Janet Lunn and the Serious Work of Writing for Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

Books by Janet Lunn referred to in this piece:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading recommended by Joe and Danielle:

Literature of libertinism

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

Other literature of the period

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

Relevant academic studies

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

Keeping Marriage Spicy With Jane Austen

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan

“It can be a pleasure to meet one’s wife as a stranger.”

When friends and colleagues heard that I was reporting on the eccentric world of Jane Austen superfansone question was uppermost: Do people hook up at Jane Austen camp? At first, I grew irritated at these inquiries, which seemed to assume that Austen cosplay is somehow centrally about sex. (It’s not, really; it’s mainly about books, and only a little about sex.) Still, as I spent more and more time in the world of the Janeites, I came to meet quite a few older couples for whom the Jane Austen summer camp doubled as a romantic getaway—a chance to rediscover the pleasures of flirting with one’s spouse.

Some, in the tradition of R.W. Chapman and Katharine Metcalfe, had fallen in love with each other in part through discovering a mutual love for Austen, and there are various academic power couples across the world whose unions owe their beginning to an indiscreet moment at an Austen conference; as Kipling’s narrator says in his 1924 short story “The Janeites,” Austen remains a “bit of a match-maker” even in death, and at the larger conferences I occasionally met a child conceived (the parents told me) with the aid of Austen’s prose as aphrodisiac.

Read the rest of this excerpt on Slate, and buy Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan from your local independent bookstore, or from Amazon.

The Restoration Printed Fiction Database

Restoration Printed Fiction

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

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

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

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

Descendants of Waverley: Romancing History in Contemporary Historical Fiction

Descendants of Waverly by Martha Bowden

When I began thinking about writing Descendants of Waverly: Romancing History in Contemporary Historical Fiction (Bucknell University Press 2016) more than a decade ago, I was working within a set of assumptions that could only exist in an insufficiently researched critical framework. For example, I accepted the commonly held views that historical novels were defined by date- and character-driven markers (a certain distance in the past; a fictional character participating in a historical event or a historical figure whose interiority the novel reveals), that Sir Walter Scott “invented” the historical novel, and that the right way to go about the book was to choose a number of contemporary historical novels that take place in the eighteenth century, my area of expertise, and show where and how they get the period right or wrong, at the same time tying the whole thing, somehow, into the Waverley Novels. Tidy systems are always the result of insufficient information.

A wise colleague pointed out that the third assumption would result in a mechanical and repetitive book. I was dubious about the second, because, after all, I had read A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe and a little research negated it altogether. I found that Scott did not claim to have invented the form. In his introduction to the works of Defoe, he notes Defoe’s brilliance at bringing alive a historical event, and only regrets that he did not write a novel about the Great Fire of London. In the General Preface to the Magnum Edition of the Waverley Novels, he claims that “I felt that something might be attempted for my own country, of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland,” identifying the regional novel as an ancestor [1]. He also reveals what he learned when completing and revising Joseph Strutt’s historical novel, Queen-Hoo-Hall, in 1807-08, an attempt that failed: “I thought I was aware of the reason, and supposed that, by rendering his language too ancient, and displaying his antiquarian knowledge too liberally, the ingenious author had raised up an obstacle to his own success” (xvi).

Frontispiece and title page of Ivanhoe, Magnum Edition

The first assumption stuck with me for a while, until I read Andrew Beahrs’s article, which develops a theory of the genre that interrogates not the what (period and character) but the how (the author’s method). From this article, I developed the theoretical model of the tensions between authenticity and accessibility, and the familiar and strange, both of which are exemplified in Scott’s assessment of Queen-Hoo-Hall [2]. Scott did not invent the historical novel, but he did play an important part in both establishing the accepted version of it and in theorizing how it works. Next, I was startled by Scott’s description of his books as “historical romances,” and his proclivity for subtitling his novels “A Romance.” Another assumption was the standard history of the novel: an evolutionary development in which the romance mutated into the modern novel and thus disappeared. Clearly, that was not the case when it comes to historical fiction. Anne H. Stevens’s work helped me see how the historical novel gradually disentangled itself from Gothic fiction, which was also described as “romance” in the period. The idea of romance, which vivifies the historical record, adding emotions, motivations, conversations and all those details of an event that are never recorded, became the central idea in my book, the effect created by the tensions inherent in the form.

The liberation from the mechanical casebook approach allowed me to write a text that reworks the history of the novel as a genealogical rather than evolutionary growth. Writers of historical fiction today need not have read a Waverley Novel in order to be influenced by him, any more than we need to know who our great-great-grandparents are for our genes to be affected by them. The first section contains two chapters that develop this critical framework. In the second, I devote two chapters to the establishment of authenticity while retaining accessibility, the first on literary intertextuality and the second on the use of images, such as portraits, both historical and fictional. Readers of historical fiction are interested in the “truth” of the narrative, but they generally are concerned about the what and I am interested in the how, which is the function of romance.

The third section covers the metamorphosis of the form, with the first chapter discussing three subgenres: the embedded narrative, the historical detective novel, and young adult fiction. It ends with an analysis of Iain Pears’s Stone’s Fall, which fuses most of the genres that I discuss in this section. Just as we don’t have just one set of great-grandparents, so the historical novel, while retaining the tensions, the movement into the grey, unknown spaces, and the romance of its earliest forms, has developed a hybridity through the influence of new genres. John Frow’s article [3] gave me a way to describe what happens when C. J. Sansom combines a classic historical form with the equally classic detective novel. It is not necessary for the Shardlake series to reside in one and only one generic box. We can discuss it in the context of historical fiction or detective fiction, as a historical novel with detective fiction characteristics, or as a detective novel with a historical setting. The second chapter is dedicated to biographical romance, the most common of the contemporary developments. The third and final chapter engages with “the historical novel at play,” those fictions that combine historical situations with elements of the supernatural and narrative playfulness. I realize that there are other subgenres of historical fiction, but I had to stop somewhere, and these five forms are representative of the wider scope of the genre.

Writing this book was a great pleasure because it allowed me to investigate one of my favorite forms of fiction while employing my scholarly interest in the development of the novel. I realized that I have been reading historical fiction for most of my life; the first playground reading recommendation that I remember was from a classmate who loved Elizabeth Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. In the young adult fiction section I return to another early love, Rosemary Sutcliff, whose books I first discovered on those magical shelves of books at the back of my elementary and middle school classrooms. The Dawn Wind is the one I remember most clearly from those days; this book allowed me to discover more of her work. The good news is that, even after years of scholarly investigation, I still read historical fiction for pleasure.

The cover of the book shows three of my 1880 Wedgwood plates depicting scenes from Ivanhoe, photographed by Lauren Holt. I am very grateful to Bucknell University Press and Rowman & Littlefield for giving me this kind of latitude to get an image that is just right for the book, and for Lauren Holt’s professional expertise.

Notes

[1] “Scott on Defoe’s Life and Works, 1810, 1817,” in Defoe: The Critical Heritage, ed. Pat Rogers, 66-69, 1972; see also his references in to Defoe in “Essay on Romance.” Walter Scott, “General Preface,” The Waverley Novels, Volume I: Waverley. Magnum Edition, 48 vols, 3rd ed. Edinburgh and London, 1830, xiii.

[2] Andrew Beahrs, “Making History: Establishing Authority in Period Fiction.” Writer’s Chronicle, 38, no.1 (September 2005): 34-40.

[3] John Frow, “‘Reproducibles, Rubrics, and Everything You Need’: Genre Theory Today.” PMLA 122, no. 5 (October 2007): 1626-34.

The Great Forgetting: Women Writers Before Austen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Anthologies and the 18th-Century Reader

openanthologycollageAs any reader of The 18th-Century Common knows, the last quarter century has witnessed the astonishing digitization of thousands of texts from the past:  novels, poems, essays, histories, plays, many of them available for free.  For scholars, the creation of this Digital Republic of Learning has (on the whole) been a boon, enabling new modes of inquiry that could barely have been imagined a generation ago.  For students, however, the digitization of the archive has been a more mixed blessing.  As newcomers to the field, students can very easily find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of material that shows up in the simple Google search that is likely to be their first means of access.  Students are unlikely to know how to judge of the quality or authenticity of what they find, or to be able to recognize the difference between a well-edited text and something with virtually no authority whatsoever.  Texts are haphazardly distributed, some behind commercial paywalls such as Gale’s ECCO collection, while others are in reasonably well-curated but still imperfect archives like Project Gutenberg. Still others seem to have been put together with no thought whatsoever.  In keeping with the tendency of the Internet to level the field of information, all such texts come decontextualized in several senses.  Rarely are the texts that students or general readers are likely to find annotated to provide the kind of historical contextualization that most readers need to make sense of works from this period.  And, too, the fact of digitization decontextualizes all works from the past from the conditions of their production and dissemination; everything looks the same on the screen.

openanthologyOur projects intend to improve the quality of eighteenth-century texts available for students, general readers, and scholars, and to enlist students in the project of producing them.  The Open Anthology of Literature in English aims to build a digital anthology from the ground up, offering digitized texts that have been edited for accuracy and annotated for modern readers.  Students are crucial collaborators and makers in this project.  Using the TypeWright tool at the 18th Connect project, they can correct the OCR of original texts, and in the process get to see what eighteenth-century print looked like.  And they can identify what should be annotated (who knows better than they do what they need in order to make sense of a work from the past?), and then research what they and readers like them need to know.  They get to work with TEI/XML, which means that they get to see the digital tools of the twenty-first century print shop.  As students complete texts, they become part of a permanent, open-access archive of reliable works, encoded in TEI/XML that is available for the use of teachers who want a place to which they can send their students.  Students thus create something that lives on past the term in which they are enrolled in the class, and the community of students and readers get an archive of free and reliable texts that take full advantage of the resources offered by digitization.

novelsincontextNovels in Context is a web-accessible TEI/XML database application focused on a particular moment in literary history.  Drawing on the practice of public scholarship, the free code ethos, scholarship around the digital archive and digital edition, and the Open Educational Resources movement, Novels in Context seeks to provide a curated, extensible, searchable, and reusable collection of primary source materials focused on the eighteenth-century English novel.  This project is unique not only in its use of database technology and the standardized TEI Simple markup but also in its commitment to the material page–each item is accompanied by quality page images sourced by hand from libraries and special collections.  If everything looks the same on the screen, so too in print anthologies, which deracinate the text from its reality in time and space.  Without understanding something about how a text or an utterance or a performance comes to be in our purview, agile, contextualized engagement with literature—much less the world at large—is impossible.  By involving students in its creation, Novels in Context works to fulfill the promise of feminist pedagogical theory that  urges both collaboration and connection, seeing students as critical makers—full, capable partners in the scholarly work of keeping our cultural heritage alive.

While these projects work to improve the quality of digital texts in an open, collaborative, and scalable way, they also speak to another concern with the market-driven tendencies of academic publishing.  The construction of a Digital Republic of Learning is and has been underway in myriad forms on the Internet since the 1990s, to be sure, but the past decade has seen a noted rise in the number of corporate fingers in the pot.  To be committed to the public goods of education, we need texts and pedagogies that are public and open, but they also need to be critical, rather than affirmative.  A user-generated open anthology of the kind we are imagining is a step in this direction.  As the eighteenth century teaches us, power in the public sphere is in large part a product of one’s ability to negotiate its social and technical components.  Looking toward the eighteenth century, which witnessed its own technological and social revolutions in the dissemination of knowledge, can also be of real use in our current educational context.  Knowledge and power, knowledge-power:  one of our most salient charges as teachers and scholars today must be to enable the fullest possible participation in public conversation.  And when we say “fullest,” we mean it in the broadest sense—rich, responsible, free, purposeful, ethical, capable of enabling new relations of power, new relationships between our present and our past, newly connected selves.

To that end, we seek collaborators on both projects, teachers and students who want to make creating digital editions eighteenth-century texts.  We will provide TEI/XML templates and lessons to enable students to become active, critical contributors to the textual commons.  Please contact [email protected] or [email protected] to find out how you and your students can join in the task of creating open, curated digital editions of texts from our collective past.

Early Novels Database

Every reader of eighteenth-century literature is familiar with the paradox of the Google Books era: while the archive of digital texts has expanded exponentially in recent years, our ability to locate them has diminished.  Even basic bibliographic details such as complete titles, prefatory materials, narrative forms, and tables of contents are often missing from digital facsimiles.  The Early Novels Database (END) project reunites missing metadata with digital facsimiles of early fiction to make them easier to find and categorize.  Uniting twenty-first-century data structures with the sensibility of eighteenth-century indexing practices, the project creates detailed metadata about novels published between 1660 and 1850.  END captures detailed information about the organizational structures eighteenth-century readers relied on—title pages, tables of contents, author claims, narrative forms, prefaces, epigraphs, advertisements, and more.  Transforming these paratextual elements into machine-readable, searchable data, END offers researchers and readers new ways of connecting and exploring digital collections of fiction.  END’s metadata will also expand the possibilities of corpus analysis of early fiction, allowing users to create more sophisticated models of large full-text corpuses.

END is a collaborative, multi-institutional project based at the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College.  Faculty, staff, and fellows from both institutions lead a team of undergraduate researchers drawn from Penn and the Tri-College Consortium (Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr) as well as Williams College.  In Summer 2016, END is expanding to NYU’s Fales Library, whose rich holdings in early fiction will expand the END dataset significantly.  After intensive training alongside the core END team based in Philadelphia, a team of NYU staff and students will catalog selections from the Fales Collection; expansion to additional New York repositories is planned for Summer 2017.

Haiti’s First Novel: Expanding the Study of the Age of Revolutions

We might say that of the many topics we 18th-centuriests study, the “Age of Revolutions” tops the list.  The French and American Revolutions have long been examined as crucial turning points in the history of the modern world, and we tend to think of the “before” and “after” as two distinct periods.  However, for almost as long, we in the West studied the “Age of Revolutions” without paying much attention to what is arguably the most important of the era’s political transformations:  the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804).

In recent decades, important work has been done to deconstruct processes of “silencing” the Haitian Revolution and to reconstruct the Haitian archive.  The most successful revolt by enslaved persons in history, the Haitian Revolution resulted in a completely autonomous antislavery, postcolonial nation in 1804, and shocked the wider world.  Haiti has struggled to deal with this shock for most of its existence.  It took decades for Great Britain and France to recognize Haitian independence.  The United States waited over half a century.

Unsilencing Haiti’s Revolution and inserting it into the intellectual framework of the “Age of Revolutions” requires conceptual as well as material reexaminations.  An important step is the recovery and reading of Haitians’ own words about their country’s history.  For example, until now, few students of the Revolution have read the first novel written by a Haitian author, Stella (1859), which is also a text about the Haitian Revolution.

Émeric Bergeaud wrote Stella hoping that the form of the novel would draw more interest to his country’s history.  Describing a tension between history and literature, he writes:

History can tell only what it knows.  Its sight, limited to the horizon of natural things, has trouble knowing the truth that shines behind that horizon.  The miraculous is not within its domain.  History leaves the field of mystery to the Novel.  (86)

In his explanation, Bergeaud was being clever even as he was being poetic.  Tired of reading the slanderous accounts of the Haitian Revolution published in France, Great Britain, and the United States, the novelist wanted to be sure that his readers would instead know Haiti’s great foundational myth and recognize the story as the miracle that it was.

A note providing clues as to the provenance of one of the rare copies of the second edition of Bergeaud's novel, published at the behest of his widow in 1887. This copy was acquired by the University of Florida in 1961 from the Librairie d'Histoire d'Haïti, which was a famous library and bookstore in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks to this note, we know that the work did circulate in Bergeaud's homeland even though both of its nineteenth-century editions were printed in Paris.

A note providing clues as to the provenance of one of the rare copies of the second edition of Bergeaud’s novel, published at the behest of his widow in 1887. This copy was acquired by the University of Florida in 1961 from the Librairie d’Histoire d’Haïti, which was a famous library and bookstore in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks to this note, we know that the work did circulate in Bergeaud’s homeland even though both of its nineteenth-century editions were printed in Paris.

Out of print for over a century, Stella has often been overlooked.  This neglect is partly due to a nineteenth-century colonial mentality that denigrated Haiti and Haitians, constantly judging them against standards established for the purpose of exclusion.  It is also due to Bergeaud’s own obscurity—he died in exile in 1858—and the fact that few, if any, physical copies of the original editions survive.  These circumstances have meant that literature by early postcolonialists like Bergeaud has never received the attention that it deserves.

A new English translation of Émeric Bergeaud’s 1859 novel aims to aid in the unsilencing processes and to invite Anglophone readers to examine this period more fully.  Bergeaud’s insistence that Haiti is the true inheritor of republicanism helps us to understand how Haitians viewed their history in terms of the “Age of Revolutions” well before Western academics began making similar connections.

Recovered texts and new translations like this one offer a means to chip away at the power of the colonial mentality and to challenge the silencing of what we might call the most significant of the age’s revolutions.