Winch introduces the term “gynaeopticon,” the condition in which “the many girlfriends watch the many girlfriends” (5); because “the male gaze is veiled as benign, and instead it is women who are represented as looking at other women’s bodies” (5), the regulating girlfriend gaze is often presented in an intimate manner and is thus “extended to viewers and users [of girlfriend media] in order to engage them in systems of surveillance” (5). Indeed, by shedding light on the significance of the dynamics between women today, Winch’s analysis suggests that there is much common ground in the past and present regarding the construction of gendered identity.

At this point, it is important to note that friendship in the eighteenth century had a different connotation than it does today. Although the term “friends” included the affectionate relationship between individuals as is now most commonly understood, it also referred to a much wider range of relationships in the eighteenth century. As Naomi Tadmor explains , “In the eighteenth century, the term ‘friend’ had a plurality of meanings that spanned kinship ties, sentimental relationships, economic ties, occupational connections, intellectual and spiritual attachments, sociable networks, and political alliances” (167). As such, rather than signifying a single specific type of relationship, “a spectrum of relationships [were] designated in the eighteenth century as ‘friendship’” (Tadmor 167). Understanding friendship in this sense, Winch’s argument about the less visible, but nevertheless strategic and political aspects of female friendship today was much more visible and widely accepted as such in the past. In other words, in contrast to the seemingly more intimate and personal relationships between friends in the present, eighteenth-century associations of the term itself implied a more complex interaction between the individual and the community; “Friendship relationships,” asserts Tadmor, “were major social relationships in eighteenth-century England” (171). In this sense, the political significance that was implied in the spectrum of friendship in the eighteenth-century context has continued on until today, albeit in a less apparent form.

Among this wide spectrum of friendships in the eighteenth century, friendships between women and their system of surveillance deserves particular attention because, as Amanda E. Herbert states, historians have often brushed away investigating the “construction and maintenance of early modern women’s social networks, and have largely ignored early modern women’s relationships with other women” despite the fact that “many women lived in largely ‘homosocial’ worlds” (1). Alone, women would read conduct books that were intended to “create a woman . . . who never stopped checking her behavior and thoughts against the standards of ideal womanhood. Once internalized, the rules of a conduct manual would create a completely self-regulating woman, who would always behave as if she were being observed even when she was alone” (Tague 22-23). These prescriptive guidelines, however, also emphasized social interaction as a requirement to be met: “The ability to relate to others, and especially to other women, was considered to be an essential component of this modern feminine identity” (Herbert 13). Herbert, moreover, writes that women were “taught to monitor themselves but were told simultaneously to monitor the actions, words, and attitudes of their female friends, to think carefully, constantly, and critically about the actions and behaviors of other women” (48); they were “reassured that to scrutinize the behaviors of their female friends was natural and desirable as well as rational and virtuous. Their personal papers attest that elite women did, in fact, practice this type of social surveillance” (48). The conflicting messages here which ask women to both relate through compassion and censure through surveillance seems to be the catalyst that initiates, or even encourages, the frenemy relationship between women and their network as a whole. As historians have discovered, in the eighteenth century, “many female-female interactions were marked by acrimony,” and women “fought with one another, slandered and censured the behavior of their female associates, and evaluated and criticized the bodies and moral characters of the women who surrounded them” (Herbert 4).

The clashing messages of compassion and censure in such conduct literature takes form in the frenemy relationships represented in fictional texts produced in the eighteenth century as well. Haywood’s novels, for example, often engage in examining this tense and precarious female friendship. Although Haywood is most commonly known as the prolific writer of amatory fiction that revolves around the passionate (and, more often than not, scandalous) romance between men and women, her interest in the wide spectrum of female relationships is consistently evident throughout her works. As Catherine Ingrassia states in her article “‘Queering’ Eliza Haywood,” “[Haywood’s] texts in multiple genres throughout the course of her career structurally and descriptively present same-sex relationships of varying degrees of intimacy” (9). This interest may have also been incited by the literary climate of the time, but Haywood’s well-known frenemy relationship with Martha Fowke Sansom early in her career may also have inspired her to contemplate and depict female frenemies in her novels.

In 1719, when Haywood was unsuccessful as an actress and was beginning her literary career, she became part of the “Hillarian Circle,” a literary coterie of both male and female writers that gathered around Aaron Hill. Poets Richard Savage and Martha Fowke were also part of this group and much has been speculated about the relationships and tensions among these four writers. One of the scandalous stories centers around the erotic triangle involving Haywood, Savage, and Fowke in which Haywood is framed as Savage’s shunned mistress and unwed mother of his child. However, Kathryn King points out that since not much about Haywood’s personal life is known, critics have often made conjectures inspired by a “desire to retrofit the pioneering novelist, playwright, actress, and journalist with a scandalous life” (“Savage Love” 723), and that Savage is misplaced as central to the two women’s rivalry: “The object of rivalry is not the ill-favored pimp but his charismatic friend Aaron Hill” (“Savage Love” 728). Hill seems to have been quite the popular figure for, as Christine Gerrard notes, “Many women found Hill irresistible” (67). In addition, “During the period 1720-8, Hill emerged as perhaps the most important, certainly the most ubiquitous, man of letters in London literary life” (Gerrard 62). According to King, Hill was also “a socially well-connected and culturally formidable figure, not to mention handsome, kindly, generous, charismatic, and genuinely devoted to the cultivation of new artistic talent” (“New Contexts for Early Novels” 264). Haywood and Fowke’s frenemy relationship, however, did not generate merely from competition for sexual desirability, but from literary aspirations as well: “Rather than romantic attachment or erotic longing, [Haywood’s verses on Hill] bespeak literary ambition, for in them Haywood attaches her efforts as a poet to the man who (as she tells it) spurred her on to feats of literary emulation” (“Savage Love” 732). Even so, King concedes that “the fact remains that Haywood does indeed stalk Sansom in print with a vindictive malice that certainly looks like sexual jealousy” (“Savage Love” 733). In the end, Haywood’s malicious portrait of Fowke as the sexually insatiable Gloatitia in Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia (1724) resulted in repulsing the Hillarians and for Hill to refer to Haywood as “the Unfair Author of the NEW UTOPIA” (qtd. in Gerrard 95). Haywood’s frenemy relationship with Fowke does indeed seem like a complex one in which the two women’s sexual desires and literary aspirations were intertwined.

Perhaps partially inspired by her frenemy relationship with Fowke, Haywood seems to have reflected on the complexities of friendships between women from early on in her career. Her earlier works certainly show toxic relationships between women, but neither is she blind to the more amicable and beneficial relationship that can arise between women. Read side-by-side, two of Haywood’s early novels written in the same year, The Masqueraders: Or Fatal Curiosity (1724) and The Surprise; or Constancy Rewarded (1724), particularly show how female friendship can be either toxic or beneficial. As Tiffany Potter points out in her introduction to the two novels, reading them together “offers the opportunity for a much clearer sense of the nuance and variation of Haywood’s first period so long dismissed as formulaic and repetitive” (4). Focusing on the relationship between two female friends, these two novels certainly present Haywood as an author with broader interests and insights.

In The Masqueraders: Or Fatal Curiosity, Haywood seems to depict the stereotypical frenemy relationship by illustrating the dangers of women sharing their intimate secrets–these secrets becoming the tools that generate envy, betrayal, and finally downfall. Dalinda is a stunningly beautiful widow and Philecta is less beautiful, but is more intelligent. Dalinda has a relatively long-term relationship with Dorimenus, but she makes the wrong decision of relating every detail of their relationship to Philecta:

Philecta, a young lady, on whose Wit, Generosity, and Good-nature [Dalinda] had an entire dependence, was the Person she made Choice of, to be interested with the dear burthen of this Secret; and while she related to her the particulars of her Happiness, felt in the delicious Representation a Pleasure, perhaps, not much inferior to that which the Reality afforded.—Having brought herself to make this Confidance, she no sooner parted from his Embraces, than she flew to her fair Friend, gave her the whole History of what had pass’d between them—repeated every tender Word he spoke . . . (73)

The language here is suggestive of intimacy and sensuality; Ingrassia asserts that this is an example of “[s}tructurally erotic friendships, formed by the oral transmission of narrative details of sexual encounters [that] populate Haywood’s work” (13). Dalinda is shown here to derive as much pleasure from narrating her story as when she actually experienced it. Potter argues, however, that Dalinda’s storytelling is proof of her vanity: “Dalinda requires that Philecta fantasize not about having Dorimenus, but about being Dalinda, and thus refuses her requests to observe an encounter with or to meet Dorimenus” (35). If what Potter contends is true, Dalinda’s intentions go terribly wrong, for Philecta “listen’d to her at first only with Compassion” (73), but soon she “began to envy the Happiness of her Friend” (73-74). As the novel’s full title suggests, Philecta then becomes so overwhelmed by her curiosity that she schemes to meet Dorimenus by herself, which only makes her fall in love with him and betray Dalinda. Soon becoming infatuated with Philecta, Dorimenus rejects Dalinda and thus enraged, Dalinda spreads word about Dorimenus and Philecta’s relationship to the whole town and irrevocably ruins Philecta’s reputation. By the end of the first book, Philecta has lost “her Virtue, her Reputation, and her Peace of Mind” (99); she is pregnant with Dorimenus’ child, but in the next book, he has ended his relationship with Philecta and soon marries another woman. It is telling that this is a novel about the properties of friendship for Dorimenus is merely “the objectified site of women’s sexual competition” (Potter 33). The sharing of secrets that was at first proof of Dalinda and Philecta’s friendship immediately becomes a vulnerability for Dalinda’s romantic relationship and for Philecta’s reputation. While Dalinda’s mistake was of revealing too much to her friend, she also recognizes contemptuous gossip as the most powerful weapon for revenge. In other words, Dalinda has misjudged the appropriate amount of secrets to share with Philecta, while knowing exactly how to destroy her by social censure.

In stark contrast to Dalinda and Philecta’s friend-turned-enemy relationship, Haywood also shows how compassionate friendship between women can achieve happy endings in The Surprise; or Constancy Rewarded. Written around the same time as The Masqueraders, it is indeed surprising how both novels depict women revealing secrets, but with very different results. Alinda has two suitors, Ellmour and Bellamant, but while favoring them amongst the others, she “felt not any of those violent Emotions which are the Characteristics of desire” (134). Upon seeing Bellamant, her friend Euphemia reveals her tragic history with Bellamant that ended with him leaving her before the wedding. Here, Alinda is portrayed as a very different character from either Dalinda or Philecta: “my dear Euphemia, I have for this time, put it out of my power to gratify that Inclination too many of our Sex have for blabbing everything that has the Appearance of a Secret” (136). Especially when comparing this novel to The Masqueraders, Haywood seems to be criticizing, through Alinda’s words, the tendency of women to lack compassion and to indulge in censorious gossip, which ultimately causes distressed women to suffer even more.

Haywood’s early interest in representing the complex dynamics between women seems to have persisted and developed throughout her career, for the opening of one of her later novels, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751), directly addresses this issue of compassion, or lack thereof, in relationships between women:

It was always my opinion that fewer women were undone by love, than vanity; and that those mistakes the sex are sometimes guilty of, proceed, for the most part, rather from inadvertence, than a vicious inclination. The ladies, however, I am sorry to observe, are apt to make too little allowances to each other on this score, and seem better pleased with an occasion to condemn, than to excuse; and it is not above one, in a great number than I will presume to mention, who, while she passes the severest censure on the conduct of her friend, will be at the trouble of taking a retrospect of her own. (27)

Beginning the novel with such commentary encourages the readers to take on a more compassionate stance in the judgement of its heroine. At the same time, this passage asserts how the “ladies” have assimilated into the culture of policing and harshly judging one another; they are “pleased with an occasion to condemn, than excuse” and “pas[s] the severest censure on the conduct of her friend.” This seems to imply that a sense of empowerment, however false, rises from condemning one of their sex. It also suggests that when a woman is assimilated into a culture in which her reputation, the public form of virtue, is often measured and rated against each other, women’s friendship attains the characteristic of frenemies.

In her final novel The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy (1753), Haywood extends her examination of female friendships, specifically placing the heroine in the position to condemn or excuse the conduct of other women. While Haywood’s earlier novels seem to focus more on the individual friendships between women, this novel pays more attention to women within a female community. This last Haywood novel seems to be curiously understudied in her oeuvre and is generally known as a moral and didactic novel which can be read as proof of the author’s reform from the author of amatory to moral, didactic fiction. John Richetti even states that Haywood is renouncing “her own version of romance and sexual sensationalism” (xxiii), but that does not seem to be the case; the many anecdotes of the characters’ experiences are direct echoes of Haywood’s earlier works. As King asserts, “the Haywood of the forties and fifties [should be regarded] as matured, not reformed” and should be appreciated as “an evolving deliberate literary artist every bit as interested as Richardson or Fielding, say, in expanding the ethical possibilities of the novel—and a great deal more interested than either in mapping the contours of female growth” (“Strange Surprising Adventures” 216). Haywood’s last novel certainly seems to focus on “the contours of female growth,” specifically in relation to the female network the heroine experiences first-hand.

As can be guessed from the title, The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy is the story of Jemmy and Jenny, distant cousins who were brought up by their parents with the hopes of getting the two married. When both of them become orphans, though well-provided for and come of age, Jenny suggests that they should postpone their marriage until they navigate the world further and discover what constitutes happiness in marriage. The effect of this proposal is that Jemmy and Jenny are separated from each other for the most part of the novel; while Jemmy enjoys the pleasure of a rake, Jenny mostly stays with her female companions (sisters Lady Speck and Miss Wingman) in Bath before entering her union with Jemmy.

Haywood’s choice of sending Jenny to Bath with her two friends seems to be a meditated choice that directs attention to the significance of female friendship. Bath was in itself a space where active female socializing happened in the eighteenth century. According to Herbert, spa cities such as Bath were extremely popular in the eighteenth century and these spas, “in addition to being gathering places for people of both sexes, were sites of same-sex sociability, as both women and men undertook distinct activities during their sojourns” (117) that “served as crucial sites for gendered identity creation” (118). “For many women,” writes Herbert, “spending time in female company rather than with men was a critical component of the experience of visiting the spa, both in the water and out of it” (124). In this sense, although much of the narrative presents Jenny and her two female companions in the company of other men, the location itself is suggestive of a heavy focus on homosocial interactions. Jenny also recognizes that “[h]er intimacy with Lady Speck and Miss Wingman was very much increased since she had been at Bath with them, by the participation they had in her secrets, and she in theirs” (347).

Furthermore, as Herbert asserts, “Spa cities were places where the female population was larger than the male population, and female residents of spa cities were socioeconomically diverse and widely visible” (127). This setting, therefore, also enables Jenny and her company to encounter and hear the three self-told narratives by three distressed young women. These three women are Mrs. M, the Fair Stranger, and Sophia. Despite their different stories, these women, as Karen Cajka points out, “share the misfortune of being completely unprotected” (48). Mrs. M, who is married to a wealthy man, decides to make her husband jealous by committing adultery with the libertine Celandine. When her relationship with Celandine is discovered, she becomes dependent on him and then stalks him to Bath. Upon seeing Celandine forcing himself on Jenny in the garden, Mrs. M mistakes Jenny as Celandine’s lover and tries to attack her.  This act sets the scene for her to tell her story to Jenny and company. Not long after, the company meets the Fair Stranger who has run away in order to avoid marrying a much older man. In her story, her father threatens her that if she does not marry the older man, he will cut all ties with her: “Then never think I am your father;—think rather of being an utter alien,—an outcast from my name and family” (185). Sophia, Jenny’s school friend, whose unfortunate narrative enters near the end of the novel, tells her story only to Jenny. Attracted to the handsome army officer Willmore, Sophia lends him money so that he can buy a commission and marry her. Before they get married, however, Willmore takes Sophia to a brothel disguised as his aunt’s home and tries to rape her. After escaping from the brothel, Sophia tries to get her money back by meeting several lawyers, but her attempts are unsuccessful and only soil her reputation. Cajka convincingly argues that “[n]one of the three [women] has a mother to guide her, and Sophia and Mrs. M are completely orphaned. Further, older friends and relatives who might offer the women material or moral protection fail to provide it, thus leaving the women to make their own uninformed and often dangerously precipitate decisions” (48).

Haywood’s particular interest in exploring the frenemy dynamics between women is strongly present in these three narratives. All of their stories include the figure of a frenemy who, in diverse ways, contributes to Mrs. M, the Fair Stranger, and Sophia’s respective unfortunate events. In the case of Mrs. M, “a female friend of more years and experience” (119) encourages her to put on coquettish airs before Celandine in order to incite jealousy in her husband. However, despite this bad advice, what seems to have pained Mrs M more is the presence of “an elderly woman, a relation of [her] husband’s” (122) who “with a stern voice and countenance told [her], that she was sent by him to take care of his family; and that [Mrs. M] must immediately go out of the house” (122). What hurts Mrs. M is not only the message from her husband, but the woman’s coldness in conveying it to her: “This message, and the manner in which it was deliver’d, stung [her] to the very soul” (122). In the case of the Fair Stranger, when she is forced to marry the older man she does not love, she laments her own misjudgment in seeking consolation from her sister, “who by the rule of nature should have pitied [her] distress, rather added to it by all the ways she could invent” (187). The Fair Stranger, furthermore, recognizes her sister as an accomplice to her father in her misfortune: “Indeed [my sister] never loved me, and I have reason to believe I owe great part of my father’s severity to her insinuations” (187). In the case of Sophia, Willmore lures her to the brothel by saying that he “had an aunt, an excellent good old lady” (326); when Willmore “said a great deal more in praise of these relations” (327), Sophia “was so much charmed with the character of [this] aunt [and her two young daughters] . . . that [she] almost longed to be with them” (327). Upon entering the brothel, Sophia is greeted by a “grave old gentlewoman whose appearance answered very well to the description Willmore had given of her” (327), but Sophia’s continued narrative shows that this was also an act on the old woman’s part, as she was complicit in Willmore’s scheme to take Sophia’s money. Although the old woman displays many acts of hospitality, when Sophia is almost raped by Willmore, “[the old woman] took Willmore by the arm, and drew him to a corner of the room, where they talked together for the space of several minutes” (333). Moreover, when Sophia mentions her intentions to make Willmore return the money he borrowed, the old woman suspiciously cries, “I am quite a stranger . . . [t]o all affairs between you; but I will go up directly and let him know what you say” (334) and immediately leaves her. As such, Mrs. M, the Fair Stranger, and Sophia’s narratives all feature women who they assumed would be friends, but actually proved to be enemies.

What is striking here is how these female “friends” become enemies by assimilating or contributing themselves to the judgments and plans controlled by men. Considering the long history of patriarchal control over gendered identity, the idea of male power controlling women may not be surprising; it is, however, significant that this hegemonic system can be seen even to affect the relationships between women as well. According to Winch, “Men in girlfriend culture are a foil to women’s own lack of power” and “the sphere of girlfriendship [is] where discontent over injustice and male power is redirected towards their bodies and the bodies of other women” (61). Winch further notes that “[t]he girlfriend gaze is a handmaiden to the male gaze. It is powerful because the handmaiden mocks and plays with the rules of patriarchy within the intimate space of a female cohort, while simultaneously being complicit in the enforcement of its power“(27-28). While Winch’s analysis focuses on women today evaluating the physical bodies of other women as an act of empowerment, the same surveillance seems to be happening in the eighteenth century regarding women’s virtue and reputation. It is, therefore, important to examine how acts of compassion and contempt between women intersect with patriarchy.

Even as Jenny and the company listen to Mrs. M and the Fair Stranger’s histories, a man is shown as trying to dictate and correct how the women should respond to these unfortunate narratives. When discovering Mrs. M swooning after her failed attack on Jenny, Mr. Lovegrove, Lady Speck’s suitor and one of Jenny’s company, cries, “Whatever she is, her figure, as well as the present condition she is in, seems to demand rather compassion than contempt” (116). Interestingly enough, the two sisters immediately engage in acts of “compassion” just like they are told: “On this Lady Speck and her sister ran to assist the charitable endeavor [Mr. Lovegrove] was making for [Mrs. M’s] recovery” (116). Jenny, however, “still kept at a good distance” (116), which may be natural considering that she was the intended victim of Mrs. M’s attack, but it could also be indicative of her nature and rationality to judge on her own rather than follow the judgment of others. Upon the appearance of the Fair Stranger, Mr. Lovegrove, “who had undertaken to be the speaker” (181) is again the one who begins the interrogation of the Fair Stranger’s identity; the word “judge” often appears in this section of the text, emphasizing the need to sentence the Fair Stranger as either guilty or innocent. When Lady Speck gives six guineas to the Fair Stranger, to which Jenny was “extremely scandalized at the meanness of the present” (197), Mr. Lovegrove, “who doubtless had his own reflections” (197), remedies the situation by purchasing a small snuffbox for ten guineas from the Fair Stranger and then returning it to her as a gift. Since, as Herbert writes, “Women of lower status could and did serve as a check on the behavior of elite women, especially when they felt that obligations of charity and pity had gone unfulfilled” (49), Mr. Lovegrove can be seen here to be correcting Lady Speck’s behavior. Jenny, however, who “did not think proper to discover her opinion of [the meanness of the present] at that time” (197), follows the Fair Stranger on her way out and secretly presents her with an extra five guineas. This action shows Jenny as a compassionate and autonomous agent in assisting other woman; she is also discreet so as not to insult Lady Speck in public.

Lady Speck, although her monetary contribution was viewed as uncharitable by Mr. Lovegrove and Jenny, nonetheless provides an additional service to the Fair Stranger. When hearing that the Fair Stranger needs a man and horse to travel, Lady Speck assures her that “[she] need not . . . be at the pains or expense of hiring a man and horse,” which was “joyfully accepted” (198). Interestingly, the narrator states that Mr. Lovegrove is at a loss to an answer when hearing the Fair Stranger’s lack of transportation. While particularly in Mrs. M’s case it is implied that the patriarchal perspective governs the way in which compassion or contempt is administered by and to women, in the case of the Fair Stranger, although the male figure seems to take control at first, the women can be seen actively to participate in assisting other women in distress.

Jenny is often outside of this patriarchal control when it comes to her reflections on the stories of other women. In the case of Mrs. M, Jenny does not immediately respond until she has evaluated the story herself. In the case of the Fair Stranger as well, she holds onto her own reflections and acts accordingly. Her private conversation with Sophia shows how Haywood has left this final narrative to be reflected on by Jenny alone. Jenny’s reflections throughout the novel offer an intriguing insight into how her perspective oscillates between compassion and contempt towards women. While Jenny’s reflection on the perils of the women she meets encourages readers to engage in both censure and sympathy, her final thoughts are sympathetic, for as Cajak argues, “Jenny’s compassionate interactions with unprotected women . . . remind readers that although they may be unable materially to protect one another from unscrupulous men and the strictures of patriarchal society, they also need not be complicit in their punishments” (56). Jenny’s reason for delaying her marriage to Jemmy is, as she tells him, because “[she] think[s] [they] ought to know a little more of the world and of [themselves] before [the] enter into serious matrimony” (27) and because they need “to learn, from the mistakes of others, how to regulate [their] own conduct and passions, so as not to be laugh’d at [themselves] for what [they] laugh at in” others (31). In contrast to the Jenny in the beginning who is ready to “laugh at” the mistakes of others, it is highly unlikely that Jenny would be doing so when the novel comes to an end. Possibly, Celandine’s forcing himself on her also made her realize that not all misfortunes can be easily blamed on women in society. It must be noted that it is in this very moment of Celandine’s assault that Mrs M, the first of the three distressed women, comes into the scene, and Jenny and her company judge whether to feel sympathetic or critical about her story. Through her encounters with other women and their secrets, she has realized that it is not only an individual woman’s mistakes but also her circumstances that may bring tragic consequences.

One other change in Jenny is how she has learned to hide certain stories from men. In the beginning, she lightheartedly sets out to share the stories of other men and women she hears with Jemmy. However, this practice diminishes soon, and she doesn’t tell Jemmy about Celandine’s sexual assault in detail. As the narrator writes, “Never had this young lady given a greater demonstration of her prudence, than in thus shadowing over, as much as truth would permit, the insolence of Celandine” (287). Although the narrator only says that this was due to Jenny’s concern for Jemmy in case he runs into Celandine, it also suggests that the story, once turned public, would impact her and Jemmy’s respective reputations. At the end of the novel, Jenny finally marries Jemmy since she “had now done enquiring into the follies and mistakes of her sex, as she had seen enough of both to know how to avoid them” (395). Right before this statement, however, Haywood draws attention back to female friendships by providing an anecdote of Miss Chit and Lady Fisk’s frenemy relationship: “Miss Chit had quarrel’d with her great friend Lady Fisk . . . the animosity of these fair rivals was arriv’d to such a height, that they made no scruple of betraying to the world all the failings each had been guilty of, and of which they had been mutually the confidants” (395). In this sense, the novel consistently shows and draws attention to the dynamics and influences of female friendships individually and as members of a broader community of women.

Although the idea that Haywood’s later fiction changed its tone due to the moral demands of the market still seems to be pervasive, Haywood (like Jenny, who is portrayed as an astute reader and researcher) can be seen to have developed into a more insightful author in her representations of the complex female networks characterized by their frenemy dynamics in eighteenth-century society. Her final novel, The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, is an expression of her understanding of this network, especially since Haywood seems to have considered situating women within homosocial communities before her marriage as a matter of import. What this suggests is that in order to enter into a “happy” marriage, a woman needs to understand the frenemy dynamics between women first. Frenemy relationships within social networks become almost synonymous with the potential of being perceived with compassion or censure following the act of social surveillance. Haywood certainly advocates compassion. The frenemy dynamics between women can be seen to be borne from patriarchal order and to contribute to upholding it, resulting in women being quick to punish one another. What women need to understand, then, is how this dynamic works and to become more compassionate, rather than censorious. Today, too, this process of quick censure can be seen to happen through, for example, “slut-shaming,” which stems from “the traditional misogynist fear of the female libido” (Winch 5). Haywood’s message that the female community needs to lean toward compassion rather than contempt is as relevant to women today as it was in the eighteenth century.

Works Cited

Cajka, Karen. “The Unprotected Woman in Eliza Haywood’s The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy.” Masters of the Marketplace: British Women Novelists of the 1750s. Ed. Susan Carlile. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh UP, 2011. 47-58.

Gerrard, Christine. Aaron Hill: The Muses’ Projector, 1685-1750. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.

Haywood, Eliza. The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy. Ed. John Richetti. Lexington, KY: UP of Kentucky, 2005.

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

—. The Masqueraders, or Fatal Curiosity & The Surprize, or Constancy Rewarded. Ed. Tiffany Potter. Toronto: U of Toronto UP, 2015.

Herbert, Amanda E. Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain. New Haven: Yale UP, 2014.

Ingrassia, Catherine. “‘Queering’ Eliza Haywood.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 14.4 (2014): 9-24.

King, Kathryn R. “The Afterlife and Strange Surprising Adventures of Haywood’s Amatories (with Thoughts on Betsy Thoughtless).” Masters of the Marketplace: British Women Novelists of the 1750s. Ed. Susan Carlile. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh UP 2011. 203-218.

—. “Eliza Haywood, Savage Love, and Biographical Uncertainty.” The Review of English Studies 59.242 (2008): 722-740.

—. “New Contexts for Early Novels by Women: The Case of Eliza Haywood, Aaron Hill, and the Hillarians, 1719-1725.” A Companion to the Eighteenth-Century English Novel and Culture. Ed. Paula R. Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia. London: Blackwell, 2005. 261-275.

OED Online. Oxford: Oxford UP. Web. April 27. 2018.

Potter, Tiffany. “Introduction.” The Masqueraders, or Fatal Curiosity & The Surprize, or Constancy Rewarded, by Eliza Haywood. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2015. 3-59.

Richetti, John. “Introduction.” The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, by Eliza Haywood. Lexington, KY: UP of Kentucky, 2005. vii-xxxv.

Tadmore, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.

Tague, Ingrid H. Women of Quality: Accepting and Contesting Ideals of Femininity in England, 1690-1760. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2002.

Winch, Alison. Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

The Anthropocene as Capitalocene: How Eighteenth-Century Novels Help Us Answer the Problem of Infinite Economic Growth

The Great Hall Bank of England (1808) by Augustus Charles Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson

With the exception of Donald Trump and a few others, most of us agree that human use of the earth’s natural resources has caused environmental effects extreme enough to require their own era.  But what to call it?  The term “Anthropocene” has been used by environmental scientists and scholars to designate a new epoch, but does the term have the force to name the political critique of climate change that such a moment demands?  Jason W. Moore introduced the term “Capitalocene” to provide more analytical focus, arguing that “Anthropocene” does not name the system that produces modern environmental catastrophes:  capitalism [1].  By focusing on the “anthro,” we maintain the delusion that all humans are equal participants in this global change, ignoring the way that human-caused climate change is largely driven by the consumption of resources within developed nations, fed by an economic system structured around compounding economic growth.  Thinking about eighteenth-century British culture helps to frame why “Capitalocene” may be the better term and why the story we tell about our environmental crisis matters.

Gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity) per capita between 1500 and 1950 in 1990 International Dollars for selected nations [2]

Our culture’s addiction to ostensibly infinite economic growth, with its optimistic fantasy of universal upward mobility, is what needs to change, and naming our era the “Capitalocene” helps do that [3].  Many scholars trace the beginnings of human-caused climate change to industrialization, with some, like Andreas Malm pointing the finger at James Watt’s pivotal 1775 iteration on the steam engine [4].  The engine behind the engine is the circulation of capital, in particular, capital’s reliance on the production of surplus value to feed its monstrous appetite for economic growth.  The economic form that is specific to capital is precisely its turning money into more money through its circulations of financial and commodity exchange.  Without money breeding money, without the 4 or 5% return on investments, those of us lucky enough to have pensions, won’t be able to retire.  I am vehemently opposed to building the Trans Mountain pipeline that will bring more of Alberta tarsands bitumen to market; yet, teaching at a public university in Alberta, I know that we will only hire more Humanities faculty if that oil gets to market and thus, I sometimes feel a dirty secret of relief when pipelines are built and Alberta’s wealth grows.  We are all embedded in compounding growth.  But maybe we need to break the addiction and embrace downward mobility to shape a different relation to our world.  Here, the eighteenth-century novel rather than political theory or economic history can help us think it through.

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) best captures the eighteenth-century’s reimagining of the world as having the capacity for infinite economic growth.  For Smith, the expansion of wealth existed in global commerce which led him famously to claim that “[t]he discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind” [5].  Economic historians have the evidence to suggest Smith was right; foreign trade did increase wealth in the late-eighteenth century.  This period sees the momentous shift to a constant growth economy as Britain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) began its annual increase around 1760 and, with the exception of the World Wars, has largely not stopped since [6].  Where does the “more,” the surplus value, come from?  Marx tells us that there are three areas that such growth can emerge from commodity production:  cheaper labor; access to new natural resources; and technological efficiencies.  From African slave labor in the eighteenth century to Bangladesh sweatshops today, from stealing Indigenous North American lands to the Alberta tarsands in my backyard, from Watt’s steam engines to today’s automated factories, history shows us the myriad ways we have wrung more wealth out of the living planet.  To give Smith credit, he did note with regret the genocide of Native Americans in the European land grab which he describes as caused by the “misfortunes” of violence, attributable to the “accident” that the “discovery” of America occurred at a particular time when “the superiority of force happened to be so great on the side of the Europeans.” We now understand that the violent exploitation of peoples and land is not a mere “accident” of the system but a requirement of capitalism [7].

“A new map of the British colonies in North America” (1777) by John Andrews

Knowing the historical details and political theories of the origins of economic growth, however, does not draw an end to the logic of its thinking, especially given its inflationary feedback loops.  To make a cultural shift away from infinite growth today, it might help to understand the cultural shift that took place in the eighteenth century, an intellectual revolution as important as any political one:  how did people come to believe that economic growth was continuous, desirable and natural?  Antony Brewer, notes the significance of this new belief:  “The idea that (capitalist) economies normally grow over time was a major change of perspective, part of a wider change in which people ceased to think of past, present, and future as essentially alike” [8].  How did people cease to think of past, present and future as essentially alike?  By reading novels, or, at least, such changes in phenomenological time become visible through narrative fictions of social mobility.

We most often link the rise of the novel–with its shift in temporal orientation through unique individual plots–to the myth of upward mobility, paradigmatically illustrated by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719).  But when we look closer at the late eighteenth-century novel, we find, instead, story after story of economic loss.  From The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) to David Simple (1744), downward mobility is the dominant myth circulating in the sentimental novel.  Everyone is only ever one bad investment away from being out on the street.  That the dominant story in the novel is one of loss at the identical time in history when economic growth becomes the regular state of affairs is striking.  Why the seeming contradiction?  On the surface, stories of downward mobility betray an empathy toward the victims of a market economy and present a challenge to capitalism.  Harley in The Man of Feeling (1771) or David Simple in Sarah Fielding’s eponymous novel are victims of an emerging commercial marketplace based on anonymous and financial exchange.  For this reason, Janet Todd has called this literature “ardently anti-capitalist” [9].  On the level of content, downward mobility tales solicit sympathy for the losers of speculative capital.  We feel for the unfortunate Vicar of Wakefield who is forced to leave his home when the merchant with whom he has invested his life savings runs off with the money.

“The Departure from Wakefield” (c. 1817) by Thomas Rowlandson

But on the level of form, I argue, these stories are doing something else.  My own reading concentrates on the narrative form of capital, not the thematic representation of capitalism, and reads narrative dynamics within plot, characterization, and voice for their rendering of capital’s temporal and foundational contradiction.  For instance, Goldsmith’s use of ironic characterization in his novel shares a homologous form with capital’s circulation of debt as a financial instrument.  Thinking about capital’s form in downward mobility narratives suggests that the relationship between economic and literary history is less about content and mutually reinforcing discourses of empiricism, bourgeois individualism, and progress, and more about the emergence of new forms of understanding and new experiences of time that the speculative marketplace requires.  Downward mobility tales participate in rendering comprehensible the epistemology of compound economic growth and help to manage what David Harvey calls its “foundational contradiction” through their rendering of time [10].  In my larger book project, I argue that “riches to rags” narratives are not simply sympathetic tales about the losers of early capitalism, and neither do they function as cautionary fables to warn readers against speculative risks.  Stories of downward mobility in the eighteenth-century novel shape meaning to conform to the contradictory logic of infinite economic growth.  What’s interesting about The Vicar of Wakefield is that the ironic characterization allows Goldsmith to tell a story where the Vicar is released from debtor’s prison without paying his debts, a narrative logic akin to how buying and selling debt anonymously within capitalism allows for the speculative growth where some people (like Lehman Brother’s traders post-2008) get away without paying their debts and others lose their homes.  It is Goldsmith’s use of novelistic characterization that allows the reader to overlook the missing plot point of who pays the owner of the debt [11].  In other words, the stories we narrate may change our experience of the world not only on the level of what they tell but how they tell it, the narrative form the story takes.

“The Prison Scene — A Rake’s Progress” (1732-1735) by William Hogarth

When we think about the form of the eighteenth-century novel–how it textures time and molds character–we start to see how culture makes socially comprehensible something like compound economic growth.  Such thinking does a few things.  First, it suggests that our contemporary climate crisis requires more than scientific knowledge or economic theories to effect change:  it will require a large-scale epistemological shift in our collective imagination in order to inhabit a world without growth.  Second, it reminds us that cultural forms are the primary place such collective imaginations emerge, though such change often happens not on the level of representational content (this is perhaps why ‘raising awareness’ through didactic environmental documentaries doesn’t do much to effect change).  We need to change our experience of time, and, as Paul Ricoeur has taught us, narrative is fundamentally about time.  Stories embody the temporal dynamics that give life its texture and meaning.  Perhaps thinking more about narrative form and less about CO2 levels will help end our addiction to growth.  While some still believe technology will save us and that solar or biofuels will produce more energy so that we will not have to give up spring vacations in the Caribbean or 2,000 square foot houses, many others are now wondering if we need to embrace downward mobility as a way to save the planet.  Our biggest hope for a reduction in CO2 comes from a financial crash:  the only time in recent history when CO2 levels have decreased is following the 2008 crash [12]. But the eighteenth century teaches us that we also need a different way of telling stories.  If the novel is the revolutionary narrative form of the eighteenth century that allows people to comprehend infinite economic growth, even when it tells stories of financial failure, what will be the narrative form of a post-Capitalocene zero-growth era?

Notes

[1] James W. Moore, “The Capitalocene, Part I:  On the Nature and Origins of our Ecological Crisis.”  The Journal of Peasant Studies 44.3 (2017):  594-630 and Anthropocene or Capitalocene?:  Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism.  Ed. James W. Moore.  (Oakland, CA:  PM Press, 2016).

[2] Angus Maddison, Contours of the World Economy, 1–2030 AD.  Essays in Macro-Economic History.  (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2007):  382, Table A.7.

[3] For a discussion of our addiction to upward mobility, see Jeff Rubin’s The End of Growth.  (New York:  Random House, 2012).

[4] Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital:  The Rise of Steam-Power and the Roots of Global Warming.  (London:  Verso, 2016).  See Kent Linthicum’s article in this collection for a description of a steam engine predating James Watt’s machine (“Austen and the Anthropocene”).

[5] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.  Ed. R. H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner.  (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1976):  II: 626.

[6] Phyllis Deane and W. A. Cole were the first to date the origins of continuing economic growth to the 1760s.  See their British Economic Growth, 1688-1959.  (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1967).  In “The Industrial Revolution, ” Nick Craft overviews the historical work on economic growth and revises down the rates of growth to 1.4% for 1780-1801 and 0.6% for 1760-1780.  See The Economic History of Britain Since 1700.  Ed. Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey.  (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1994):  44-59.  It must be noted that an increase in overall wealth does not necessarily mean an increased standard of living for all.  Wealth distribution is a separate matter.

[7] Eric Williams’s classic study Capitalism and Slavery was one of the first critical texts to demonstrate that capitalism requires violence.  See Nick Allred’s article in this collection for a further discussion of eighteenth-century political theory and the colonialization of North America (“Locke’s American Wasteland”).

[8] Anthony Brewer, “The Concept of Growth in Eighteenth-Century Economics.”  History of Political Economy 27.4 (1995):  609-638.

[9] Janet Todd, Sensibility:  An Introduction.  (London:  Metheun, 1986):  97.

[10] David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism.  (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2014).

[11] The novel has earlier told the reader that the evil villain, Ned Thornhill, sold the Vicar’s debt to his attorney and thus the attorney owns the debt contract.  The Vicar is released when Thornhill is revealed to be a fraud, but that does not invalidate the debt contract between the Vicar and the attorney.

[12] “Global Emissions of Carbon Dioxide Drop 1.3%, Say International Scientists,” The Guardian.  (21 November 2010).

Locke’s American Wasteland

Portrait of John Locke (1697) by Sir Godfrey Kneller

There’s a curious line in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1689):  “Thus in the beginning all the world was America, and more so than that is now” [1].  The extra fraction of a second we readers take to pin down the antecedent of Locke’s “that” makes us into momentary rubberneckers at a linguistic and conceptual fender-bender.  America serves Locke throughout the Treatise as a distant place through which to imagine a distant past.  Because America offers “a pattern of the first ages in Asia and Europe,” accounts of the New World can stand in for a conjectured past when the whole world was new (58).  And yet where that substitution–America as a proto-Europe–becomes most explicit, it runs aground:  the image of America proves not to coincide with the continent itself, as the primordial fantasy he wants us to imagine becomes “more so” America than the one that actually exists in Locke’s own “now” of the late seventeenth century.

The term “Anthropocene” (and likewise its restive offspring:  “Capitalocene,” Donna Haraway’s “Chthulucene,” and so on) identifies the planet as a final limit to the way we live–simply put, the modern era (led by Western capitalism) has treated the Earth as inexhaustible and proceeded to damn near exhaust it, taxing the planet’s capacities beyond recognition and perhaps beyond repair [2].  This essay turns to Locke’s America in order to understand how the world came to be imagined as inexhaustible in the first place, how one of the earliest theorists of property accumulation managed to sidestep the problem of a finite planet.  I want to suggest that this doubled America, this America that can be “more so” itself, serves Locke as a crucial site of waste, both in the eighteenth-century technical sense of unclaimed or untilled land and in the metaphorical sense of a spillover valve that the system he envisions can’t do without.

That technical sense of waste as unowned or unimproved land may be unfamiliar today, but it’s the key to understanding both Locke’s natural law of property and that spillover valve that America provides [3].  Before the social contract, Locke claims, there are only two moral provisos on property rights:  any property claim must leave “enough, and as good” for others in the unclaimed wasteland; and any property that would “spoil,” lie fallow, or otherwise go to waste reverts to the universal free-for-all, like uneaten French fries at a ravenous lunch table (21, 20).  With this in place waste and property are opposed by definition; anything in my possession that would go to “waste,” or spoil, reverts to the ownerless “waste,” the pool of the available land and goods.  The problem, however, is that England has no such wastes left.  Money, which never spoils and never lies fallow if duly invested, has permitted so much property accumulation that what little open space remains must be understood as unclaimed by tacit consensus, public property rather than waste (22).  With the spoilage proviso rendered obsolete, what happens to the “enough, and as good”?  What waste is left over for England’s dispossessed, the surplus of people to available property that threatens property’s very legitimacy?

“America with those known parts in that unknowne worlde both people and manner of buildings” (1626) by John Speed

Here America becomes Locke’s alibi–in the term’s literal Latin meaning, an “elsewhere” as well as an excuse–for private property in England.  There’s still a primordial waste out there, Locke says, in the New World:

The same measure may be allowed still without prejudice to any body, as full as the world seems:  for supposing a man, or family, in the state they were at first peopling of the world by the children of Adam, or Noah; let him plant in some in-land, vacant places of America, we shall find that the possessions he could make himself, upon the measures we have given, would not be very large, nor, even to this day, prejudice the rest of mankind.  (23)

America takes on the duty of “enough-and-as-good” for England, available because it was supposedly lying waste. By absorbing England’s surplus population, America recalibrates the balance between private property and potential owners.

As a deus ex machina for the “enough-and-as-good” conundrum, Locke’s fantasy of America displaces the actual continent.  Elsewhere in the Treatise Locke uses indigenous Americans to illustrate the property restrictions outlined above, and even refers to wampum as a form of money not so different from European coins–but at this crucial moment they are eerily absent, an erasure of the imagination with a grimly self-fulfilling history to follow.  We should further note that America seems here like an exception to history and geography both.  Locke’s imagined homesteaders are “in the state they were at first peopling of the world” but “allowed still” in “this day” to stake out land there, in an inviting vacancy located eternally beyond the “corners” of a world that has filled up considerably since its “beginning.”  It’s a space of fantasy, impossibly larger (to borrow Slavoj Žižek’s formulation) on the inside than the outside, like Narnia behind the wardrobe door [4].  Here that space of fantasy becomes a fantasy of space; the Narnia-quality of fantasy architecture–an infinite world in a finite package–gets localized, stitched to a spot on the map like a bottomless imaginary pocket.

“A Brazilian Landscape” (1650) by Frans Post

That elastic fantasy sewn into Locke’s America, “more so” America than the continent itself, makes a finite planet seem to hold an infinite reserve of property–the illusion that Anthropocene accumulation both clings to and makes untenable.  The particular site of that fantasy in Locke’s Treatise, finally, is not a historical accident:  a landmark recent study identifies the colonization of the Americas as a key point of departure for the Anthropocene era [5].  Instead, perhaps it’s more on the order of a supreme historical irony that the nation that took up Britain’s mantle as the driving force behind Anthropocene extraction, a nation founded on Locke’s ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property, was founded on the continent whose fantastic afterimage had underwritten those ideals from the very “beginning” [6].

Notes

[1] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government.  Ed. C. B. Macpherson.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett, 1980):  29.  Future references to this text will be cited parenthetically.  Work on America’s importance for Locke is relatively scarce.  Key sources include:  Herman Lebovics’s “The Uses of America in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government,” Journal of the History of Ideas 47.4 (1986):  567-81; chapter 5 of James Tully’s An Approach to Political Philosophy:  Locke in Contexts (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1993); Barbara Arneil’s John Locke and America:  The Defence of English Colonialism (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1996); and Jimmy Klausen’s “Room Enough:  America, Natural Liberty, and Consent in Locke’s Second Treatise,” The Journal of Politics 69.3 (2007):  760-9.

[2] The bibliography on the Anthropocene is vast, interdisciplinary, and constantly growing; for a good point of introduction, see Dipesh Chakrabarty’s “The Climate of History:  Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35.2 (2009):  197-222.  For competing terms see Anthropocene or Capitalocene?  Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism.  Ed. Jason Moore (Oakland, CA:  PM Press, 2016).

[3] See Vittoria di Palma’s Wasteland:  A History (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2014); also see the OED entry for “waste.”

[4] Looking Awry:  An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1991):  15.  My thanks to Sean Silver for reminding me of this formulation in a recent talk.

[5] Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene.”  Nature 519 (2015):  171-80.

[6] Katherine Binhammer’s article “Anthropocene as Capitalocene” in this collection continues the analysis of imagined economic infinities in the eighteenth century and their relationship to the Anthropocene.

Napoleon, an English Poet, and the Gas Lighting of London

“Chinese Pagoda and Bridge, in St James’s Park” (1820) by Edward Wedlake Brayley

Almost before the ink was dry on the Treaty of Fontainebleau in April of 1814, people of all stations and occupations—including allied generals, monarchs, and heads of state—converged on London to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat with a panoply of special events:  processions, dinners, balls, performances, worship services, and much, much more.  As Edward Orme reported in his souvenir Historical Memento, especially creative were the uses of light [1].  Illuminations were staged in a wondrous variety of places, from banks and parks to the Houses of Parliament; amid the countless candles, oil lamps, torches, and fireworks blazed the efforts of the Gas Light and Coke Company.  This young enterprise had just launched an ambitious and truly transformative infrastructure project:  installing gas lights on the streets of London.  Seven years earlier, Pall Mall had been the first street anywhere in the world to be lit with gas, and now, with legislation permitting bold and extensive excavation, the company eagerly contracted with the government to participate in the grand celebrations of Napoleon’s exile (Conlin 7) [2, 3].  Undaunted by issues of scale, their pièce de resistance was the Chinese bridge and pagoda erected in St. James Park, which included 10,000 gas flames.  Within a year the company had laid thirty miles of gas pipe in the city (Conlin 7) [2].  By 1826, “fifty-three British cities had gas mains,” and the pace picked up from there (Flanders 219) [3].  It’s hard to overestimate the impact of gas lighting on London, “the first city to establish uniform lighting as a civic obligation” (Flanders 219) [3].  After all, as Jonathan Conlin reminds us, lighting was not simply an incidental feature of the public sphere; it actually helped to create the public (13) [2].

Felicia Hemans’s poem “The Illuminated City” (1826) is said to have been inspired by just this coincidence:  the celebrations of 1814 and the installation of gas lights in London [4, 5, 6].  Although Hemans’s body of work fell out of favor at the end of the nineteenth century, during her lifetime this enormously popular poet was understood to speak for all of England.  As scholar Tricia Lootens has put it, “[f]ew poetic careers can have been more thoroughly devoted to the construction of national identity than was that of Felicia Hemans” (239) [7].  So it’s not surprising to read her poem “The Illuminated City” as referencing the incorporation of gas lighting into a civic celebration that helped recalibrate English identity for a post-war paradigm.  While the text does not name London (opting instead for allusion, which is typical of Hemans’s work), the spectacle of the “royal city” evokes a key moment in English national, imperial, and even (we inhabitants of the Anthropocene might say) planetary history.

In a sensory-rich opening stanza, fire blazes from an array of sources.  In the hills, hamlets, forests, and especially the city, “festive light” shines from “lamps [. . .] upon tower and tree”; pillars are “wreath’d with fire”; spires resemble “shooting meteor[s]”; silhouetted buildings sparkle in “the clear dark sky.”  Through its comprehensive reach, this vista takes in and stabilizes all the varied elements of the landscape; thus, the glow of victory unifies.  Soon, however, the poetic speaker realizes that these illuminations might succeed too well.  The “bright lamp’s glare” is so “dazzling” that he becomes blinded, and so light itself casts a figurative shadow.  As the poem explains, these many forms of light prevent us from apprehending vital truths about the cost of war.  Life’s “deep story” can only be encountered in those places beyond the glare of gas lamps and fireworks.  A foreshortened line of sight replaces the vista, and we are denied access to scenes that the poet values as true.  Elaborated through five stanzas, the play of light and dark insists on the limits of vision.  Thus, in the end, Hemans’s poem resists any straightforward reading of brightly lit pageantry the likes of which the summer of 1814 offered.  Her rendition of the spectacle suggests an attendant crisis of perception, an intimation of persistent illegibility—blind spots, as it were.  Occlusion becomes an important dynamic in her poem of post-war illumination.

Felicia Hemans (1837) by W. E. West

A similar crisis of perception also operates in a second, admittedly minor Hemans poem, “The Curfew Song of England” (1834) [8].  This text memorializes a much earlier iconic moment in English history, when William the Conqueror decreed that all his subjects return home at the sound of the bell and extinguish every light.  Here the affront is not the blaze that prevents perception, but instead the prohibition against candle, lamp, rushlight, and most importantly the fire in the hearth.  In “The Curfew Song,” the fire doused on the order of a foreign oppressor becomes part of the nation’s cultural inheritance.  Here, once again, the effect is to obscure the sight the poet claims to want to illustrate, for the text peremptorily snuffs out several scenes in quick succession.  As in “The Illuminated City,” then, the obstructed view is integral to the telling of the national tale.  Both texts present moments around which English identity is presumed to cohere, and in both cases, representation is compromised through an important point of tension:  artificial light and its control.

“A Peep at the Gas Lights in Pall Mall” (1809) by Thomas Rowlandson

So the centrifugal force in Hemans’s body of work—her thematic interest in emigration and military service, her popularity at the farthest Anglophone reaches—is complemented by this additional dynamic.  Illumination and its opposite (extinction) are expressions of power with rather complex implications.  In “The Illuminated City,” even with lamps and pillars and spires aflame, the full truth of national life remains obscured.  New technologies might well overreach, unintentionally limiting the vision of the poetic speaker.  Left unacknowledged are the vulnerabilities of the nation that the blaze is meant to celebrate.

Plate V from A Practical Treatise on Gas-Light (1815) by Fredrick Accum

Susan Wolfson has recently explained that in the work of Lord Byron, the Shelleys, and other Romantics, the “macro-discharge of lightning communicated the bold, risky spirit of the age” (757) [9].  That Promethean spark offered a kind of electrical sublime.  In fact, the image was current enough that Byron’s imitator William Sotheby described Napoleon’s first defeat as Britain’s “lightning stroke” (as cited by Wolfson, 760) [9].  Quite differently, in “The Illuminated City,” light is neither natural nor instantaneous.  Thus, perhaps it presages a much more sustained and comprehensive gamble.  On the occasion of Napoleon’s exile to Elba, when England stood at the verge of its fossil-fueled acceleration, the woman whose “mind [was] national property” reckoned with the promise and failings of the moment [10].  Hemans, who, according to her contemporary Jane Williams, unified readers “in the most distant and alienated colonial settlements and in the old home of the British race” (Wolfson 602) [11], anxiously assessed the implications when bright lights obscure sober reflection—when the spectacle of national belonging overpowers and occludes.  In both “The Illuminated City” and “The Curfew Song of England,” describing what cannot be seen certainly poses a compositional challenge for the poet, but how she stage-manages sources of light is far more than an aesthetic concern.  In these texts, Englishness is associated with the coercive control of artificial light.  The expanding networks of gas evoked by “The Illuminated City” reify a pervasive alienation and displacement that have become ever more symptomatic of the Anthropocene.  Speaking of our own day, Jonathan Crary has argued that we in the twenty-first century encounter increasing “institutional intolerance of whatever obscures or prevents an instrumentalized and unending condition of visibility” (5) [12].  It would seem that Felicia Hemans has foreshadowed this state of affairs.

Notes

[1] Orme, Edward.  Historical Memento Representing the Different Scenes of Public Rejoicing, which took place the first of August in St. James’s and Hyde Parks, London in Celebration of the Glorious Peace of 1814, and the Centenary of the Accession of the Illustrious House of Brunswick to the Throne of these Kingdoms.  London, 1814.

[2] Conlin, Jonathan.  “Big City, Bright Lights?  Night Spaces in Paris and London, 1660-1820.”  La Sociabilité en France et en Grande-Bretagne au Siècle des Lumières:  Modèles et Espaces de Sociabilité.  Ed. Valerie Capdeville and Eric Francalanza.  Editions Le Manuscrit, 2014.

[3] Flanders, Judith.  The Making of Home:  The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes.  Atlantic, 2014.

[4] Susan Wolfson, for example, makes this connection in her edition of Hemans’s work.  See Felicia Hemans:  Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials.  Princeton UP, 2000.  420.

[5] Gary Kelly associates illuminations in the poem with a different expression of power, when mobs would coerce homeowners to light their windows to show partisan support.  See Felicia Hemans:  Selected Poems, Prose, and Letters.  Ed. Gary Kelly.  Broadview, 2002.  345.

[6] “The Illuminated City” was published first in Monthly Magazine as part of a new series in November 1826 (515).

[7] Lootens, Tricia.  “Hemans and Home:  Victorianism, Feminine ‘Internal Enemies,’ and the Domestication of National Identity.”  PMLA 109.2 (March 1994):  238-253.

[8] Hemans, Felicia.  “The Curfew Song of England.”  The Poetical Works of Felicia Hemans Complete in One Volume with a Memoir, by Mrs. L. H Sigourney.  Phillips and Sampson, 1853.  613-614.

[9] Wolfson, Susan J.  “‘This is my Lightning’ or; Sparks in the Air.”  SEL 55 (Autumn 2015):  751-786.

[10] Review of The Siege of Valencia by Felicia Hemans.  See British Critic and Quarterly Theological Review 20 (July 1823):  53.

[11] Jane Williams wrote an entry on “Felicia Dorothea Hemans” for The Literary Women of England, published in 1862.  Wolfson includes extensive passages in her collection (602).

[12] Crary, Jonathan.  24/7:  Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep.  Verso, 2013.

“Roguish Passions”: A Conversation About The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Scholars Joe Drury and Danielle Bobker discuss how a recent novel — The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee — evokes an “engagingly louche” eighteenth century for young adult readers.

Joe Drury: I’m not a great reader of historical fiction nor of YA fiction, so I felt some trepidation accepting your invitation to co-write a review of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. But the title and the blurb were just too delicious to resist: the protagonist and narrator, Henry “Monty” Montague, Viscount of Disley (why “of” I’m not sure), is the troubled son of an earl recently expelled from Eton and is now setting off on his Grand Tour with his friend Percy and sister Felicity, eager to indulge his “roguish passions” for gambling, late-night drinking, and philandering with both women and men.

Danielle Bobker: These premises are pretty compelling, I agree. As is Monty himself, right from the start. He’s on the top of my list of the book’s virtues.  I did some googling and it turns out this is Mackenzi Lee’s second novel. Her first book, This Monstrous Thing, a steampunk retelling of Frankenstein, won her a lot of fans. Monty’s voice makes it easy to see why she’s been so successful with YA readers.

Joe: Yes, he’s engagingly louche, isn’t he? One part witty Restoration libertine and one part James Boswell of the journals. I was interested to see that Lee cites Boswell’s journals as an influence in a note at the end and, as a Boswell fanboy, I couldn’t help but enjoy the moment when his travelling effects showed up in the second half of the novel.

Danielle: At the same time, Monty’s campiness belongs very much to our own moment: I mean in his attitude as much as his language. For instance, when he watches his best friend stretch himself in bed in the opening pages: “Percy’s showy about so few things, but he’s a damned opera in the mornings.” Or, when the two of them are actually at an opera house half way through and Percy needs help but Monty is stunned: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I’m fishing bare-handed in my stream of consciousness for some way to take charge of this situation and be what he needs, and I’m coming up empty.”

The style of Monty’s wanting is not that of any seventeenth- or eighteenth-century rake that I know. He’s more in the mold of the eminently likeable, and eminently marketable, Hollywood romcom rake: Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Or whoever the genderqueer boycrush of the hour is (I wish I knew).

On second thought, Monty’s really more like a typical romcom heroine. He loves Percy right from the beginning and waits in agony for signs that the feeling is mutual.

Joe:  The fresh diction and familiar teen angst are great, I agree—and essential to Lee’s whole project of inviting young readers to imagine their way into the lives of the eighteenth-century elite. Interestingly there are good eighteenth-century literary precedents for this kind of approach. For instance, as many critics have pointed out, Ann Radcliffe’s novels are set in late-medieval continental Europe, but feature heroines with the values and sensibility of eighteenth-century English women. The historical dissonance between characters and the world through which they move is part of the fun in a Gentleman’s Guide too.

Danielle: Pointing to Radcliffe is especially apt—because when Monty, Percy, and Felicity find themselves in Venice, this travelogue / picaresque / coming of age story becomes a Gothic novel too.

Lately I find myself wondering about the ongoing appeal of the eighteenth century, both to academics and in the popular imagination. Seeing it through Lee’s eyes reminded me that at least one answer lies in the variety of interrelated escape fantasies that the period so readily supports. The fantasy of adventure, of novelty and discovery, definitely. But also the fantasy of total entitlement encapsulated in the figure of the irresistible young rake.

I like how Lee’s all-you-can-eat approach to eighteenth-century literary genres seems to amplify the energy and rashness of adolescence that the novel captures so well in other respects too. (Even if adolescence wasn’t really invented until the nineteenth century.)

And Lee gives us a nice point of reference for making sense of the novel’s generic wildness in Monty’s sister Felicity: Felicity initially appears to be to a female Quixote, but in fact she’s just put the covers of romance novels over the many other books, including medical treatises, that she really wants to read.

Joe: Yes, that bit was great. But there are other kinds of anachronism I found more jarring, only because they seemed unintended. The novel sometimes seems to be set in the early 1720s, or some point during the Regency in France. But other details—such as the reflections on the slave trade and the abolition movement—imply a much later setting. I found the descriptions of eighteenth-century fashion, carriages, and clothing delightfully vivid, but the portrayal of eighteenth-century institutions rather sketchier: Felicity appears to be on her way to some kind of late nineteenth-century European “finishing school,” while Monty is able to walk into the branch of a “French partner institution to the Bank of England” in Marseilles, though he does at least flirt with a male bank clerk to get his cash rather than use an ATM machine.

Danielle: And other things point back several centuries: the alchemy, for instance, which is especially focused around a mysterious ebony box that Monty steals from a duke’s chambers at Versailles, and the notion that people having epileptic seizures have been possessed by the devil.

Joe: Yes, although Lee would probably argue that many of those kinds of “pre-modern” or “superstitious” beliefs would have persisted into the supposedly enlightened eighteenth century. We have never been modern and all that.

And I wonder about Felicity as a character as well. She seems to be symptomatic of an annoying school of thought that assumes that for a work of art to be feminist, it has to depict “powerful,” ultra-capable women doing kick-ass things like Wonder Woman or Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, whereas I’m always trying to convince my students that a work of art can be just as, if not more, effective as feminist critique by representing women who are completely deprived of power and the capacity to act because of their circumstances and the society in which they live. Think of Clarissa or Calista or, even a character from a comic novel like Marianne Dashwood. In these stories, patriarchy isn’t so easy to overcome as it is for lucky Felicity. I’ve nothing against kick-ass women (and there are plenty of great ones in eighteenth-century literature, of course), but I felt Lee missed an opportunity with Felicity to give her readers a richer, darker, less comfortable view of what it would have been like to be a woman in eighteenth-century Europe.

Danielle: I see what you mean about Felicity. She is a composite ideal of Lee’s liberal feminist femininity: intellectually autonomous; literary; career-minded; not particularly invested in male sexual approval yet also attractive—above all, highly competent. The character of Percy, a stoic and unassuming person of color, is burdened with blandness in the same way.

Joe: Yes, it is just as easy for Percy to move through this world, even though he is an epileptic of mixed race who is in love with a man. People notice that he is not white and he and Monty have the occasional discussion about the difficulties of the closet. But these difficulties never become more than just opportunities for the expression of a rather pious liberalism. Why not show us what it would have been like to be the victim of homophobia or racism in eighteenth-century Europe rather than just have people talk about it?

Danielle: Although Lee plays with lots of genres, her attachment to the moral promise of sentimental fiction is quite rigid, especially to its central promise to punish or reform vice and reward virtue. Maybe this is the kind of reassuring moral universe that Lee believes YA readers prefer? (My six-year old children certainly do.) But the title makes it sound like vice and virtue will be embraced equally—like in Casanova’s autobiography or Dangerous Liaisons. It’s false advertising.

Joe: Yes, totally. There is, alas, far more virtue than vice in this book.

Danielle: And, ironically, by presenting Felicity and Percy as morally flawless, Lee actually recapitulates Monty’s basic socioeconomic, racial, and patriarchal privilege: only the rich white guy has the right to be complicated.

Hearing from Felicity and Percy as narrators would have gone a long way to redressing this imbalance, I think. I don’t necessarily agree that their suffering more would have made them better vehicles of critique. But I do think that Lee could have shown that, like Monty, but for good reasons often much more than him, these characters also have to learn to navigate, skirt around, or, occasionally, go head to head with dominant power structures. Even Pamela Andrews has edges.

Joe: Fair enough, although just as he is the only one who is allowed to be complicated and flawed, I’d argue that Monty is also the only character who really suffers and the only one as a result who undergoes any kind of moral development. The ending reminded me a bit of Game of Thrones, where unsympathetic characters like Jaime and Theon only begin to acquire moral feeling and complexity once they’ve been disabled or mutilated in some way. But George R. R. Martin and co also show us what it feels like to be a dwarf or a bastard or a woman in Westeros. In this novel, it feels as if the woman and the black man are just there to be props for the white male protagonist’s liberal moral awakening. Why couldn’t Felicity actually behave like one of Haywood’s heroines instead of just pretending to read about them? My understanding is that YA fiction often goes to these darker places these days—I’ve seen The Hunger Games!—so I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of audience. And as you say, eighteenth-century literature often has a harder, Hobbesian edge so it’s not a question of period authenticity either.

Danielle: Yes, it’s disappointing that, rather than using the past as a pretext to explore ongoing ethical dilemmas, Lee simply encases her fixed contemporary moralism into this vaguely historical package. So, ultimately, I guess we suggest enjoying The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, then chasing it with something a little stronger.

Further reading recommended by Joe and Danielle:

Literature of libertinism

  • John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, Poems
  • Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess, Fantomina, The Masqueraders, Anti-Pamela, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless
  • Casanova, Memoirs
  • James Boswell, The London Journal, The Grand Tour
  • John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
  • Choderlos de Laclos, Dangerous Liaisons
  • George Etherege, The Man of Mode
  • Aphra Behn, The Rover
  • William Wycherley, The Country Wife
  • The Libertine Reader: Eroticism and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France
  • When Flesh Becomes Word: An Anthology of Early Eighteenth-Century Libertine Literature

Other literature of the period

  • Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian, The Romance of the Forest
  • Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote
  • Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela

Relevant academic studies

  • George Haggerty, Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century
  • Susan Lanser, The Sexuality of History
  • Alan Bray, The Friend
  • Randolph Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution
  • Rictor Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England, 1700-1830
  • Karen Harvey, Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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