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I. Reading over Garside’s bibliography for 1778, I divided titles roughly into three categories. Very loosely, the bibliography’s novels can be divided into man, woman, and hard-to-categorize. The most prevalent category has the format [Some Word for “Story”] of [Woman’s Name], and conveys a moral aim. Examples include The Example: or the History of Lucy Cleveland. By a Young Lady, The History of Eliza Warwick. In Two Volumes, and of course Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World.
The second category hearkens back to Robinson Crusoe’s extensive spoiler of a title, and focuses not on the virtuous qualities of a young woman but on the adventures of a man. Examples of this second category of titles include A Trip to Melasge: Or, Concise Instructions to a Young Gentleman Entering Into Life with His Observations on the Genius, Manners, Ton, Opinions, Philosophy, and Morals, of the Melasgens (…even the title is not “concise”), and, impressively, The Travels of Hildebrand Bowman, Esquire, into Carnovirria, Taupiniera, Olfactaria, and Audinante, in New-Zealand; in the Island of Bohmommica, and in the Powerful Kingdom of Luxo-Volupto, on the Great Southern Continent. Written by Himself; Who Went on Shore in the Adventure’s Large Cutter at Queen Charlotte’s Sound New-Zealand, the Fatal 17th of December 1773; and Escaped Being Cut Off, and Devoured, with the Rest of the Boat’s Crew, by Happening to Be A-Shooting in the Woods; Where He Was Afterwards, Unfortunately Left Behind by the Adventure. Excerpts from contemporary reviews describe the latter novel as a satire in the vein of Gulliver’s Travels, while the reviews of the former seem to address the novel as a serious, if unsatisfactory, work.
Of the sixteen titles listed, I classified six as belonging to the first category, three as belonging to the second category, and seven – nearly half – as being not obviously of one category or the other. A cursory reading of the bibliography suggests that in 1778, the dominant type of novel professed to be concerned with imparting moral virtues through the stories of young ladies and their families as examples. The adventure novels seem like throwbacks to, or remnants of, an older, more masculine type of novel. Of course, it’s pretty dubious to classify the titles in this imprecise way, and as the general introduction notes, a bibliography’s very contents depend on the definition of ‘novel’ used, which is always somewhat arbitrary because of the imprecision and variability of the definition (Garside 4). Caveats aside, the 1778 bibliography suggests a feminization of the novel since the days of Robinson Crusoe, a hypothesis which could be tested with a bibliography from 1719. However, that hypothesis is complicated by the presence of the seven unclassifiable novel titles (for example, Friendship in a Nunnery; or, the American Fugitive. Containing a Full Description of the Mode of Education and Living in Convent Schools, Both on the Low and High Pension; the Manners and Characters of the Nuns; the Arts Practised on Young Minds; and Their Baneful Effects on Society at Large. By a Lady. In Two Volumes). These other titles point to the still-broad definition of novel that seems to include dubiously fictional works and expository writing. Again, comparison with a bibliography of a much earlier year’s novels would be helpful in figuring out whether the trend is towards or away from a greater number of these novel titles that don’t fit the [Adventure of a Man] or [Example of Virtuous Woman] formula.
II. I focused on the prefaces of several novels with women’s names in their respective titles: Evelina, Lucy Cleveland, Eliza Warwick, and Memoirs of the Countess D’Anois, as well as The Unfortunate Union, which lacks a woman’s name but seems to share those novels’ purported aims, as it is “Calculated to Promote the Cause of Virtue in Younger Minds.”
Each of these novels takes a different approach to disclosing and justifying young female authorship. With the exception of Evelina, all make excuses for their existence by suggesting that the novel will in some way benefit women; with the exception of the Memoirs and The Unfortunate Union, all exaggeratedly proclaim the poor quality of the writing. The epistolary The Unfortunate Union, or, the Test of Virtue. A Story Founded on Facts, and Calculated to Promote the Cause of Virtue in Younger Minds, by “a Lady,” dives right into its first fictional letter without a preface; apparently, the full title is sufficient justification.
Both the anonymously authored Eliza Warwick and “A Young Lady”’s Lucy Cleveland open with a plea to reviewers in which the author is conscious of the apparent temerity of female authorship, littering the preface with self-demeaning qualifications. Eliza Warwick’s writer uses her gender as an excuse for the supposed “inaccuracy” of her writing, but in an interesting twist (reverse psychology?) she suggests that because she is a woman, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for her work to be evaluated at a lower standard and therefore judged higher:
I am not so ungenerous as to hope to prejudice you in my favour, by telling you that I am a female, and a very young one—Your gallantry might, to be sure, on that account, whisper something in my behalf—I do not mean that is should when I make that confession—nor should it be made at all, but that I think it necessary to apologize, as a woman, for this work’s not being written, perhaps, so accurately as you would expect it should be, did it come from one of your own sex (Eliza Warwick vi).
Both in this novel’s preface and in that of Lucy Cleveland, the problem of female authorship is addressed by proposing a female readership which will benefit morally from the novel. The novel also acknowledges the feminized genre it belongs to. The preface concludes by entreating the reviewers not to attack the novel “by any of those satirical strokes with which sentimental Novels in general are marked by your pen” (Eliza Warwick vii).
Like the other novels, Memoirs of the Countess D’Anois proposes that female virtue is at stake, but takes a different approach to readership. The note positions the novel as a corrective response to an earlier book which slanders D’Anois. The writer confidently dismisses the earlier book, explaining that her memoirs are only published because she fears the slanderous book “may be able to create an opinion very much to the disadvantage of women” (D’Anois, To the Reader). This justification claims that readers of the earlier novel may form bad opinions of women based on D’Anois’s alleged conduct; the readers in question may or may not be women themselves. In this preface, female authorship is justified not through the moral education of female readership but through the corrective education of a readership of unspecified gender. Also unlike the other four novels, this preface is signed simply with the surname D’Anois. Whereas the lady authors of the other novels demurely obscure their names and assert their gender as “A Young Lady” (Lucy Cleveland) and “A Lady” (The Unfortunate Union), the use of the surname implies masculinity and high class, since the surname denotes landed power. By addressing not critics but readers, the preface further cements the confidence of the writer in her position. Clearly, the Memoirs are of a different sub-genre from the other novels, one that depends on the visible high class status of its alleged author.
Evelina, meanwhile, begins with a poem, followed by a plea to the critics for mercy, with the author’s signature replaced with asterisks. Unlike the other authors, Burney’s main concern is her inexperience as a writer rather than her gender. Burney reminds the “Gentlemen” reviewers that they were, like her, young writers in their own time, appealing not to their sense of gentlemanly chivalry as in Eliza Warwick, but to the common experience of authorship.
III. Looking at the corpus from 1750 to 1800, I used the term frequency tool as a very rough proxy for the trajectory of different ideas over time. For example, the graph for the term “virtue” shows that it stays consistently popular, while increasing in absolute value as the number of novels published per year increases. In fact, it seems as though almost every word I’ve tried increases in frequency from 1750 to 1800, which I attribute to the acceleration in sheer volume of novels being published. I decided to take a look at the popularity of “sin” as a proxy for the centrality of religion to English fiction. While the term occurs slightly more frequently by 1800, it becomes markedly less popular.
Wondering whether this trend was specific to the word “sin,” or might be replicated with other religious word, I tried Jesus Christ (constant popularity), saint (constant popularity), holy (constant popularity), a variety of saints’ names (constant popularity), and pilgrim (increase in popularity). The only term with which I was able to replicate the “sin” trend is “sinner,” with a slightly less marked increase. Does this trend point to an evolution, not in the religiosity of novels, but in their religious attitudes? Artemis can’t tell that, but it can point to conceptions of sin as an area for further inquiry.