Sunday, 22 July 2012

Ann Lang versus Lady Stanley

Kathryn R. King comments, "in Haywood criticism Ann Lang is nearly inescapable." This is because Edmund Gosse wrote an essay, "What Ann Lang Read," which appeared in his Gossip in a Library in 1891 (see here). Gosse, a serious book collector and professional dilettante of literature, "become the happy possessor of a portion of [Ann Lang's] library." He used this "portion" as a springboard for an essay on Haywood and her typical reader. And because Gosse wrote fatuous drivel about Haywood he has become the straw-critic extraordinaire for Haywood scholars.

As TV Tropes explains, a straw critic is:

Any character in fiction who is described as a well-known or influential critic, an editor, or as an English professor, is likely to be a Straw Critic as well as an insufferable snob … Critics and editors often attract the ire of writers, because it's their job to tell people when stories suck. Needless to say, "Your story sucks" is not something most writers want to hear …

A few examples of Gosse's insufferable snobbery: [Haywood's works were] "strictly popular … non-literary … [Haywood] ardently desired to belong to literature … [but] never recognised [by intellectuals] … Plot was not a matter [she] greatly troubled herself [with] … All that distinguished her was her vehement exuberance and the emptiness of the field … [her play] is wretched … no one says that she was handsome … she was undoubtedly a bad actress … [after Pamela appeared Haywood's readers] must have looked back on [her novels] with positive disgust."

[Edmund Gosse, insufferable snob]
As for Ann Lang (and all Haywood readers): [she was] "a milliner’s apprentice or a servant-girl … lower middle class … servants in the kitchen … seamstresses … basket-women … ‘prentices … straggling nymphs … [who usually] read [a book] to tatters, and they threw it away … [or] drop warm lard on the leaves …  tottle up her milk-scores … scribble in the margin … dog’s-ear … or stain it, or tear it … [and who read Haywood because they] must read something"

So, Haywood sucks and her readers were ignorant gits. Right. Time to smash-cut to Lady Stanley.

Like—but unlike—Gosse, I am a dilettante book collector and professional critic (certainly when it comes to Haywood) who has become "the happy possessor of a portion" of the library of a Haywood collector. I probably have access to more information about Lady Stanley than he did about Ann Lang—the lives of aristocrats being, in general, better recorded than those of commoners—but I will resist the ad hominem arguments that he favours.

It is not clear whether, the Lady Stanley who previously owned my copy of the 3rd edition of The Female Spectator was Lady Elizabeth Stanley of Hooton, nee Paray (d.1761) or Lady Mary Stanley of Alderley nee Ward (widowed in 1755), or another, yet-to-be identified, Lady Stanley. And, really, it hardly matters. Although aristocrats occasionally married milliner’s apprentices or servant-girls, it is unlikely that Lady Stanley resembles Gosse's Ann Lang in this or any other respect.

Indeed, the only way in which Lady Stanley resembles Gosse's typical reader of Haywood's "strictly popular publications of a non-literary kind" is a way that Ann Lang does not resemble Gosse's portrait of the typical reader of Haywood's "strictly popular publications…" That is, while Ann Lang's books were in lovely condition, Lady Stanley's copy of The Female Spectator is not. But perhaps, in the same way that Ann Lang's atypically-cleanly books establish her working-class credentials, Lady Stanley's atypically-ratty books would, for Gosse, establish her aristocratic credentials.

Needless to say, there is plenty more evidence to prove that Gosse was writing fatuous drivel on this subject. I have blogged on this subject a few times (here and here for instance) and I have a few articles—perhaps even a book—in the works on Haywood's readers.

[UPDATE: 29 June 2021: Updated Google Books link]

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