Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Mothers of the Novel Series

Pandora's "Mothers of the Novel" series was either prompted by, or promoted by—and with—Dale Spender's Mothers of the Novel: 100 good women writers before Jane Austen.

[Spender's MotN; rear cover here]

There are twenty novels in the series, printed in paperback, with a distinctive cover illustration by Marion Dalley, between 1986 and 1989. (Only sixteen are listed on Wikipedia here but all twenty were listed on Library Thing by christiguc in September of 2008.) My list is below.

There are different ways of listing the MotN novels: alphabetical, by author, date of original publications, date of republication, and ISBN order. I have opted for date of original publications because my main interest coincides with Spender's sub-title ("100 good women writers before Jane Austen").

Jane Austen's first published novel was Sense and Sensibility (1811) so my first interest is "which novels in this series were published (or written, I guess) before 1811?" As you can see further below, the answer is only the first fifteen because this series contains novels printed as late as 1834.

The 1834 text is Maria Edgeworth's final novel, Helen: I think it, and Maria Edgeworth's other novels, should also have been excluded from the series on the basis that they had been reprinted in the nineteenth century with reasonable regularity and were, therefore, accessible to readers interested in women writers "before Jane Austen." (Macmillan included five novels in its Carnford series and these beautiful books were reprinted in pocket format in the 1920s.)

Personally, I would also have excluded all of Mary Brunton's and Lady Morgan's novels too, because one of each autor's works post-date 1811 too, but the real reason is I'd like to have seen more of the early eighteenth-century novels …

* * * * *

I bought my copy of Spender's Mothers of the Novel on 11 November 1991 and had read it eight days later. Before finishing it I had bought two of the novels in the series (Sheridan's Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulph and Smith's The Old Manor House) and I bought another two in the following few weeks: Brunton's Discipline and Haywood's History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless—my first book by Haywood.

Looking back over my diary of purchases: I see that I bought 109 books in the month following 9 November. These include eighteenth-century novels (Burney's Cecilia and Evelina, Fielding's The Adventures of David Simple and Wollstonecraft's Mary), but also a stack of Austen, Eliot and Woolf, and I also snapped up Ellen Moers's Literary Women and Roger Lonsdale's Eighteenth-Century Women Poets.

All this book-buying is simply a reflection of a rapidly-growing enthusiasm for eighteenth-century literature, early women writers and feminist literary scholarship. I bought Spender because I was already interested in all three subjects, but Mothers of the Novel gave a focus to my interest. And so, when I was looking around for a suitable PhD topic a few years, later I returned to Mothers of the Novel for inspiration.

At first, I thought I would test Spender's thesis: that one hundred women writers had been tremendously popular before Jane Austen but had since been overlooked by a sexist literary establishment. Or rather, which women writers had been tremendously popular before Jane Austen, before they had been overlooked by a sexist literary establishment.

I was going to do this by combing every eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century biographical dictionary and work of nascent literary scholarship to see which women had been highly regarded in the eighteenth century. (I still have the list of names: who was in the dictionaries etc, who wasn't.)

I quickly realised that many (most?) of the "good women writers before Jane Austen" had not been recognised as such in the eighteenth century. The opposite, in fact, seemed to be true. Whatever their popularity, these "good women writers" were despised. So my next thought was choosing a group of these despised writers and tracking their fortunes: their popularity and critical reception.

I narrowed my long list down to three: "the fair triumvirate of wit". Amazingly, there is a Wikipedia page on this phrase (here) which explains: "The fair triumvirate of wit refers to the three 18th century authors Eliza Haywood, Delarivier Manley, and Aphra Behn."

Regualr readers of this blog will know what happened next: I started on Haywood, realised that if I were to do a proper study of her popularity and reception I'd need to do a full bibliography to establish what, in fact, she had written and how often her works had been reprinted. My scholarship money ran out after three and a half years. My bibliography/PhD took ten.

When my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood was published I dedicated it to Spender—despite the fact that, by then, I knew that Spender was wrong about many of the things she had to say on Haywood. Still, without the fire she put in my belly with her Mothers of the Novel in November 1991 I would not have been able to put up with all the crap that goes with being a doctoral candidate for a decade.

(On this subject I often feel like quoting Johnson's letter to Chesterfield, particularly the famous tricolon: "The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it: till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which providence has enabled me to do for myself." The fit is awkward but it is probably better if I do not explain the application.)

* * * * *

Returning to Spender's Mothers of the Novel: the back cover of my copy contains a list of fifteen titles in the "Mothers of the Novel" series (here). This list puzzled me, since it was not in alphabetical order, by author or title, or date of original publications. It turns out that these fifteen titles are in the sequence they appeared in the MotN series, which is more-or-less the sequence of ISBNs. I am sure that made sense to Pandora …

And so, at the risk of confusing any visitors to this site, here is my list of all twenty MotN titles, in chronological order according to the original date of publication:

MotN no.01  Sarah Fielding, The Governess, or The Little Female Academy (1749; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-182-X].

MotN no.02  Eliza Haywood, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751; repr. 1986) [ISBN 0-86358-090-4].

MotN no.03  Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote, or the Adventures of Arabella (1752; repr. 1986) [ISBN 0-86358-080-7].

MotN no.04  Frances Sheridan, Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph (1761; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-134-X].

MotN no.05  Mary Hamilton, Munster Village (1778; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-133-1].

MotN no.06  Charlotte Smith, Emmeline: The Orphan of the Castle (1788; repr. 1989) [ISBN: 0-86358-264-8].

MotN no.07  Elizabeth Inchbald, A Simple Story (1791; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-136-6].

MotN no.08  Charlotte Smith, The Old Manor House (1793; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-135-8].

MotN no.09  Eliza Fenwick, Secrecy, or The Ruin of the Rock (1795; repr. 1988) [ISBN 0-86358-307-5].

MotN no.10  Mary Hays, The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-132-3].

MotN no.11  Harriet and Sophia Lee, The Canterbury Tales (1797–1805; repr. 1989) [ISBN: 0-86358-308-3]

MotN no.12  Maria Edgeworth, Belinda (1801; repr. 1986; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-074-2].

MotN no.13  Amelia Opie, Adeline Mowbray, or The Mother and Daughter (1804; repr. 1986) [ISBN 0-86358-085-8].

MotN no.14  Lady Morgan [Sydney Owenson], The Wild Irish Girl (1806; repr. 1986) [ISBN 0-86358-097-1].

MotN no.15  Mary Brunton, Self-control (1810/11; repr. 1986) [ISBN 0-86358-084-X].

MotN no.16  Maria Edgeworth, Patronage (1814; repr. 1986) [ISBN 0-86358-106-4].

MotN no.17  Fanny Burney, The Wanderer; or Female Difficulties (1814; repr. 1988) [ISBN 0-86358-263-X]

MotN no.18  Mary Brunton, Discipline (1815; repr. 1986) [ISBN 0-86358-105-6].

MotN no.19  Lady Morgan [Sydney Owenson], The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys: A National Tale (1827; repr. 1988) [ISBN: 0-86358-289-3].

MotN no.20  Maria Edgeworth, Helen (1834; repr. 1987) [ISBN 0-86358-104-8].

* * * * *

[MotN no.1; rear cover here]

[MotN no.2; rear cover here]

[MotN no.3; rear cover here]

[MotN no.4; rear cover here]

[MotN no.5; rear cover here]

[MotN no.6; rear cover here]

[MotN no.7; rear cover here]

[MotN no.8; rear cover here]

[MotN no.9; rear cover here]

[MotN no.10; rear cover here]

[MotN no.11; rear cover here]

[MotN no.12; rear cover here]

[MotN no.13; rear cover here]

[MotN no.14; rear cover here]

[MotN no.15; rear cover here]

[MotN no.16; rear cover here]

[MotN no.17; rear cover here]

[MotN no.18; rear cover here]

[MotN no.19; rear cover here]

[MotN no.20; rear cover here]

[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared again I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

1 comment:

Doc-in-Boots said...

I still don't have a great knowledge of the 18th century, but the trend is evident in the treatment of French fairy tale in the 17th and 18th century. The female authors were prolific and widely read, but largely disdained by the literary establishment. Interesting blog post!