Sunday, April 18, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
There's much talk of e-books in publishing these days, and of how the format will affect writers. But for long-forgotten writers, e-books and books on-line offer a literal life-line to modern readers, and their only chance to be rescued from dusty obscurity.
Women writers of the past are among the most neglected. While everyone knows Jane Austen, there were many others who were dismissed as "scribblers" in their time, and ignored by ours. Fortunately, there are libraries determined to change this. One of the more noteworthy is the Chawton House Library, whose mission is to promote the study and research of early English women writers. (It's a splendid coincidence that the beautiful Chawton House was also the home of Jane Austen's brother.)
The library's collections focus on writers from 1600-1830, and slowly but surely, they are putting more and more of these collection on line. How about dipping into The Princess of Cleves (1777) by the extravagantly named Marie-Madeleine Ploche de la Verne La Fayette? Or Paris Lions and London Tigers (1825) by Harriette Wilson, better known for her less literary endeavors?
Of course I had to check out the irresistibly titled Romance Readers and Romance Writers: a Satirical Novel (1810). The author, Sarah Green, is long neglected, but unjustly, as the opening paragraph shows:
"It is very strange," said Uncle Ralph, with evident impatience and vexation, as he threw down on the table with great force a romance of the last century, "that a writer must use so many words, only to tell us, that a woman got up and sat down again! No, they must inform us in high-flown-poetic language, that she rose from her mossy couch, and then thoughtfully reseated herself, and resumed her pensive posture! and then, if the wind happened to blow her thin clothes about, and made her ribbons flutter and fly, we must be entertained through half a page with her silk scarf floating in the wind and the rude zephyr discomposing her light and nymph-like attire!"
Personally, I'm hoping for the on-line version of another of Mrs. Green's novels: Scotch Novel Reading; or, Modern Quackery; a Novel Really Founded on Facts (1824).
Above: Mrs. Richard Bennett Lloyd by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1775. Mrs. Lloyd elegantly carving her husband's name into the bark of the tree makes for a beautiful painting, if not for a very accurate one of a lady writing (though I doubt even Sir Joshua could make great art of a current lady-writer, hunkered down over her laptop.) But we'll let it stand in for Ms. Green, for whom, alas, I could find no portrait.
Digression alert: Mrs. Lloyd's picture, however, does turn up in the work of another, more famous women writer. In The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, heroine Lily Bart scandalously chooses to recreate the painting as a tableau vivant at a late 19th c. house party: "Deuced bold thing, to show herself in that get-up."