Category Archives: Spotlight

E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia

E.F. Benson (1867-1940) was a prolific author who published over 93 books in his lifetime, including novels, short stories, horror stories, reminiscences, and eight biographies. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Queen Lucia, the first of Benson’s ever-popular Mapp and Lucia books.

One of a talented brood of siblings, Edward Frederic (‘Fred’) was born in 1867, the third son of Edward White Benson (1829–1896), headmaster of Wellington College and later Archbishop of Canterbury. After studying Classics at King’s College Cambridge, Fred headed abroad to work as an archaeologist for the British School of Archaeology in Athens between 1892 and 1895. His first novel, Dodo: A Detail of the Day, was published to some acclaim in 1893. Like many of his novels, it was a social satire of modern society. In 1895, after working for the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies in Egypt, he moved to London to focus on his writing.

E.F. Benson by Lafayette, whole-plate film negative, 1 August 1926, NPG x37036 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

From 1918 onwards, Benson spent most of the year at Lamb House in the coastal town of Rye, Sussex. Lamb House had previously been the home of the novelist Henry James, who had lived there from 1897 to 1914 (it was also later the home of the author of Black Narcissus, Margaret Rumer Godden, who lived there between 1968 and 1973). Benson settled in Rye, becoming a Justice of the Peace as well as serving as Mayor between 1934 and 1937. He was appointed an OBE and, in 1938, became an honorary fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge (his elder brother, Arthur Christopher Benson, was Master of Magdalene College from 1915 until his death in 1925). E.F. Benson died on 29th February 1940, having just sent off a copy of his autobiography, Final Edition, to his publishers.

Photograph of Lamb House, Rye by Jim Linwood 19 June 2008 and originally posted on flickr (Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

Today, Benson is probably most famous for his Mapp and Lucia novels of social manners. Contemporary fans of the series included Noel Coward, W.H. Auden, and Nancy Mitford. The series included six novels: Queen Lucia (published in 1920), Miss Mapp (1922), Lucia in London (1927), Mapp and Lucia (1931), Lucia’s Progress (1935), and Trouble for Lucia (1939). Benson also wrote two short stories, ‘The Male Impersonator’ and ‘Desirable Residences’, set in the same fictitious world. The books focus on the social snobbery and one-upmanship of the upper-middle class society of the time, predominantly following the lives of the social-climbing Emmeline ‘Lucia’ Lucas and the formidable Elizabeth Mapp.

Photograph of Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex by David McKelvey 22 April 2013 and originally posted on flickr (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the novels, Mapp and Lucia both live at some point at Mallards, which was based on Benson’s own Lamb House, in the small seaside town of Tilling (likewise modelled on Rye). The Bodleian Libraries hold E.F. Benson’s original draft manuscript of Mapp and Lucia, dated 1930, in the Archive of the Benson Family, which includes many of E.F. Benson’s original manuscripts. The novel, which was published in 1931, was originally given the title of ‘The Queen of Tilling’ and is the first novel in the series to feature both Elizabeth and Lucia.

Front cover and first page of E.F. Benson’s manuscript draft of ‘The Queen of Tilling’ [Mapp and Lucia], 1930, Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Benson adds. 2/1-2

The novels remain in print today and have been made into several radio adaptations and two television adaptations, bringing the stories and characters to a larger audience. A ten episode television series adaptation by Gerald Savory on Channel 4 was broadcast in 1985 and 1986, and starred Geraldine McEwan as Lucia, Prunella Scales as Mapp, and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie. More recently, in 2014, the BBC broadcast a television dramatization starring Miranda Richardson as Mapp, Anna Chancellor as Lucia, and Steve Pemberton as Georgie.

Two societies were set up to celebrate the life and work of E.F. Benson. The E.F. Benson Society was founded in London in 1984 and produces a yearly journal, The Dodo, named after Benson’s first published novel. The Tilling Society was set up in 1982 and was active until 2006. The Archive of the Tilling Society was generously donated to the Bodleian in 2012 and 2014. More about the Tilling Society archive can be found in an earlier blog post.

-Rachael Marsay

Academic dress in the Oxford University Archives

Of the many Oxford University traditions that have survived to the present day, one of the most visually distinctive and recognisable is the ‘academic costume’: the gowns, caps and subfusc worn today by students and officials during examinations and ceremonies. Yet despite the long presence of academic dress in the University’s history, the University Archives hold surprisingly little material relating to it. This is perhaps because until the mid 20th century, its exact nature appears to have been fairly fluid, constantly evolving, and on occasion subject to change that was not authorised by the University. It was not until 1957 that academic dress was fixed in its current form, with the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford by R.E. Clifford and D.E. Venables. This illustrated guide includes precise descriptions of each element of the academic dress, and although this book has been republished and revised, very few alterations have been made to the rules it lays out.

The oldest item relating to this topic in the University Archives is this small book, which dates from 1716 and contains numbered engravings of different forms of academic dress. An example of every official and student is shown, from the Vice Chancellor and the Bedels to the Bachelor of Arts, the Master of Arts and many others.

Title page, with the Phillipps shelfmark. Reference: OUA NW 1/10*

Bachelor of Arts

Vice Chancellor

Doctor of Theology, wearing a ‘toga coccinea’ (red cape)

These images are in fact cuts from David Loggan’s 1675 engraving Habitus Academici, part of his Oxonia Illustrata series of engravings illustrating Oxford University and its environment. The original engraving is a black and white single sheet, but here they are coloured, bound in a small volume with a new title page: ‘Habitus Academici in Universitate Oxoniensi Anno 1716’, and they are likely to be the earliest coloured representations of Oxford University academic dress. The shelfmark written at the bottom of the title page, ‘Phillipps MS 24809’, shows that it appears to have made its way into the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, one of the most important book collectors of the 19th century. It was ultimately donated to the University Archives by the Keeper of the Archives 1927-45, Strickland Gibson.

Not only are these illustrations some of the earliest of academic dress in the University Archives, but they are some of the only visual representations we hold. Most other records on this topic concern attempts to regulate academic dress, and how these rules were broken.

Although the exact nature of academic dress pre-20th century is hard to pin down, attempts were nevertheless made to regulate it as early as the 17th century. In the Laudian Code of 1636, which was the first coherent set of Oxford University regulations, Statute Tit. XIV De vestitu et habitu scholastico laid down rules for how academic dress should look and be worn, and required models of the various outfits be made. The original 1636 ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the the Laudian Code is held in the University Archives, as seen below with the seals of the University, Archbishop Laud and Charles I.

The ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the Laudian Code. Reference: OUA WPγ/25c/1

At this point in time, academic dress was not worn for just ceremonies and examinations, but in University members’ everyday lives, including when they were out and about in the city. As a result, rules on academic dress were also rules about the everyday physical appearance of university members. §1 of Stat. Tit. XIV in particular describes how no member’s hair should be ‘[in] curls or excessively long’, and lays out the monetary penalties and corporal punishment that could be expected for disobeying this rule.

Stat. Tit. XIV, §1 in the Codex Authenticus

As the centuries passed, University members were required to wear their gowns less and less, and so the surveillance of their everyday appearance began to relax. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of instances of students bending or breaking the rules, and during the 20th century the University Archives begin to show more evidence of how exactly rules were disobeyed. This Proctor’s memorandum from 1945, shown below, gently reminds students of the correct situations in which academic dress should be worn, in particular noting that ‘it is an offence to smoke in academic dress’.

Proctors memorandum. Reference: OUA PR 1/8/1/1

Similarly, this notice from around the 1920s-30s, sent from the Vice-Chancellor and the Proctors to the college authorities, emphasises the importance of candidates for degrees being suitably dressed. According to this note, those taking degrees recently had been doing so ‘in torn gowns, in brown shoes, in light grey suits, in flannel trousers, and even in a form of jumper or ‘pull-over’.

Vice Chancellor and Proctors notice. Reference: OUA PR 1/5/6/1

The University Archives’ most recent holding relating to academic dress dates from 1956, just before the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford in 1957. The ‘Register of Colours’ created by Shepherd and Woodward, an outfitter to the University based in Oxford, contains samples of the correctly dyed fabric to be used on each item of dress, with descriptions of the precise material and hood shape to be used.

The Register of Colours. Reference: OUA WPγ/28/15

The register is still occasionally updated by Shepherd and Woodward today, as it is relied upon by the Vice Chancellor’s Regulation 1 of 2002, which states that robes, gowns and hoods should conform to the standards ‘prescribed in the Register of Colours and Materials of Gowns and Hoods for Degrees of the University of Oxford… deposited in the University Archives.’

The topic of academic dress is one which illustrates well the relationship between the University Archives and the University itself. Our material relating to academic dress is limited to that which was considered practical to record at the time. This is why regulations for academic dress and punishments for not obeying these are represented more so in the Archives than any precise picture of exactly what was worn and how it changed over the years. Thus the Archives preserve the history of the University, but only as far as the University recorded this history at the time.

To find out more about Oxford University Archives and our holdings, please contact us.

Further Reading

Brockliss, L. W. B., ‘Students and Teachers’, The University of Oxford: A History, OUP 2016

Clifford, R. E.  & Venables, D. E., Academic Dress of the University of Oxford, Oxford 1957

Franklyn, C., Academical Dress from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Hassocks, Sussex 1970

‘Youth’s Funeral’ by Rupert Brooke

One of the earliest donations of literary manuscripts to the Bodleian Library via the Friends of the Bodleian, founded in 1925, was a fair copy manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘Youth’s Funeral’, published as ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’ (shelfmark MS. Don. d. 1). According to the Summary Catalogue, the poem was donated by Mrs G.F. Brooke in 1926.(1)

Fair manuscript copy of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

Today, Rupert Brooke is possibly best known as a War Poet and is included on the Poets of the First World War memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside fellow poets, Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden, and Siegfried Sassoon. ‘The Funeral of Youth’, however, was written in 1913, before the war. In the published version, the poem is described as a threnody, a memorial lament, and is an epitaph for bygone days of youthful innocence. In Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke, Paul Delany suggested Brooke’s inspiration was Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘God’s Funeral’, meditating on the death of belief, which had been published in the Fortnightly Review in 1911. (2) Brooke had met Hardy in Cambridge at a performance of Milton’s masque Comus by the Marlowe Society in 1908 (as well as producing the play, Brooke had played the Attendant Spirit).

Rupert Brooke was born on 3 August 1887 at 5 Hillmorton Road in Rugby, Warwickshire, to William Parker Brooke (1850-1910) and his wife, Ruth Mary Brooke (née Cotterill), the second of three sons. His father was classics tutor and later housemaster of School Field at Rugby School, which Rupert himself attended after studying as a day boy at Hillbrow preparatory school. At Rugby, he won a prize in 1905 for his poem, ‘The Bastille’, and excelled at sport. Brooke went on to read Classics at King’s College, Cambridge between 1906 and 1909. During this period, Brooke embraced various Cambridge groups, including the Apostles (an exclusive discussion group) and the Fabian Society. He also became one of what his friend Virginia Woolf would later call the ‘neo-pagans’, embracing outdoor exercise, vegetarianism, and alternative lifestyles, and having a strong interest in socialism.

Portrait of Rupert Brooke © IWM Q 71073 (IWM Non Commercial Licence)

After he completed his degree, he lived in nearby Grantchester continuing his academic studies and writing. His father died in January 1910 and Rupert went back to Rugby to cover as Deputy Housemaster for a term. His first volume of poetry, entitled Poems, was published in 1911. The following year, he helped Edward Howard Marsh (then Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary) publish the first of his Georgian Poetry series.(3) Brooke contributed several poems to Georgian Poetry 1911-1912, including one of his most famous poems, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, which he had written while away in Berlin.

During 1912, however, Brooke had a nervous breakdown, part precipitated by his complex web of chaste and sexual relationships, and (potentially) confusion over his own sexuality.(4) Early in 1913, Brooke wrote ‘Youth’s Funeral’ whilst staying with his friends, Francis and Frances Cornford, in Cornwall. Later in the year he earned his longed for Fellowship at King’s College and then travelled abroad in order to restore his health, visiting the United States, Canada, and the South Sea Islands. A collection of prose essays of his time abroad was published posthumously as Letters from America in 1916 with an introduction by Henry James.

Rupert returned to England in June 1914 and, soon after war broke out in August, enlisted in the Royal Navy. Though he was at the siege of Antwerp, he saw little action. Shortly after this, he wrote his famous war sonnets, including ‘The Soldier’, which were published in New Numbers in December 1914. Having joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in February 1915, Brooke sailed for Gallipoli, but he died at sea on 23rd April after contracting septicaemia from a mosquito bite. Winston Churchill paid tribute to him in The Times and Lascelles Abercrombie’s obituary in the Morning Post (27 April 1915) quoted from Brooke’s ‘The Funeral of Youth’.(5) Later that year, Brooke’s 1914 and other Poems (including ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’) was published posthumously; his Collected Poems were edited by Edward Marsh, his literary executor, and published with a memoir in 1918.

Binding by Douglas Cockerell for manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

As with many of the early Friends of the Bodleian deposits, the manuscript of ‘Youth’s Funeral’ has been finely bound in brown Morocco, in this case by the renowned bookbinder Douglas Cockerell and is encased in a bespoke wooden box. Interestingly, Cockerell was appointed adviser on printing to the Imperial War Graves Commission and he oversaw the printing and binding of the registers of the dead for each war cemetery.(6) Whilst Brooke is commemorated as a war casualty, the circumstances of his death meant he was buried in an isolated grave on the island on Skyros. His friend and fellow solider Denis Browne described Brooke’s burial place as ‘one of the loveliest places on this earth, with grey-green olives round him, one weeping above his head’.(7)

In his introduction to Letters from America, Henry James described Brooke as ‘young, happy, radiant, extraordinarily endowed and irresistibly attaching’. Along with the patriotism of his 1914 sonnets, the image of an innocent young poet tragically killed in the course of war prevailed for many years, an image which was carefully maintained by his friends and literary trustees. In reality, Brooke was a more complex character and, though they made him famous, his war poems only account for a small proportion of his work.

– Rachael Marsay


Footnotes

  1. A little research has shed no light on the identity of Mrs G.F. Brooke, though she was presumably a relation of Rupert’s (there are no candidates in his immediate family, all Rupert’s siblings had died unmarried by the date of the deposit). The Archive of Rupert Brooke is held at King’s College, Cambridge.
  2. Paul Delany, Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke (Montreal/Kingston 2015), p.126-127.
  3. See Great Writers Inspire podcast (University of Oxford), ‘Georgians and Others’ by Dr Stuart Lee.
  4. By this time, Brooke had been romantically involved with Noel Olivier, Katherine (‘Ka’) Laird Cox, Phyllis Gardner and the actress Cathleen Nesbitt. An oral history interview of Cathleen Nesbitt, which touches on her relationship with Rupert Brooke, is available on the Imperial War Museum website.
  5. Quoted in ‘Rupert Brooke (3 August 1887-23 April 1915)’ in Patrick Quinn (ed.), British Poets of The Great War: Brooke, Rosenberg, Thomas: A Documentary Volume, Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 216, Gale, 2000, p. 5-97.
  6. A. Crawford, ‘Cockerell, Douglas Bennett (1870–1945), bookbinder’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004, online).
  7. Rupert Brooke and Edward Howard Marsh, The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke : With a Memoir (1918).

 


Please note that following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Explosions and ‘dull domestic details’ in the Edgeworth Papers

As mentioned in our August blog and the recent blog post about the physician Henry Holland, the Bodleian Libraries acquired a collection of letters last year which included letters between Maria Edgeworth and Henry Holland and which has now been fully catalogued. In his memoirs, Recollections of Past Life (1868), Henry Holland recalls how he became acquainted with Maria on a visit to Ireland in 1809, after which they maintained an ‘unbroken and affectionate correspondence for more than forty years’ that would have ‘formed a volume’ in itself.

Sir Henry Holland, Bart., M.D., F.R.S., D.C.L., Oxon, &c., &c from Barraud & Jerrard, ‘The medical profession in all countries, containing photographic portraits from life’, 1873-74 (London) (image from U.S. National Library of Medicine Digital Collections)

Holland noted in that same memoir that he admired Maria’s letters for their intellectual ‘discrimination and ability’. These characteristics are evident in her letter to Henry Holland dated 25th February 1820 (MS. 16087/1). Here too we see a lively variety of everyday domestic details and ambitious intellectual forays into discussion of contemporary literature and politics on an international scale. Writing from the home of her beloved Aunt Margaret Ruxton at Blackcastle near Dublin, Maria begins with updates on the ailments of her step-aunt Charlotte Sneyd and half-sister Fanny, and goes on to describe the visit of her step mother Frances Beaufort to the latter’s parental home in Cork. Just as we have sought to identify interesting material for the readers of our online blog, Maria is anxious not to bore her high-society friend with the humdrum happenings of her daily life in rural Ireland:

And are these dull domestic details all I can tell Dr. Holland who is living in the middle of all that is gay & fashionable and learned and wise, in the scientific, literary, political, and great world in London?

In fact the letter is far from dull. Edgeworth claimed not to have Holland’s ‘intrepid industry nor your art of making eight & forty hours out of the day’. Yet over six pages she certainly makes a good go of it. She crams in her comments on the recently published Ivanhoe (‘a great proof of Walter Scott’s talents’, discussed in last month’s blog), describes her continued labour of correcting the proof sheets of her father’s ill-fated memoirs (‘Till I have corrected the last proof sheet I shall never stir’), and she offers Holland a ‘sunbaked urn’ recently found in an Irish tunnel ‘bones and all’ to satiate his antiquarian interests. Then, Maria turns to current affairs and future continental travel plans:

By a letter from my brother Sneyd [Edgeworth] who
is at Paris we hear that the Duc de
Berri’s assassination [on the 14th Feb] has created much
less sensation there than we could imagine
– If they restrict the press I think it
will fly and in its explosion overturn
the throne – In these days the press /is\ in
an over match for cannon – and It is
an engine far more dangerous to
meddle with than any of the cannon
that are “laying about”

If there be not an explosion or a
revolution in Paris before the end of
next month I shall be there with two
of my sisters Fanny & Harriet

Page of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS. 16087/1

Full transcription of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS 16087/1

Recent events had proven that stifling the freedom of press was dangerous to national order. When Britain had reinstated press censorship as part of the Six Acts following the Peterloo Massacre in the previous year (an event discussed by Maria in another letter), protests erupted across the country. Maria’s shrewd predictions in this letter proved largely correct. The assassination of Charles Ferdinand Duc de Berry (the heir to the French Bourbon throne stabbed by the anti-monarchist Louis Lavel as he left the opera) was indeed used by the French government to validate the reinstatement of press censorship in March 1820. Riots broke out in retaliation against the bill, but were soon quelled by the Royal Guard. This imposition of peace allowed the Edgeworths to proceed with their planned trip to Paris at the end of March 1820 and the Bourbons to cling onto their throne for another decade.

Engraving of The Assassination of the Duke of Berry by Charon, Louis-François (1783-1831?), source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

In the context of the UK’s recent departure from the European Union, Maria’s letter to Henry Holland reminds us of the effects that political events can have at the micro and macrocosmic level: it can mean inconvenient disruptions to carefully planned family holidays, or shake the foundations of an entire nation. Maria’s comments also help to demonstrate that Irish-continental connections were often as strong as, or could serve as a means to strengthen critique of, Anglo-Irish ones.

Much has changed since we started Opening the Edgeworth Papers a year ago and this is our final blog post. Our twitter account and blog posts have allowed us to disseminate our work around the world. Our monthly transcriptions have even appeared on Edgeworthtown’s new town centre mural. We’ve curated a successful exhibition ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ at the Bodleian Library. This month, we had the honour of hosting the second Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture, at which Professor Clíona Ó Gallchoir (University College Cork) delivered a fascinating paper about theatricality in Maria’s works. A recording of the lecture is available online.

Edgeworthtown’s town centre mural. Images courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

One of the joys, and occasionally challenges, of working on the Edgeworth family is discovering new material that has come to light. Since starting the project a year ago, we’ve had twitter followers send us information and images of previously unknown letters in private collections. Other items have appeared at auction, most notably at the Cotswold Auction Company’s sale this month. This major collection of over thirty of Maria’s previously unknown manuscript notebooks containing drafts of her novels, caches of letters to publishers, and printed books from the Edgeworth library took the field by storm when it dramatically exceeded auctioneers’ modest expectations and reached £147,000: evidence, perhaps, of the revived commercial attraction of one of the nineteenth century’s most successful authors. Thankfully, important lots were purchased by academic institutions, namely Princeton University Library and the National Library of Ireland, which will remain accessible to future generations of scholars.

Although this is our last blog post, this isn’t the last you will hear from the Edgeworth Papers Project team! On Sunday 29th March, we will be holding a masterclass on the Edgeworth Collection as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. The event is being held at the Weston Library Lecture Theatre in Oxford at 12 noon, where we will be talking about a selection of items from the archive. All are welcome, and tickets can be purchased online. You can also continue to follow updates on the project on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers. You can also access further content, including a recorded performance of a manuscript dramatic fragment by Maria, at our Great Writers Inspire Page. We hope that you will continue with us on this journey working on a fascinating collection that is only just beginning to reveal its secrets.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Reading in ‘cold frosty weather’: January 1820 in Edgeworthstown

In 1745, 53-year-old Englishwoman Lady Elizabeth Cathcart married for the fourth time. Her new husband, 35-year-old Colonel Hugh Maguire, was an Irishman from County Fermanagh. Shortly after their marriage, Maguire discovered the true extent of Lady Cathcart’s wealth and, when she would not hand over her jewellery and property, he took her to Ireland and imprisoned her at his home, Tempo House. The story went that it was not until his death, 22 years later, that Lady Cathcart was released. Freedom suited Lady Cathcart: she lived for a further 22 years, dying in 1789. She did not remarry. You can find out more about her story on the BBC website.

Writing in the late 1790s, Maria Edgeworth used Lady Cathcart, her villainous husband and her imprisonment as a model in Castle Rackrent (1800), in which Sir Kit locks up his English Jewish wife for seven years. Like her real-life counterpart, Lady Kit flees her gaol only when her husband dies. Maria recalls Lady Cathcart in a letter to her Aunt Ruxton, written on 21 January 1820, having recently ‘luncheoned’ with Mr Nugent, ‘the son of old Nugent of Kisolla’, who had attended Lady Cathcart back to England following her release:

I fell into discourse with
him concerning olden times & Lady
Cathcart, her jewels &c. I asked if I had
understood his father rightly that she
was very avaricious. “Yes Ma’am but she
“could send very odd presents. She
“sent my father Ma’am some time
“after she returned to England a
“present of a bed side carpet and of
“an old dress which she had worn
“when she was Lady Mayoress she
“said, and which she said was very
“valuable. I remember seeing it &
“fingering it when I was a boy it was
“some shift silk that stood an end with
“silver flowers tarnished, but we thought
“it mighty odd”.

It is an odd story, not least because Maria does not provide any further commentary beyond repeating Nugent’s account. As in Castle Rackrent, the story is left to speak for itself, without a framing narrative perspective. Are we to see Lady Cathcart as an object of ridicule (a miser who overvalues the most tawdry of her possessions) or an object of pity (a victim of trauma trapped in that past where she was confined to an attic room with a prayer book and an old newspaper for company)?

First page of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Margaret Ruxton, 21 January 1820, MS. Eng. Lett. c. 717 fol.64r

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 717 fols. 64-65

Maria’s continued interest in Lady Cathcart speaks to her particular interest in incidents from real-life; her novels frequently include sketches of ‘real’ happenings or persons that were known to Maria and her circle. People on the side-lines might rarely make history themselves, but the (younger) Nugent here acts as a kind of informant, from whom Maria can piece together more material. Sometimes, however, marginal figures do get cast centre stage. It should be remembered that Castle Rackrent is narrated by Thady Quirk, the estate’s steward, rather than the landowners themselves. In this same letter, Maria tells her Aunt that ‘In the next Farmers Journal you will see a short tribute to our excellent faithful Mrs Bellamore’. Though by no means as newsworthy as Lady Cathcart (whose obituary, preserving her story for posterity, appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1789, pp.766-7 among the ‘Obituaries of Considerable Persons, with biographical anecdotes’), Kitty Bellamore had been the family’s longstanding housekeeper. You can see a picture of her in our October blog. The presence of both Lady Cathcart and Mrs Bellamore in this letter reflect Maria’s wide-ranging interests and concerns; in her letters she frequently juxtaposes the tales of women of rank with more domestic and quotidian news about the Edgeworth family – servants and all. And she concludes this letter with a brief enquiry about the health of her aunt’s servant, Molly Coffey.

It is perhaps Maria’s amplifying of all kinds of person and voice that makes Castle Rackrent foundational to the development of both ‘National Tale’ and ‘Historical’ novels. In the ‘deep snow’ and ‘cold frosty weather’ at Edgeworthstown in January 1820, we find Maria, her sisters and aunts reading another novel by an author praised for his development of the ‘National Tale’, Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which had just been published on 20 December 1819. Maria and Scott had been in correspondence since the publication of Waverley in 1814, and he acknowledged her influence on his writing. Ivanhoe may have triggered a reminiscence of the Cathcart tale and her reworking of it in Castle Rackrent: Scott’s Saxon hero, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, recovers from his wounds in a tournament due to the tender ministrations of a Jewish healer, Rebecca. He in turn rushes to fight for Rebecca when she claims the right to be tried for witchcraft by combat. English, Jewish and Irish onomastic variants seem to meet and mingle in the author’s imagination in this letter: Anglo-Saxon brewer’s daughter Lady Cath(cart), the fictional Jewess Lady Kit and the Irish Kitty Bellamore.

Eugène Delacroix, Rebecca and the Wounded Ivanhoe, 1823, Oil on Canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The letter tells us a little about reading at Edgeworthstown House, as the volumes of Ivanhoe moved among the Edgeworth family members prompting imaginative engagements and correspondence beyond their bedchambers:

We have all been reading Ivanhoe, at different times of the day and night each of the three volumes has been in requisition in the different rooms of the invalids & most thankful have we been to the enchanter wizard Walter Scott who with his magic spell and charmed book can banish painful realities & ‘snatch us from ourselves away’.

Here Maria offers an intriguing insight into Edgeworth family reading habits. Thanks to Abigail William’s perceptive book, The Social Life of Reading (2017) we know much about the practices of shared reading in the eighteenth century. Maria details an activity at once shared and separated – voracious appetites for reading shared by all family members who are nonetheless separated from each other due to ill health, meaning that the inhabitants of Edgeworthstown House were reading at different paces and in different places. Maria’s letter does not reveal the nature of the illness of Aunt Charlotte Sneyd (1754-1822), who lived at Edgeworthstown house with her older sister, Mary (the surviving sisters of Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s first two wives, Honora and Elizabeth). Maria’s teenage stepsisters were also bedridden: Lucy (born 1805) was still recovering from back surgery and Sophy (born 1803) was seeing some relief from jaundice through treatment by the ‘blue pill’. Family members stay connected nonetheless through reading. Communal activity continues as volumes are transported around the house from invalid to invalid enabling everyone to participate, albeit in their own time. And each to be transported in imagination by the wizardry of Scott’s writing to distant pasts in England.

Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, 3 volumes (1820). Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Dunston B (Scott) 114/1-3

Through this letter, Maria extends that community to her Aunt Margaret Ruxton. Concerns about the health of the family extend to a query about the health of her cousin, another Sophy (1776-1839); Maria expresses her relief that her dearest friend and confidante has not ventured out to visit in such inclement weather. She also wants to know whether Margaret has read Ivanhoe too and how far she has got, fearful of revealing too much and spoiling it; she offers her own copy if her Aunt has yet to obtain it. Though she encloses an opinion of Ivanhoe from her acquaintance Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832), a Scottish Whig MP, Maria’s uncertainty as to whether her Aunt has read it leads her to caution, ‘If you are afraid of forestalling you can miss it in the 3rd page’. Maria’s warning here reminds us that epistolary exchanges could be complex: there are parts to skip over, sections marked private, cross-writing that can make the letter hard to follow, and additions, crossings out, and other incidentals that can interrupt the expected ‘flow’ of the letter. So too, authorship is not always straightforward. Though this letter was penned by Maria, she reports tasking Fanny with writing out a note to Sir James. We have seen similar examples of ‘shared authorship’ over the past year; sometimes this has suggested a ‘co-written’ letter by multiple persons, at other times – owing largely to Maria’s weak eyesight – we find her commissioning another (usually Fanny) to act as scribe.

The note written by Fanny to Sir James recalls another episode that we have encountered this year: the seditious meeting bill. The bill was one of a number of bills introduced to the House of Commons following the Peterloo riots, which we wrote about in our August blog. On the day of the first reading of the bill in December 1819, a poem (purportedly written by Maria) was circulated in the House and subsequently printed in The Times. Sir James gave a speech that day in which he referred to ‘an honorable gentleman who had written made the English laws his particular study & who had written the history of a modern great republic’. Maria, clearly following the news closely, wrote – albeit via Fanny– to Sir James to ask to whom he was referring. His answer, not quoted in the letter, also contained his thoughts on Ivanhoe. This letter ripples with the familial, political, local, and literary connections that Maria maintained through her correspondence.

Please join us for the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture 2020 on Wednesday 5 February at 5:30pm in the Weston Library, Oxford. Professor Clíona Ó Gallchoir (University College Cork) will be delivering this year’s lecture ‘Trap doors in private houses’: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth. All welcome, free entry, and no booking required.

Poster for Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture 2020

Our final blog will be published next month when we have completed our full planned year of punctual blogging. Watch our twitter account for news of our plans for the future.

If you missed our ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ exhibition which ran until 26 January at the Proscholium, Old Bodleian Library, do check out this review. And do come and meet our team by signing up for our masterclass at the Bodleian Library, Oxford on 29th March 2020.

– Anna Louise Senkiw
– Ros Ballaster

References:

W. A. Maguire, ‘Castle Nugent and Castle Rackrent: fact and fiction in Maria Edgeworth’, Eighteenth-century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 11 (1996), pp.146-159.

Abigail Williams, The Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home (Yale University Press, 2017).

“Steps taken by the Irish government to deal with disloyalty, 11 Dec 1914”

A digitised and transcribed edition of a memo from the archive of British civil servant Francis Hopwood (Baron Southborough) is now available through the Taylor Institution Library’s Taylor Editions site. Initialled ‘MN’ by Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the Under-Secretary of Ireland from 1914-1916, the memo details the suppression of “seditious” speech in Ireland at the beginning of World War I, which included shutting down Nationalist newspapers and monitoring public speeches.

The memo formed part of a package of papers that was passed to Lord Southborough when he served as general secretary to the 1917-1918 Irish Convention. The Convention tried to find a path towards Irish self-government following the 1916 Easter Rising, however their final report, which recommended the immediate establishment of All-Ireland Home Rule, was fatally undermined by Britain’s desperate need for soldiers. In April 1918, Britain imposed conscription on Ireland and attempted to link conscription with the implementation of home rule. This move was so unpopular that public opinion swung towards full independence.

Lord Southborough’s archive is held by the Bodleian Library, and catalogued online at Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts. This fascinating collection documents his career as a senior civil servant at the Board of Trade, Colonial Office and the Admiralty and his involvement in numerous government commissions and royal tours. It includes correspondence from Winston Churchill, Admiral Lord Fisher, General Botha, Lord Midleton, Herbert Gladstone, and G.W. Balfour.

The digital edition of this memorandum on seditious speech is the product of a course on imaging, encoding and preservation offered to students, faculty and staff by the librarians of the Taylor Institution Library (the Taylorian), one of the Bodleian Libraries. You can find out more about the digital editions course and Digital Humanities on the Taylorian website.

A ‘Christmas Dainty’: fragments of festive frolics with the Edgeworths

Since our last post, the days have got shorter, colder, and wetter. Winter has arrived in Oxford, and as frosts begin to form, thoughts turn to Christmas. When we last encountered the Edgeworths in our November Blog, Maria was busy devouring an eclectic assortment of literature with her newly-rested eyes. Little seems to have changed when she writes to her beloved sister Fanny on 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Fanny Edgeworth, 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Transcription of MS. Eng. lett. c. 706, fols.16-18

Here, she recounts the ‘curious facts’ and inventions she had gleaned from the latest issue of William T. Brande’s periodical publication, Journal of Science and Arts. Much like her hero Lewis in the moral tale A Sequel to Frank (1822), Maria Edgeworth appears to have spent the long winter evenings leading up to Christmas reading and talking to her family about books.

As for many of us today, Christmas was for the Edgeworths a time for family. Writing to Henry and Sneyd Edgeworth on Christmas Day 1807, Maria lamented the absence of her two brothers from the festivities of ‘the most agreeable family […] I ever was in’. That family would have ensured their ‘merry Christmas’ had they been present (1).

We don’t know how the Edgeworths spent Christmas Day in 1819. Unlike in 1807, there are no letters known to survive from Christmas Day 1819. Perhaps, like the titular character of Maria’s earlier novel Ormond (1817), it was spent feasting on a ‘festive dainty’ of goose and turkey. But the letters in the Bodleian do give us a tantalising insight into the Edgeworths’ activities in the weeks leading up to the big day.

As we discussed in our June blog post, the Edgeworth Papers are full of literary and epistolary fragments. Despite their incomplete status, these fragmentary forms provide touching, and at times comedic, insights into the everyday lives of the extended Edgeworth family. This is particularly evident in the letter fragment by Maria to her sister Fanny dated 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16).

Letter fragment by Maria Edgeworth to her sister Fanny, 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16)

Here, Maria slips once more into the voice of the aspirant playwright heard in her plays Whim for Whim (1795) and Comic Dramas (1817), dramatizing one particularly unfortunate incident involving her seven-year-old half-brother Michael Pakenham and an unwelcome visitor to Edgeworthstown House:

Enter Pakenham ^one corner of^ handkerchief at eye
– & in great rage – those impertinent
Sheep! – What do you think Maria – Just
now I went to drive them away from
Honora’s plot & bed & the moment I
had driven ‘em off when I turned my back
one came up & set his great head against
My behind & knocked me down
I never saw such a sheep in
my life – and he ran after
me to the steps

Among the Edgeworth papers, there is an attractive line drawing of Pakenham in April 1818 attentively listening to his older brother Francis read by his sister Honora, who gave the drawing to Maria in 1836 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol.32)

The Edgeworths’ walled kitchen garden at their home in County Longford is now carefully maintained by the Edgeworth Society. Back in 1819, the young Pakenham appears to have taken it on himself to defend the honour of the flowerbed tended by his sister Honora from the attentions of one of County Longford’s more rowdy woollen residents. Despite his valiant efforts, Pakenham’s heroic quest ended in tears, a bruised ego, and a sore behind. Maria is famed for her emphasis on a moral point to her tales. Here, perhaps, the take away is simply, ‘pick on someone your own size’.

The walled garden at Edgeworthstown House. Image courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

Entertainments were commonly written and performed by large households like the Edgeworths during the festive period. Here in Oxford, we’ve been honouring this tradition of domestic entertainments by bringing one of Maria’s dramatic fragments to life. MS. Eng. misc. c. 897, fols.3-8 was written in c.1811, and is made up of a series of fragmentary scenes of downstairs and upstairs life as a group of young women prepare to visit the seaside resort of Brighton. Here is the first page of the manuscript and our transcription in which the conniving maid Miss Lapell plans to sweet talk the housekeeper Mrs Wright into putting in a word for her to take employment with young Lady Flora so as to ensure she joins the jaunt to Brighton.

A fragmentary draft of an unidentified play, c.1811 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r).

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r

Thanks to the inspired dramatic treatment of director Ellen Brewster, and a wonderful cast of student actors (Jemima Hubberstey, Olivia Krauze and Eugenie Nevin), Maria’s untitled and incomplete scenes were performed under the title Brighton Ambitious for a group of Edgeworth scholars from around the world as part of a workshop held at the University of Oxford this month. Maria had little success as a professional dramatist, and never realised her ambition of having a play staged professionally. But the vibrancy of her wit can been seen in this short fragment, of which we only wish we had more. The performance was filmed, and we hope to share this sparkling example of Maria’s dramatic talent online with you soon.

Almost as exciting as the run up to Christmas for our project team has been the preparation and recent opening of our exhibition in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Library. ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ focuses on the family’s lives at home and abroad, as well as Maria’s literary fame. Entry is free, and the exhibition is open 9am-5pm daily until 26th January 2020.

This will be followed on Wednesday February 5th 2020 by the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture at the Weston Lecture Theatre, Bodleian Library, Oxford. This year, Dr Clíona Ó Gallchoir (Faculty of English, Cork University) will open up the topic of Maria Edgeworth’s engagement with the dramatic and the theatre. Her lecture is entitled ‘Trap doors in private houses: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth’. The event is free and open to the public. Do please join us for the lecture and drinks thereafter in the Rector’s Drawing Room of Exeter College, Oxford, where the distinguished Edgeworth scholar, Professor Marilyn Butler, herself served as Rector from 1993 to 2004.

As we begin to look forward to the next stages of our project, we wish you all a Merry Christmas, and look forward to sharing more stories from the Edgeworth Papers with you in the New Year.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull


Footnotes

1. Frances Beaufort Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth: With a Selection from Her Letters (London, 1867), 3 volumes, volume I, p.205.

‘jumping of thoughts’: reading curiosity among the Edgeworths

…how wonderful that little black marks made on paper can make thoughts jump & hearts jump too at ever, or never so great a distance

Despite our 200 year distance from the Edgeworth papers, we have the same experience reading this letter from Maria Edgeworth to her cousin Sophy Ruxton of 5 November 1819 as Maria herself describes. Maria was an expert in making thoughts and hearts jump and she understood the curiosity that drives all readers from the earliest age to acquire knowledge and immerse themselves in strange experiences. Maria, you may remember, had been instructed to rest her eyes for some time and her sister Fanny was writing letters on her behalf, but she records now that she is now ready to read again:

Now that I have a little time & eyes to read again I find it delightful — And I have a voracious appetite and a relish for food good bad & indifferent I am afraid like a half famished ship – wrecked wretch, an appetite quite unknown <to> those who eat their daily literary meals and go to their regular monthly feasts and festivals & grow nice & fastidious & eat the best bits turning up their nose & vowing they can’t touch a bit more.

Evidently invigorated and hungry for all kinds of literature, she writes about her extensive and eclectic recent reading. She mentions her plans to send The Poems of Mr. Hunter and the Letters of Lady Russell to Sophie’s home at Black Castle; that she has been reading the 4th volume of Frederick Lillin de Chateauvieux’s 6 volume New Voyages and Travels, Marshal de Bassompierre’s Memoirs of the Embassy (first published in 1626 and translated by John Wilson Croker in 1819), and November’s Quarterly Review. Besides her reading, she also casually mentions in the opening passage a letter from fellow writer Joanna Baillie, which she will send on (a reminder that familiar correspondence was not ‘private’ as we would understand it today). Maria does not only share her reading, but offers to share the texts themselves, an indication of the level of literary traffic between Edgeworthstown House and Black Castle.

First page of MS. Eng. Lett. c.718 fol. 183r

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 718, fol.183r

The ‘little black marks’ that dart across the page do more than record Maria’s voracious reading habits; they also demonstrate Maria’s curiosity about a range of topics. We have written in previous blogs about her global outlook; her interconnectedness with the rest of the world forged through travel, friendship and the publication (and translation) of her works around the world. Her reading too gave access to a world beyond Edgeworthstown, particularly the reading of periodicals. The Quarterly Review ran from 1809 until 1967, was published by John Murray (who also published works by Austen, Byron and Scott amongst others) and was set up to rival the Edinburgh Review taking a liberal-conservative position conducive to Maria’s own politics.

Maria is not overexaggerating when she describes the ‘farrago of strange facts and strange thoughts [that] are dragged together in the quarterly rev[ie]w’. The issue she was reading (from April 1819, Vol. 21, No. 42) includes wide-ranging reviews (not all mentioned by Maria in the letter) from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Revolt of Islam, Lieutenant General Baron Pamphile de Lacroix’s Memoires pour server a l’Histoire de la Revolution de Saint Domingue, and E. Hawkin’s Dissertation on the Use and Importance of Unauthoritative Tradition and Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent the years 1799-1804 by Alexander de Humbolt and Aime Bonpland. Maria clearly delights in the array of knowledge to collect, contemplate and share with her family.

We see from Maria’s comments her appetite for curiosities. She mentions, for example, the lengthy review of a new book on the cemeteries and catacombs of Paris which describes unusual ways of memorialising and imagining the dead. She draws attention in particular to a description of the luz – a ‘bone in shape of an almond’ at the base of the spine traditionally believed by Jewish people to be the bone from which the body will be resurrected. Maria might have been drawn to this particular excerpt from the review because of recent events in Europe, the Hep-Hep riots in the region of the German Confederation that took place between August and October 1819; these were pogroms against Ashkenazi Jews in the period of growing Jewish emancipation, many of whom died or had property damaged. Her comments in the letter do not refer to these riots but, as they were reported in the newspapers (and we can assume that she did read the newspapers), she would have been aware of these troubling events.

Maria was no stranger to anti-Semitic sentiment herself. Her 1812 novel The Absentee featured an unpleasant portrayal of a Jewish figure called Mr. Mordicai, drawn in the manner of Shakespeare’s vengeful and villainous Shylock. One American admirer, Jewish schoolteacher Rachel Mordecai (later Lazarus) (1788-1838), who was a fan of her educational writings, wrote directly to Maria on 7 August 1815 to complain about the ‘illiberality’ of her representations of members of the Jewish nation. Remarkably, the correspondence continued until Mordecai’s death (in fact descendants of both families continued to write to each other for another 100 years). The effect of Mordecai’s writing was significant: in 1817 Edgeworth published Harrington, which tackled the problem of inculcating anti-Semitic feeling in children, and can be seen as reparation for her earlier unsympathetic portrayal of Jewish people. The hero Harrington’s growing recognition of the errors of the anti-Semitic thinking a nurse impressed on him when a child even involves an encounter with the actor most famous for playing Shylock of the eighteenth century: Charles Macklin, who transformed the role from pantomime stock antagonist to a more psychologically ‘real’ figure than stereotypical villain.

Johann Zoffany, Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Covent Garden, 1767/1768, The Holburne Museum (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

As we have shown, however, Edgeworth’s politics and social criticism is not always straightforwardly unambiguous; for modern readers, Edgeworth’s revised representations of Jewish people remain underwhelming. As Rachel Schulkins has suggested, ‘Edgeworth attempts to “overturn” the traditional Jewish stereotypes… by portraying the Jew as essentially a good Christian’: Harrington’s love interest, the beautiful Jewess, Berenice, turns out to be a Christian after all (though she has a Jewish father, she has a Christian mother in whose faith she was raised). That said, Maria’s exchange with Rachel Mordecai and subsequent writings do show her willingness to rethink her ideas, and the reading discussed in this letter bespeaks a broad interest in ‘curiosities’ and ideas that surely influenced her beyond her immediate circle.

Indeed the letter also shows that Maria did sympathise with and listen to those caught in dramatic scenes of conflict on a smaller stage. At the close of the letter she describes a domestic incident: ‘a horrible scene of lying and counter lying as cannot be spoken of in jest. It ended in Lovell and Mrs E’s dismissing the cook upon the spot’. The night before, described by Maria as ‘black Saturday’, the cook and the kitchen maid had both claimed ‘certain blankets & sheets stolen betwix’ them’. On the Sunday afternoon, matters came to a head and an argument ensued – for three hours – before Mrs. Edgeworth ‘magnanimously parted’ with the cook, ‘regardless of her own convenience’. Truth, for the Edgeworths at least, was always more important than convenience.

If you’re in Oxford, you can find out more about the Edgeworths and their shared endeavours (as well as their travels and Maria’s fame) at our new exhibition, Meet the Edgeworths, which runs from 30 November 2019-1 February 2020 in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Libray. Do also keep an eye on Twitter (@EdgeworthPapers) and look out for our final blog of this year next month!

Anna Louise Senkiw

 

References

Rachel Schulkins, ‘Imagining the Other: The Jew in Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington’, European Romantic Review, 22:4, 2011, pp.477-499.

‘Stray Bits of Scandal’ in the Edgeworth Papers

When we last encountered the Edgeworths, Maria and her half-sister Fanny were busy discussing transcultural literary exchanges between Ireland and France with their sister-in-law, Henrica. Writing jointly once again to their cousin Sophy Ruxton in October 1819, the sisters communicate snippets of domestic and society news (MS. Eng. lett. c. 718, fols.179-82). They comment on the health of family members (see our April blog). They compliment the good behaviour of Maria’s beloved doggo Foster (subject of our June blog) who has won the affections of their housekeeper Kitty Bellamore (see the water-colour drawing in the family papers, MS. Eng. Misc. c. 901, fol.5). They return at several points to report on the live events as their brother Lovell attempts to counter bullying in a local election campaign over which he was presiding as sheriff. Maria refers to the poem she wrote for her aunt to accompany a violet vase (see our April blog) and to a drawing Fanny made of their two younger brothers, Francis and Pakenham, possibly the one dated 1818 in the collection of family pictures (Francis reading to his brother Pakenham, Ms. Eng. Misc. c. 901, fol.32). But the most distinctive feature of the letter, and the focus of this blog, is that the sisters endeavour to bring their cousin up to speed on the latest society gossip — from substantial anecdotes included in the body of the letter, to a short list of ‘stray bits of scandal’ notes on the back to save paper.

Letter from Maria and Fanny Edgeworth to Sophy Ruxton (14 October 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 718, fols.181v-82r)

Transcription MS. Eng. Lett. c. 718, f.179-182

Kitty Bellamore, housekeeper at Edgeworthstown house (MS. Eng. Misc. c. 901, fol.5)

Maria lived in a society that was filled with scandalmongers; gossip circulated through correspondence and newspapers as well as speech, and it is the subject of many plays and novels. In her final novel Helen (1834), Maria describes Lady Katherine Hawksby and her set of high society London ladies as so addicted to scandal that they consume more gossip than they drink tea. Throughout her published oeuvre, Maria condemns this habit of reputation-damaging scandalmongering. In her short stories “Angelina” and “The “Catastrophe” from Moral Tales (1801), for example, Edgeworth argues that gossiping about scandals was for idle individuals ‘who have nothing [more] to do or say’ than to cause people misery—a ‘buzz’ to temporarily occupy their attention for a few moments, before a new object of their spiteful entertainment attracted their attention. Away from her instructional fiction, however, Maria tows a more blurred line on the subject. Writing to the Scottish poet and playwright Joanna Baillie in 1825, Maria begrudgingly admitted to the necessity of scandal: ‘I hate scandal but truth is truth.’(1)

Yet in this letter, the Edgeworth sisters seem to be as ravenous to be simply entertained by gossip as Lady Katherine Hawksby and her set in Helen. Writing to their cousin, the sisters delight in revealing that ‘they can tell you more than you know’ about the morals of the Byron-reading John Wolfe, Viscount Kilwarden, and remark how they ‘long to be sitting on the sofa – and to hear what I am sure will be an entertaining chapter of Saints & Sinners’. There is a distinction between the private exchange of interesting news between family members and the circulation of information that put at risk public reputation.

One of the most scandalous chapters in the life of a rich married couple in the early nineteenth century was divorce. Prior to 1857, the only way by which a couple could get divorced was through a Private Act of Parliament introduced in 1700. This was an expensive and highly public process and was only granted as a last resort on the grounds of adultery and extreme cruelty. Indeed, between 1700 and 1857, only 314 divorces were granted by parliament, though of course many more did separate without pursuing divorce. Despite divorce’s scandalous connotations, Maria was sympathetic in her treatment of Lord and Lady’s Glenthorn’s mutual desire for a divorce in her earlier novel Ennui (1809). Yet in this letter, the Edgeworth sisters revel in the scandal associated with marital separation:

2 <a> stray bits of scandal – to[o] good to be lost
Lord & Lady Charlemont [Anne Caulfeild, Countess of Charlemont (1780-1876) and Francis Caulfield, 2nd Earl of Charlemont (1775-1863)] are to be separated
— cause his gallantisms & her Ladyships
want of temper –
Lord & Lady Lismore [Cornelius O’Callaghan, 1st Viscount Lismore and Lady Eleanor Butler ] to be separated
cause unknown to me

Here, Maria and Fanny treat the latest separations of society couples as delicious pieces of gossip to be shared and consumed with their cousin. With divorce such a rare occurrence, any instances of separation for ‘gallantism’ (adultery), ‘want of temper’ (patience), and even unknown causes are deemed ‘to[o] good to be lost’. Yet the sisters choice to wedge their ‘stray bits’ onto the reverse of letter suggests an attempt to chirographically preserve their gossipy gleanings from being lost.

The sisters contrast the ‘want of temper’ of a contemporary society wife, Ann Caulfield, with their admiration for the virtue and patience of another woman they have been reading about, Rachel Wriothesley, Lady Russell (1636–1723), in Some Account of the Life of Rachael Wriothesley Lady Russell (1819) by Mary Berry:

We have been much interested in the life &
letters of that most excellent and amiable & un
-pretending of creatures – Lady Russell – There
are touches in these letters which paint domestic
happiness & the character of a mother & a wife
with beautiful simplicity – I like even Miss Berry
much the better for the manner in which she has
edited this book

The wife of William, Lord Russell (1636-83), Rachel was greatly admired for her piety, matrimonial devotional, and stoicism in the face of adversity after the execution of her husband for his involvement in a Whiggish plot against King Charles II. Indeed, in Maria’s educational tale Rosamond (1821), the titular heroine goes as far to claim that Russell remained the most celebrated woman in all of Europe: “Who is there in our own Country, or France, or Italy, or Spain—in any country; what celebrated woman can you name, who can stand comparison with Lady Russell?”.

Rachel Russell (née Wriothesley), Lady Russell, by Henry Meyer, after Samuel Cooper, stipple engraving, published 1853. NPG D5859 © National Portrait Gallery, London (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The letter remains diplomatically silent about the reputation of the author of this biography, Mary Berry (1762-1853). A companion of Horace Walpole, Berry’s career as an author begin with the failure of her scandalous comedy of manners. Despite its stellar cast of prominent actors, and its success as a private theatrical, The Fashionable Friends (1801) was withdrawn from the Drury Lane theatre after two performances, its content being apparently too risqué for further performance: it included reference to secret extra-marital affairs and an excessive display of romantic attachment between two women (Mary Berry herself and her friend the celebrated sculptress, Anne Damer). The lack of comments on Berry’s scandalous literary beginnings may be due to the fact that the Edgeworth family were acquaintances of the Berry sisters (Mary and Agnes), with whom Maria corresponded from 1813 onwards.

Mary Berry, by William Greatbach, drawn by George Perfect Harding, published by Richard Bentley, after Anne Seymour Damer (née Conway) mixed-method engraving and etching, published 1840 NPG D42589 © National Portrait Gallery, London (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Fanny and Maria tell Sophy Ruxton that they are enclosing ‘two or three agreeable letters for your amusement’. Letters were often read by individuals other than their intended recipients for entertainment. But they were also read for moral improvement: as Mrs Egerton remarks of Lady Russell’s letters in Rosamond, ‘looking up in early youth to a high character exalts the mind, and gives the best promise of future excellence’. Rather than condemn Berry for her scandalous beginnings, much like contemporary reviews in the periodical press, the author and editor is praised by the sisters for the careful editing and circulation of Russell’s previously unpublished letters. The Edgeworths knew about and valued the importance of careful editing. In this same letter, Maria makes reference to her own patient editorial endeavours tracking down material to include in her ill-fated Memoirs (1820) of her father Richard Lovell: ‘I must beg of you my dear friend to look among my letters […] I am now come to the last of what I am writing and want to be certain of the accurate recollection of some <words> expressions of his’. Viewing Berry not as the salacious author of Fashionable Friends, but as an editorial comrade-in-arms, Maria demonstrates how stray bits of scandal could be conveniently lost and forgotten if it suited a writer— as well as countering the tendency to see women as the vehicles of idle gossip and dangerous scandal by celebrating women’s contribution to the promotion of scholarship through editing and memorializing significant figures of the past.

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Footnotes

(1) See Christina Colvin, “Maria Edgeworth’s Tours in Ireland”, in Studia Neophilologica 43.1 (1971), pp.252-56.

References

Lewis Melville (ed.), The Berry Papers: Being the Correspondence Hitherto Unpublished of Mary and Agnes Berry (1763-1852) (London: J. Lane, 1914).

Susanne Schmid, “Mary Berry’s Fashionable Friends (1801) on Stage”, in Wordsworth Circle 43.3 (2012), pp.172-82.

Maria Goes Global: Pleasure and Business Abroad

In last month’s blog, we discussed Maria Edgeworth’s response to Peterloo and her concern for political reform (rather than revolution) in Ireland and in the West Indies. This month we take a look at the Edgeworth family’s global – particularly European – outlook, which went beyond politics.

A letter dated 15 September 1819 (MS. Eng. Lett. c. 704 fol. 6-7), to Henrica “Harriette” Edgeworth (née Broadhurst), wife of Maria’s brother Charles Sneyd Edgeworth, highlights in particular the cross-channel friendships and acquaintances enjoyed by the Edgeworth family. The letter was written and signed by Fanny Edgeworth, but with contributions from Maria.

It begins by responding to Harriette’s recent letter detailing her visit with her husband to Paris, which the family had clearly received with delight. Frances tells her that ‘Your visit to Madme Recamier amused us much’, but lightly berates her for the lack of details about ‘Extravagant’ Parisian life:

I wish you would enter into some particulars for my sake – tell me whether you drive your own carriage – I thought that was impossible in the streets of Paris – Tell me how much a good Voiture de service [hired carriage] costs per month –

Maria had visited Paris in 1802 with her father and would have been eager to see whether costs and customs had changed: the following year, she and Fanny would travel to France again for two months from April 1820. The letter also sees the Edgeworth sisters introducing visitors to different national customs and identities at their home in Ireland. Fanny describes a visit from some English friends, Mrs and Miss Carr.

The letter treads familiar ground too; they report (once again) on the state of their sister Lucy’s bad back as well as other domestic concerns such as the cost of postage. The closing lines of the letter are written down the side of the front page – a common feature of letters written during a period in which postage cost by the page and paper was not a cheap commodity.

First page of MS. Eng. lett. c. 704 fol.6-7

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 704 fol.6-7

Back on the continent, another French acquaintance, Madame Gautier, had written to describe meeting Harriette and Charles during their visit, which Frances shares in the letter:

Je retournerai vers la fin d’Aout â Paris – ou plutôt â Passy et c’est alors que j’espère jouir encore de la societé de’ M – & Mde Sneyd – J’aime beaucoup Mde Sneyd –Elle a de la gaièté et de la grace dans l’esprit – Elle parait bonne et sensible – ce qui est deux attributs essentials aux femmes – il que les dames Edgeworth qui j’ai eû le plaisir de connaitre possedent <uniquement> (1)

In this passage, Madame Gautier writes about meeting Harriette and Charles in Paris. It was not only Harriette’s journey that occupied the Edgeworth circle, however. Frances tells her that ‘Mrs Tuite has been very entertaining in all her accounts of Paris & Italy’. Despite the comparative difficulties in travel in comparison with today, this letter evinces the international outlook of Maria and her circle.

Portrait of Juliette Récamier (1777-1849) by François Pascal Simon Gérard (Musée du Louvre) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Maria Edgeworth was no stranger to Paris. Indeed she was herself an acquaintance of French socialite Juliette Récamier (1777-1849) (mentioned in this letter), who led a celebrated salon in Paris frequented by leading literary and political figures. The pair met during Maria’s first visit to Paris in 1802, during which Récamier took them to theatre, and where Maria’s love interest Abraham Niclas Edelcrantz (1754–1821), whom she would subsequently refuse an offer of marriage, was sitting next to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Maria corresponded with other European writers and thinkers: from 1805, for example, she corresponded with and befriended Etienne Dumont (1759–1829), later the translator of the works of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (c. 1747/8–1832) into French – though unfortunately only a copy of a single letter Dumont wrote to Maria in 1820 exists in the Bodleian’s Edgeworth Papers (MS. Eng. lett. c. 720, fols. 56-7).

The Edgeworths’ November 1802 visit to France (the party consisted of Maria, her father and step-mother Frances, and her oldest half-sister Charlotte) came just before outbreak of war, which restricted travel between the two counties, as fellow novelist Frances Burney (1752–1840) famously discovered during her effective exile in France between 1802 and 1814.

Despite the physical constraints of journeying to France during this period, Maria was part of a cross-channel literary community. The increasingly global literary marketplace had several implications for Maria’s literary works. As Frances tells Harriette in this letter, for instance, Popular Tales (which featured ‘The Grateful Negro’, as discussed in August’s blog) had been translated into French: ‘once by Madme de Roissy & once by some name-less person’. Another of Maria Edgeworth’s French translators included her friend and sometimes collaborator, Louise Swanton Belloc, a Frenchwoman of Irish descent.

Maria’s writings were translated not only into French, but also into other European languages too: Dutch, German, Irish, Italian, Swedish, and Spanish versions of her works were published in her lifetime. A Bengali edition of her tale, Murad the Unlucky, entitled Hatbagyo Murad, was published in India in 1861, translated by Judu Gopaul Chatterjea (a copy of which exists in the British Library).

The (multiple) translations of Popular Tales speak to her status as an international literary figure. But it was actually a translation of Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis’s (1746–1830) Adèle et Théodore that was Maria’s earliest effort prepared for publication.(2) Though it remained unpublished due to a rival translation being published first, it remains a testament to Maria’s early engagement – encouraged by her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth – with a wider European literary scene. Maria was not alone: Gillian Dow’s edited collection, Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700-1900, showcases the rich traffic between English and other European texts and the role women played in circulating, translating and producing these works in their own languages.

Translation was also a vital means of disseminating the progressive educational ideals the Edgeworth family sought to promote, ideals always in dialogue with that of French thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and de Genlis. Maria recommends a text for the niece of Juliette Récamier to translate which also promises to educate the young woman in the thinking of an English ‘genius’ who was an important member of Robert Lovell Edgeworth’s circle of scientific speculators. Humphry Davy (1778-1829), Cornish chemist and inventor, wrote his poem ‘The Sons of Genius’, when he was just 17. Published in Robert Southey’s The Annual Anthology in 1799, it honours the contribution of natural philosophers, the ‘sons of Genius’, to the flourishing of culture and humanity.

Translation is only one aspect of viewing Maria as a European writer who participated in pan-European literary networks. Her epistolary novel, Leonora (1807), for example, was written in response to Madame de Staël’s (1766-1817) literary sensation Delphine which appeared in print while Maria was staying in Paris in 1802. You may recall from our July blog, that Byron counted both Maria and de Staël amongst the ‘literary lions’ of the age. Their cross-channel, contemporary success is integral rather than incidental to this description. Unlike Jane Austen (today the most famous novelist of the early nineteenth century) whose novels are set in England, Maria used locations across Ireland, England and France, the latter being the (partial) setting for both Leonora (1807) and Ormond (1817), as well as further afield – ‘The Grateful Negro’ is set in the West Indies. Several of her near-contemporaries, including Helen Maria Williams (1759–1827), Charlotte Smith (1749–1806), and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) also depicted scenes abroad in their writing.

As we have seen on numerous occasions throughout this blog series, the Edgeworth family were a ministry of all the talents. Maria’s literary depictions of France were therefore not the only representations of abroad. There are several drawings of Irish, French and Swiss views in the Edgeworth papers collection, drawn by various members of the family (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901 fols. 90-136). The family travelled further still: during Michael Packenham’s journey to India in 1831-1832 he produced a series of pencil and ink drawings of India in the ‘No. 1 Madras Sketchbook’ (MS. Eng. misc. g. 356) and five poems (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898 fols. 31-5). These drawings and writings are a testament not only to their artistic endeavours but also to the family’s travels.

Image from No. 1 Madras Sketchbook (MS. Eng. misc. g. 356)

Whilst the letter of September 1819 speaks of the family’s friendship and literary connections in France, Maria’s popularity in France and the influence of French writers (especially female) on her own work, it also demonstrates the Edgeworths’ attachment to the cultural pleasures of the Irish Catholic tenants to which they lived in such close proximity. On the way back from a drive in their landau with Mrs and Miss Carr (visiting acquaintances from England whom we encountered in our April blog), they stop to join an appreciative audience in the sunshine as a fiddler plays for dancers in ‘all the vivacity & graces of an Irish gig’. The scene reminded Maria of her sister’s Charlotte’s drawings of similar scenes, which had been engraved for inclusion in the forthcoming memoir of their father that Maria had written, Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1820). It was a scene that the Edgeworths were particular fond of – here is another similar drawing in the Edgeworth papers of an Irish dance, drawn for Maria by a female acquaintance in 1836.

Irish Scene, drawing in pen and ink, MS. Eng. misc. c. 901 fol. 111

Fragment of MS. Eng. lett. c. 704 fol. 7v

In this month of September 2019, as Great Britain is on the cusp of separation from these two European countries of Ireland and France, a family letter of two hundred years ago reminds us of a long history of artistic and intellectual exchange. Of course, historically, relationships between France, England and Ireland have often been troubled by conflict, claims and counterclaims of sovereignty and autonomy. But we hear in Frances and Maria Edgeworth’s collaborative letter a desire for connection, a sense that there is much to be learnt and enjoyed in acts of translation not just of languages but also of cultures.

Anna Louise Senkiw

 


Footnotes:

(1) “I will return near the end of August to Paris – or maybe to Passy and that is why I hope to enjoy again the society of Mr and Mrs Sneyd. I like Mrs Sneyd very much. She seems kind and sensitive – the two attributes that are essential to women – and which the Edgeworth women I have had the pleasure to know possess especially” [translated by Ros Ballaster].

(2) See Gillian Dow (ed.), Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700-1900 and Marilyn Butler, Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography.


References:

Marilyn Butler, Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography (Clarendon Press, 1972).

Gillian Dow (ed.), Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700-1900 (Peter Lang, 2007).

Susan Manly, Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), available at: https://chawtonhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Maria-Edgeworth.pdf

Clíona Ó Gallchoir, Maria Edgeworth: Women, Enlightenment and Nation (University College Dublin Press, 2005).