In anticipation of our forthcoming special issue on ‘The Minerva Press and the Literary Marketplace’, this post is the first in a series by Colette Davies reflecting on the role played by the firm during the Romantic era and its somewhat tarnished reputation in the following centuries—a challenge that the essays in our new issue seek to address. Continue reading →
This essay uses Isabella Kelly (c. 1759–1857) to demonstrate the critical and historical value of Minerva novelists for gothic scholarship. Minerva’s fictions have traditionally been dismissed by gothic critics as uninteresting ‘imitations’ of Radcliffe and Lewis. I propose that we need to question this too-simple label: rather than disqualifying them from serious study, Minerva novels’ formulaic gothic elements are an entry point for fertile analysis, exposing a lively dialogue between many novels that is itself an under-examined part of the gothic’s history. I also address the dilemma of scope: should gothic scholars read Minerva novels individually and closely, or as a large mass viewed from afar? Drawing on the insights of recent scholarship, I propose that there are unique benefits to a combined perspective, which recognises the potential richness of individual Minerva gothics while noting the distinctive features that arise from their publication as part of a larger mass. Isabella Kelly’s seven Minerva novels allow me to test both of these methodological assertions. A ‘semi-distant’ overview of Kelly’s career reveals her rapidly changing, diverse and creative use of gothic materials over time, exposing an aspect of gothic authorship not visible in traditional accounts. I then zoom in on a single Kelly novel, The Ruins of Avondale Priory (1796), to show the surprisingly complex, idiosyncratic uses to which she puts familiar tropes. Examined closely, Kelly’s novel proves less an ‘imitation’of canonical gothics than one in a chain of adaptations to which those more famous works also belong. Kelly’s case also shows how Minerva novels challenge critical categories formed on the basis of the canon alone, such as the supposed division of gothic fiction into distinct ‘male’ and ‘female’ strands. Continue reading →
Jane Austen’s famous reference to Ann Radcliffe and ‘all her imitators’ in Northanger Abbey can be understood both as a satirical characterisation of popular gothic novels and as a record of a historical mode of describing those same texts. This article provides a new reading of fictional ‘imitation’ in the Romantic period arguing that, as it was practised by Minerva Press novelists, it became a crucial fulcrum in the ongoing Romantic debate over the literary status of the novel. While charges of ‘imitation’ are often understood as derogatory, and were frequently deployed against the Minerva Press’s fiction by critics, looking closely at the novels in question suggests that many novelists used imitation quite deliberately as a literary strategy. This essay suggests that the fiction produced by Minerva’s novelists is deeply entwined with the press’s status as England’s highest-producing novel publisher, in that the form and function of Minerva novels stems from their collective identity: each novel is produced and consumed specifically as one of many—one of many narratives, but also one of many physical, circulating objects, lent, sold and exchanged between readers. Using allusions, parodic inversions, self-referential prefaces and a multitude of other narrative strategies, the novelists exploit the creative potential of their imitative parameters. Continue reading →
This essay examines the cataloguing practices of James Hammond, the proprietor of a large nineteenth-century New England circulating library, and the marginalia in his collection of sixty-five Minerva Press gothic novels, which were later acquired by the New York Society Library in New York City. Hammond’s catalogues, four of which are examined here, arranged and altered Minerva titles and authors and appended reviews. These promotional strategies foregrounded the gothic content of these novels and attested to their quality. In so doing, the catalogues assisted subscribers in selecting books and prepared them for reading those selections. If Hammond’s catalogs prepared patrons for quality gothic reading experiences, the novels’ marginalia reshaped patrons’ expectations and influenced their engagement with the novels. Written by other subscribers or earlier readers, these marginalia evaluated the novels and commented on their gothic and non-gothic elements. In the process, the marginalia sometimes supported, and at other times conflicted with, Hammond’s promotional strategies. For Hammond’s patrons, the catalogues and the marginalia constituted two points of entry into the Minerva gothic novel. Only by examining both the catalogues and the marginalia can scholars assess the degree to which Minerva’s gothic novels terrified and delighted New England readers decades after the press’s London heyday. Continue reading →
Through the exploration of a selection of Minerva titles from across the period of the Press’s dominance (1790–99), focusing on the recurring trope of violence, its varying portrayals by individual authors, and its censure by critics, this essay argues that the Press makes a unique contribution to the Romantic literary marketplace with regard to its output of violent gothic fiction. In particular, it proposes that what some Minerva authors were doing was cleverly combining gothic sensationalism with historical fact, thereby allowing Lane’s press to gain popularity by catering to the fashion for violent gothic novels while simultaneously responding to rhetoric about the corrupting influence of such violence on female readers. In addition to this, at a time when historical writing was not showcasing the horrors of war that women were experiencing, the use of gothic conventions when writing historical conflicts permitted writers to do exactly that—the implication being that Minerva authors’ use of gothic violence was not simply to entertain, but also to portray the horrors of war and its impact on women and the domestic space. Taken together, the use of historical facts alongside gothic tropes in Minerva Press works allows for a confident evaluation of the formation of an historical gothic mode. Continue reading →
This collection of articles, which results from the ‘Four Nations Fiction’ conference that took place in 2013, is structured around the intersection of place with gender in terms of two vibrant research fields: the archipelagic or four nations turn within literary studies and the still-expanding map of Romantic-period women’s writing. Continue reading →
The Birmingham-based novelist Catherine Hutton (1756–1846) was acknowledged in the Monthly Magazine for 1821 as one of ‘twenty-four ladies of pre-eminent talents as writers in various departments of literature and philosophy’. Her work is little read or discussed these days, but offers some fascinating possibilities for research into women’s writing and narratives of travel. This chapter explores how Hutton’s frequent visits to Wales from the 1780s, recorded in travel journals, provided both material and form for her later novels. Welsh landscapes and Welsh culture are often figured in her fiction as spaces of possibility and freedom for women, and are used, in terms that owe much to the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, to critique the constraints of contemporary urban society. Continue reading →
The writings of Ann Julia Hatton (1764–1838), who from 1810 published under the pen-name ‘Ann of Swansea’, reflect changes in the political spirit of her age as it interwove with episodes in her personal history. Though her 1784 collection of verse is conventional in its politics, The Songs of Tammany (1794), a panegyric in praise of the American-Indian ‘Noble Savage’ written during the years she spent in New York, is heated in its denunciation of European colonialism. After she returned to Britain in 1799 and settled in Swansea, her novels Cambrian Pictures (1810) and Guilty or Not Guilty (1822) showed an equivalent radicalism in their depiction of Welsh characters casting off the yoke of subservience to a corrupt Anglicized gentry and demonstrating that an upbringing in Wales instils all the natural virtues as opposed to the artifices of contemporary civilization. In other fictions, however, such as her satire on the townspeople of Gooselake (i.e. Swansea) in Chronicles of an Illustrious House (1816), Welsh ‘Noble Savages’ have befooled themselves by succumbing to the allure of corrupting sophistications. This paper explores these transitions in Ann of Swansea’s fictional representations of Wales. Continue reading →
This article shifts attention away from the perfections of England to explore the place of Ireland in Jane Austen’s Emma. Intrigued by Jane Fairfax’s refusal to travel with the Dixons in Ireland, Emma conjectures spitefully about an unrequited—or possibly consummated—affair between Jane and Mr Dixon. Obfuscating his actual affair with Jane, Frank Churchill uses Emma’s Irish conjectures to flirt with both women. Ireland becomes a repository of gothic potential over the course of Austen’s novel: a space upon which characters can map their unspoken and unspeakable desires. Austen accesses the Irish gothic to ask questions about national identity, legitimacy and power. Continue reading →
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