She-Pirates: Early Eighteenth-Century Fantasy and Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menopause in Early Modern England (and Now)

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Bennet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Susan

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

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

Conclusion

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A visual version of this paper is available here. 

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 Making of Jane Austen: Going Behind the Scenes of the First Hollywood Pride and Prejudice (1940)

As a Jane Austen scholar, I get to go to some pretty incredible libraries—The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, The Morgan Library in New York City, The British Library in London, the Chawton House Library at Jane Austen’s “Great House” in Chawton among them. But an amazing library with Austen riches in Beverly Hills? Yes, believe it or not, there is one. I spent several happy days there researching for my book, The Making of Jane Austen (2017). The glamour quotient of that trip might seem lower to you, however, when you learn that I arrived via city bus.

It was a pretty great bus ride, all in all. The bus inches along Sunset Boulevard (yes, that Sunset Boulevard) to a stop at Vine (and yes, that Vine!), passing Chateau Marmont and some seriously upscale shopping. I felt pretty much the opposite of the beautiful people, carrying an enormous computer bag, wearing a dowdy sweater, and facing the prospect of spending several sunny California days entirely indoors. For a library rat, it’s absolutely worth it.

The Margaret Herrick Library, also known as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library, or the Oscars Library, holds countess papers and files that document Jane Austen’s afterlife in Hollywood. I made an appointment to see their unpublished materials on the making of MGM’s Pride and Prejudice (1940), that much loved or hated (and sometimes both loved and hated!) film starring Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy. I knew from the online catalog that the library held production files, publicity photographs, and many scripts, but I had little idea what was in them. Only a handful of scholars had ever described this material. Even those few treated these materials rather briefly. I figured that even if it turned out to be a lot of junk, I could describe that. I needed to see it all for myself, in order to cover the stage-performance-turned-into-early-film part of Austen’s afterlife.

Arriving at the Herrick Library turns out to be a rather grand event. The place may look like a church, but it’s locked down like a bank. I had my identity checked by the security guard, stowed most of my possessions in a locker, noticed the familiar names engraved on the walls, walked up the staircase, checked in with the librarian, and found a desk. Then I got my first look at the files. I started with the glossy, black-and-white publicity stills for Pride and Prejudice taken by MGM. There were hundreds of gorgeous shots. Unfortunately, researchers aren’t allowed to take their own photographs of anything at the Herrick, even for personal research purposes. The library also has a strict policy on the small number of paid photocopies a researcher is allowed per year. This is a big scholar-bummer, but knowing those constraints made me focus differently. These images are still seared into my memory, because it seemed my only option.

The shots of the set were stunning. To see them up close made me reimagine the amount of expense and care that went into designing details large and small, from the walls to the furniture to the props. The photographs of the cast wearing those oh-so-wrong Victorian costumes were also riveting, even if they are cringe-worthy examples of historical research gone wrong. It was clear from the production files that the costumers thought that lumping together fashions from 1810s, 1820s, 1830s or even the 1840s couldn’t make all that much difference. (One wonders how any Hollywood costume designer thinking through the amount of fashion change that was seen from through 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s could possibly think so.)

What I remember best from the production photographs, however, are the casual shots taken on set during filming. There was an arresting photograph of Judy Garland “stopping by” oh-so-casually—and coincidentally with a photographer on hand!—to visit Garson in her Pride and Prejudice dressing room. Another photo shows Garson reading an enormous nineteenth-century volume—a book prop—between takes, as she sits on a director’s chair near the set’s unintentionally hilarious “Rare Books” storefront. I suppose one could argue all books were rare in the eighteenth century, when buying even one volume was something out of the reach of most regular people, but “rare books” was not yet a commercial term.

A photograph of the outdoor table from the film’s famous archery scene between Elizabeth and Darcy shows that someone had delicately taped over a naked putto’s nether regions. A casual photo of Garson in costume as Elizabeth, getting an archery lesson from a man in a white undershirt, was terribly funny in its sartorial and historical contrast. A shot of Olivier and Garson in costume, receiving dance instruction from a modern-dress husband-wife team, was similarly amusing but at the same time surprisingly moving. A dedication to the study of movement—for teachers and students—was well captured in this photo.

Another shot of two men, Olivier, dressed as Darcy, and the film’s director, Robert “Pop” Leonard, in his Colonel Sanders-like outfit, playing badminton together in between outdoor takes was priceless. A shot of the English members of the cast, in a down moment, enjoying a tea break, seemed both staged and true-to-life. It made visible the trans-Atlantic elements of the production very clearly, too.

But the best photo of all is one of the Bennet sisters posed at the edge of the set. The five actors are standing together, in a costumed line, in front of doors with signs above them. The doors presumably lead to a women’s dressing room. The largest sign reads, “Thru These Portals Pass the Most Beautiful Girls in Meryton,” with smaller letters below that warn, “Positively No Admission,” and “The Little Girls Club.” There is also an obscured notice that seems to advertise an on-set knitting club.

The photos definitely whetted my appetite to learn more about the making of this film, but it was the typescript files that turned out to be an absolute feast. I moved from the production stills to the print files. I knew the rough outlines of the agonizingly slow play-to-film journey of MGM’s Pride and Prejudice, which had its start in Helen Jerome’s 1935 Broadway hit play and was rewritten by a series of screenwriters for Hollywood. It’s a story that has been told many times before, and I won’t repeat that five-year odyssey here, except to say that it involved not only predictable casting changes but a premature and unexpected death. (If you want to learn about why the story of Harpo Marx’s role in it all is greatly exaggerated, you’ll have to check out my book.)

What I got to read in those Herrick Library script files were drafts that few have had a chance to digest before. There were dozens of Pride and Prejudice screenplays—“failed” scripts–with Austen-inspired scenes and dialogue never brought to life. Some of these scripts were truly dreadful. It was all I could do to stifle my laughter as I read these preposterous scenarios, from the full-on mud-splashings proposed for Elizabeth and Darcy (two different versions had each of them successively doused in mud) to the heart-of-gold neighborhood gypsy named Tony. Obviously, though, laughing out loud would not have been okay, as sounds of any kind are frowned upon in libraries in general. The Herrick especially inspires silence and awe, with its spotless, white Bob Hope Lobby and its elegant, olive-green Katharine Hepburn Reading Room. I tried to limit myself to broad smirks. Believe me, it was a challenge.

You can read more of the gory details of these ridiculous failed scripts in my book’s chapter seven, but I can’t resist sharing one more tidbit. In one early version of the screenplay, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and Colonel Fitzwilliam go off on a crazy bachelor weekend to London. In one of their misadventures, they end up wagering on a dog versus monkey fight. Colonel Fitzwilliam bets on the monkey, but Darcy’s money is on the dog. And it turns out that that bit, at least, was vaguely historically accurate! There was a fighting monkey, Jacco Macacco, that fought in the Westminster Pit in London and was made famous by Pierce Egan in his Life in London (1821). It’s the book that gave rise to the characters Tom and Jerry, so it’s especially amusing to think of Darcy, Bingley, and the Colonel as precursor bro-friends transposed into those roles. Whether you’re a fan of the 1940 Pride and Prejudice or not, the final version of the film will rise in your estimation once you realize just how much worse things might have been.

I also came away from reading these scripts doing more than laughing. Reading them makes one realize how these screenwriters were really in a tough place. They were trying to find—they were no doubt being charged to create—ways to make Austen seem fresh to millions of late 1930s moviegoers who may never have heard of her or who knew of her only glancingly. Screenwriters were throwing whatever they could think of at Pride and Prejudice, including the conventions of Westerns and screwball comedies. In the end, I thought, we should probably be more generous in assessing their attempts, even if you feel, as I do, quite relieved that most of these ideas never saw the screen.

I came away from the library thinking, “Long live Jane Austen in popular culture, whether in Beverly Hills or London or Chawton—whether in enough mud for a full-body wrestling match or with just a few glorious inches of it worn around the ankles—and whether you are cheering for the dog or the monkey.”

P. S. The Herrick Library was very generous with me during my visit, providing access to a lot of material and invaluable research assistance. I’m especially grateful to librarian Jenny Romero, who helped me find just the right things to read. I’m also thankful to the staff there, who never raised their eyebrows too high, even if an audible laugh or two may have escaped from me unawares.

You can read more about The Making of Jane Austen, watch a book trailer, see additional images, and order your own copy at makingjaneasten.com.

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

Figure 1.  John Hoppner, Mary Robinson as Perdita (1782), Chawton House Library.

Sean John, DASH, Material Girl, William Rast, OVO, House of Harlow, Yeezy, Paper Crown, the Jessica Simpson Collection, Rocawear, The Row, Twenty8Twelve.  Celebrity fashion labels are flooding the sartorial marketplace, and the phenomenon shows no sign of stopping.  Rihanna recently announced a collaboration with Chopard for a joint collection of jewelry, combining “urban chic and classic glamour.”[1]  And this coming October, Sarah Jessica Parker will launch her new SJP footwear collection on the Internet behemoth Amazon, featuring the exclusive designs “Dash,” “Flirt,” and “Wink.”[2]  InStyle.co.uk broadcasted the affair with the texty title “OMG!  Soon You’ll Be Able to Shop SJP’s Shoes On Amazon.”

Not everyone, however, is a fan of the pop-up celebrity designer.  Upon receiving the Couture Council’s Award for Artistry in 2012, the late Oscar de la Renta spoke out against the trend:  “Today, if you play tennis, you can be a really good designer,” he said, “Or, if you’re an actress, you can be a designer.  I’ve been at it for 45 years and I’m still learning my craft.”[3]  In addition to suggesting that upstarts are infiltrating the fashion world, de la Renta’s statement imagines a time—his time—when the art of fashion recognized quality design that bespoke training, skill, and experience, rather than sheer fame.

Elegiac musings may have their appeal, but do they reflect reality?  There’s no question that celebrity style has long had an impact on the fashion world—think Beau Brummell, Lillie Langtry, Jean Harlow, Katherine Hepburn.  The question is how new is the celebrity-cum-couturier?  The life of the British actress Mary Robinson (1757?-1800) (Figure 1) would suggest that celebrity clothing and accessory lines are, in fact, nothing new.

Mary Robinson’s meteoric rise to fame began in 1776 with her dazzling performance on the London stage as Juliet, and in 1779 with her spirited rendering of Perdita in David Garrick’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.  The latter representation captivated the Prince of Wales (the future George IV), and an infamous romance between the newly styled “Perdita” and “Florizel” ensued.

Like many starlets today, her love life became a source of scandal and intrigue.  When the Prince’s affection waned, Robinson left the stage and travelled to France.  She befriended Marie Antoinette and was courted by the wealthiest man in Europe, the Duke de Chartres.  In 1782, after her return from the Continent, Robinson indulged in romances with the dashing young dragoon Colonel Banastre Tarleton, a leading commander of British troops in the war against the American colonies, and Charles James Fox, the charismatic leader of the Whig party.

Robinson’s stage career, though brief (she retired from the boards at the close of the 1779-1780 season), was a tour de force. Her performances—both as an actress and a mistress—earned her widespread acclaim and notoriety.  In the manner of magazines such as Hello! or People, the newspapers reported continually on her whereabouts.  And while paparazzi did not yet exist, painters did.  Top artists of the day, Thomas Gainsborough, John Hoppner, Joshua Reynolds, and George Romney, all painted portraits of her.

But while Robinson’s acting and amours sparked her popularity, it was her fashion sense and style that kept the flame ablaze.  By decorating herself in stunning confections known as the “Perdita Hood,” the “Robinson hat for Ranelagh,” the “Perdita handkerchief,” and the “Robinson gown,” she transformed herself into one of the foremost fashion icons of her day and sent the stylish set into a frenzy.[4]

Her most voguish look was the 1782 “Perdita chemise,” a hoop-free muslin tube cinched at the waist and styled after Marie Antoinette’s version of the gown:  the Chémise à la Reine (Figure 2).  This design—later promoted in England in a different form by the Duchess of Devonshire (remember Keira Knightley in The Duchess?)—paved the way for the neoclassical gowns of the 1790s and early 1800s.  According to one London newspaper, Robinson’s trend-setting styles “set the whole world ‘a madding.’”[5]  Women eager to appear à la mode began adorning themselves in her sartorial creations.

Figure 2.  Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress (1783), Hessische Hausstiftung [The Hessian House Foundation], Kronberg.

Robinson’s fashions attest to her desire to ensure unending media buzz.  But they also demonstrate the fact that she literally made a name for herself in the world of fashion.  Her signature designs were both recognizable and reproducible.  They were, after all, labeled “the Perdita” or “the Robinson”—a form of proto-celebrity branding.

Unlike modern celebrities, Robinson did not profit financially from her designs.  Yet her savvy marketing of them ensured her decisive impact on contemporary couture.  Robinson made her mark in other artistic circles as well, becoming one of the top authors of her day—a playwright, a novelist, and a poet.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge deemed her a woman of “undoubted Genius.”[6]  Ultimately, Robinson ensured her legacy in the world of fashion and in the world of letters.  Victoria Beckham—eat your heart out.

[1] Erica Gonzales, “Rihanna is Designing a New Jewelry Collection,” Bazaar (7 April 2017) http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/designers/news/a21876/rihanna-collaborates-with-chopard/

[2] Chloe Mac Donnell, “OMG!  Soon You’ll Be Able to Shop SJP’s Shoes On Amazon,” InStyle.co.uk (18 July 2017) http://www.instyle.co.uk/news/youll-soon-be-able-shop-sjps-shoe-collection-amazon-fashion#9ClsHusWo6Kqg9iC.99

[3] Ella Alexander, “Oscar de la Renta Honored,” Vogue (6 Sept. 2012) http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/oscar-de-la-renta-receives-couture-council-artistry-award

[4] The Lady’s Magazine began reporting on Robinson in 1780 and continued throughout the decade.  For coverage of Robinson’s fashions during the 1782-1783 season, see the Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex 14 (1783):  187, 268, 331, 650-651.

[5] Morning Herald (17 December 1781), p. 2.  Additionally, on 15 October 1782, the Morning Herald reported, “An amateur of the Cyprian Corps recommends to our fair countrywomen a total abolition of the large hoop and long petticoat, and to adopt the PERDITA, a system of elegant simplicity and neatness, which has ever so conspicuously marked the dress of that celebrated leader of the wantons of the age!”.  Just one month later, the same newspaper was predicting the pervasiveness of Robinson’s fashion trend:  “The Chemise de la Reine, in which Mrs Robinson appeared at the Opera, is expected to become a favourite undress among the fashionable women” (Morning Herald, 20 November 1782).  Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire was also instrumental in popularizing the chemise in England.  In 1784, she reported having gone “to a concert in one of the muslin chemises with fine lace that the Queen of France gave me”; qtd. Georgiana:  Extracts from the Correspondence of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, ed. Earl of Bessborough (London, 1955), 91.  In 1786, Angelica Kauffman painted Lady Elizabeth Foster, a close friend of the Duchess, in a version of the chemise with a double falling collar.  By 1787 the Lady’s Magazine reported that “all the Sex now . . . appear in their white muslin frocks with broad sashes”; see the Lady’s Magazine (London, 1787), 331.

[6] Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey (25 Jan. 1800), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Ed. Earl Leslie Griggs.  6 vols.  (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1956).  1:  562-564.

Open-Access Anne Finch Digital Archive

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

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

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

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

The Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD)

NRD Logo 1

Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Cochrane Corbin and the Papers of the War Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interiority and Jane Porter’s Pocket Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex and the Founding Fathers

Sex and the Founding Fathers by Thomas Foster

Sex and the Founding Fathers by Thomas A. Foster

Living as we do in an era in which public figures are subjected to extreme scrutiny in the form of media intrusions, we tend to think of our interest in reconciling public images with private sexual conduct as uniquely postmodern. In fact, Americans have long invested national heroes with superior moral status and at the same time probed into their private lives. If the Founding Fathers seem remote to us now, that distance persists despite the efforts of generations of biographers who attempt to take their measure as leaders and tell us what they were really like in their most intimate relationships. From the early years of the Republic till now, biographers have attempted to burnish the Founders’ images and satisfy public curiosity about their lives beyond public view. At the same time, gossips and politically motivated detractors, claiming to have the inside track on new information, have circulated scandalous or unpleasant stories to knock these exalted men off their pedestals. Looking back at the stories and assessments that have proliferated in the two and a half centuries since the Founders’ generation, we see the dual nature of these accounts and how they oscillate between the public and the private, between the idealized image and actions in the intimate realm. We see how each generation reshapes images of the Founders to fit that storyteller’s era.

On the one hand, the Founders appear desexualized. The images of the Founding Fathers that we regularly encounter—as heads on money, as reference points in discussions about political ideology, and as monuments at tourist sites—assert their status as virtuous American men. They typically appear either disembodied—as heads or busts—or in clothing that reminds us of their political or military position. Their flesh is covered from neck to wrists, with only hands and face exposed. Typically, the men are frozen in advanced age—generally gray-haired, if not topped off with wigs—further confirming their identities as desexualized elder statesman for generations of Americans who associate sexual activity with youth (1).

On the other side of the coin, curiosity about their “real” lives has continued seemingly unabated into our own time. In 1810, Mason Weems, originator of the cherry-tree myth, emphasized the importance of discussing George Washington’s personal life. Weems argues that “public character” is no “evidence of true greatness” and calls for a spotlight to be shined on his “private life.” Weems gives the compelling example of Benedict Arnold, who could “play you the great man” “yet in the private walks of life” reveal himself to be a “swindler”—including not only his political deception but his use of the “aid of loose women.” For Weems, the Founders’ intimate relationships should not be off limits for Americans: “It is not, then, in the glare of public, but in the shade of private life, that we are to look for the man. Private life is always real life.” To truly know them, their conduct in that realm is an important piece of the puzzle (2).

By tracing how intimacy has figured in popular memory of the Founders from their own lifetimes to the recent past, Sex and the Founding Fathers shows that sex has long been used to define their masculine character and political authority and has always figured in civic and national identity (3).  Each generation has asked different questions about the Founders and their private lives, but Americans have consistently imagined and reimagined the private lives of the Founders through the lens of contemporary society. As Michael Kammen and others have argued, countries “reconstruct their pasts rather than faithfully record them” and “do so with the needs of contemporary culture clearly in mind” (4).  Gore Vidal has referred to our selective national memory as “The United States of Amnesia” (5).  It is true that we tend to embrace the the national narratives that we desire and “forget” those that we prefer to hide away. Stories about the Founders’ lives have always been told in ways that make use of the norms and ideals of the time period.  Founders can never be embraced in their late-eighteenth-century context, for, as the saying goes, the past is a foreign country—and the Founders lose their cultural utility when viewed as foreigners. Americans want to see themselves in their images, because these men, the men who created America, are by their actions the embodiment of the nation and of our national identity.

The Founders lived in a world that fit neither the stereotyped image of a Puritanical past nor a more modern sexual culture that makes them “just like us.” The problem with using sex to make the Founders relatable is that sex is not transhistorical: It can’t be used in this manner any more than medical or racial understandings of the day can be used to connect readers from early America to today.  Remembering the intimate lives of the Founding Fathers with simple tropes, hyperbolic superficialities, and meaningless romanticized generalizations prevents us from meaningfully engaging with eighteenth-century sexual variance. Doing so also trivializes sex, perpetuating our own discomfort with the topic, a discomfort with a long history. Superficial glosses relegate the subject of sex to the status it held in previous generations—one of titillation, shame, and humor—all of which rely on a certain assertion of the transhistorical or human understanding of sexuality. But the ways in which Americans have ordered their sexual lives and their sexual identities have changed greatly over the centuries.  Viewing the Founders’ intimate lives and identities as somehow accessible to us through surface descriptions, such as “love at first sight” or “healthy sexual appetites,” prevents us from taking historical sexual identities and sexual expressiveness seriously. By focusing in a sustained way on the manner in which Americans have asked and answered their own questions about sexual intimacy and the Founders of the nation, we can examine how Americans have both broached and obscured sexual realities and the cultural connections between sex and nationalized masculinity in the public memory of these men.

Collectively, these stories show how gendered sexuality has long figured in our national identity via the public memory of the political leaders of the American Revolution. By tracing these histories of public memory, we are confronted with how blurred the line has long been between sex and politics in memories of the Founders and how sex has helped tie an ever-diversifying American public to a handful of staid, lite, white, eighteenth-century men.

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Notes

1.  Indeed, in recognition of this issue, several museums of Founding Fathers’ homes have launched efforts to circulate more youthful, vital images in an effort to connect to modern audiences. And recent biographies that strive to make the Founders more appealing (dubbed “Founders chic” by friend and foe alike) likewise frequently highlight the heights and musculature of the men in their youth in efforts to dispel the dusty old images held in most American’s minds. The term “Founders chic” comes from Evan Thomas (“Founders Chic: Live from Philadelphia,” Newsweek, July 9, 2001). But “Founders chic” “is really “‘Federalist chic,’” according to Jeffrey L. Pasley, who observes that the increased interest in Founders often focuses on conservatives who did not embrace democracy or the “expansion of individual rights,” such as Washington, Adams, and Hamilton. Pasley, “Federalist Chic,” Common-place.org, February 2002, http://www.common-place.org/publick/200202.shtml.

2.  Mason Weems, A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1927), 8.

3.  This book, therefore, builds on my earlier work on sex and masculinity and on the long history of sexual identities in America. See, for example, Thomas A. Foster, Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006); and Thomas A. Foster, ed., Long before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America (New York: New York University Press, 2007). See also George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1995); and Regina G. Kunzel, Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

4. Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Vintage, 1993), 3. See also Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992); David Glassberg, “Public History and the Study of Memory,” Public Historian 18, no. 2 (Spring 1996): 7–23; and Patrick Hutton, “Recent Scholarship on Memory and History,” History Teacher 33, no. 4 (Aug. 2000): 533–548.

5. Gore Vidal, Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (New York: Nation Books, 2004).

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Read more about Thomas A. Foster’s work on sex and the Founding Fathers:

George Washington’s Bodies

Intimate Lives on Display: Monticello and Mount Vernon