Often credited with being the first woman writer to earn a living by her pen, Behn
apparently led a most unusual and eventful life. Although the details concerning her life
are scant and often based on speculation, evidence suggests that in her youth she visited
Surinam, where she had an affair with the political radical William Scot. Returning to
England, she may have married a "Mr. Behn" in 1664; however, she was probably
widowed and penniless by 1665. To earn money, she took employment by the Crown as a spy in
Antwerp, but arrived back in England in debt, and in 1668 was thrown in debtors
prison. Upon her emergence, she started to support herself by writing plays for the London
theater, and later novels for print. She is best known for Oroonoko; or, The Royal
Slave (1688), the story of a captured African prince who is forced into slavery in
Surinam. Oroonoko is at once an adventure narrative and a horrific tale of the African
experience in the New World. Overall, Behn composed at least sixteen plays for the stage,
and wrote fourteen novels, only six of which were published during her lifetime.
||All the Histories and Novels Written by the Late Ingenious
Mrs. A. Behn. London: Printed for the Chapman at the Angel,
1698. Third edition with additions.The volume shown is the only
known complete copy of the Chapman third edition with additions.
Fanny Burney, 1752-1840
Burneys novels were immensely popular during the late
eighteenth century. However, Burney herself had to overcome family disapproval in order to
make a name among English literary circles. Her father, Charles Burney, a renowned
musicologist, discouraged his daughters literary activity and provided her with no
formal education. In spite of this, she read widely and began writing at a young age. But
at the age of fifteen, in response to her father and perhaps her stepmothers
objections to imaginative poetry, plays, and stories, she dramatically sacrificed all of
her writings to a huge bonfire. Not completely deterred, she resumed writing and
anonymously published her first novel, Evelina (1778), which became a great
success. Evelina won Burney not only her fathers approval, but also writer
and critic Dr. Samuel Johnsons. She went on to secure a place in Queen
Charlottes court and in English literary society. She later left court to marry
French émigré General Alexandre DArblay (1791) and lived until the age of
Her novels deal with womens roles in relation to the British
aristocracy, marriage, wealth, and power. Her successful works influenced other women
writers, including Jane Austen, whose name is among the list of subscribers to Camilla.
|Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress. By the Author of
Evelina. London: Printed for T. Payne and Son, and T. Cadell, 1782. 5 vols.
Burneys second novel, Cecilia, concerns a heroine who, in
order to save her inheritance from her guardians, must marry a man who will take her name.
In her writing, Burney uniquely abandons the common epistolary (or letter writing) first
person form to use authorial narration, and becomes one of the first novelists to employ style
indirect libre, or free indirect speech.
Camilla: Or, a Picture of Youth by the Author of Evelina and Cecilia.
London: Printed for T. Payne, T. Cadell, and W. Davies, 1796. 5 vols. First edition.
Burneys fourth published novel involves the "courtship of
lighthearted Camilla by somber Edgar. Led by his tutor Marchmont, a misogynist, to demand
perfection and the full possession of his ladys heart before he declares himself,
Edgar puts Camilla through a series of tests and suffers torments of misapprehension and
jealously, for the girl has been warned by her father never to let her feelings show"
Elizabeth Carter, 1717-1806
Carter, known for her translations, poetry, essays, and letter writing,
was fortunate enough to be educated by her father, the Perpetual Curate in Deal, England.
Learning alongside her brothers, she received a well-rounded education, which included
knowledge of several languages. She was skilled in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian,
Spanish, and German. As an adult, she taught herself Portuguese and Arabic. According to
tradition, Carter lost her health by studying long nights as a child, and did in fact
suffer from severe headaches as an adult. Her father was a friend of Gentlemans
Magazine editor, Edward Cave, who began to publish Carter in his periodical. She
became active in Englands literary circles and developed friendships with Samuel
Johnson, Catherine Talbot, Elizabeth Montagu, Samuel Richardson, Edmund Burke, Horace
Walpole, and Hannah More.
||Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, with a New
Edition of Her Poems, Some of Which Have Never Appeared before; to Which Are Added Some
Miscellaneous Essays in Prose, Together with Her Notes on the Bible, and Answers to
Objections Concerning the Christian Religions by the Rev. Montagu Pennington, M.A.
London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington, 1807. First edition.
A Series of Letters between Mrs. Elizabeth Carter and Miss
Catherine Talbot, from the Year 1741 to 1770: To Which Are Added, Letters from Mrs.
Elizabeth Carter to Mrs. Vesey, between the Years 1763 and 1787; Published from the
Original Manuscripts in the Possession of the Rev. Montagu Pennington.
London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington, 1809. 4 vols. First edition.
Mlle. Clairon (Claire-Josèphe-Hippolyte Léris de la
Clairon began acting on the French stage in her youth and, as an adult,
became one of the greatest tragediennes of the seventeenth century. She was persuaded by
her lover, the critic Marmontel, to abandon the "solemn, declamatory style of the
day" for a more "conversationally direct form of diction." Before her
career was over, Clairon attained the admiration of Voltaire and Garrick. She retired from
the theater in 1764 and opened a school for young actors.
|Mémoires d'Hyppolite Clairon et réflexions sur la
déclamation théatrale; publiés par elle-même. Paris: F. Buisson, an VII
de la République, 1799. Second edition, revised and corrected.
||Mrs. Lovechild, 1743-1813
to Catch Flies: or, Dialogues in Short Sentences Adapted to Children from the Age of Three
to Eight Years. London: Printed and Sold by J. Marshall and Co., .
Mary Masters, 1706?-1759?
Not a great deal is known about Mary Masters. According to James
Boswell, she was acquainted with Samuel Johnson, who may have helped to edit some of her
verses. She is also linked with Edmund Cave, editor of Gentlemans Magazine.
She advocates womens rights in her Familiar Letters and Poems on Several
Occasions (1755): "a Woman is equal to a Man, as being of the same Species, and
endowd with every Faculty which distinguishes him from the Brutes."
Poems on Several Occasions. London:
Printed by T. Browne for the author, 1733.
Sarah Jennings Churchill, Duchess
of Marlborough, 1660-1744
The influential and opportunistic Duchess of Marlborough
entered court as a maid of honor for Anne Hyde, the Duchess of York, and eventually
advanced to become an intimate and influential confidante to Queen Anne. She and husband,
John Churchill, hid the former princess Anne during the exile of Roman Catholic James II
(1688) and thus secured high positions in court for a time. Unwise political moves and
inattentiveness to the Queen later led to the Duchess disfavor and ejection from
court (1710). Her courtly ambition and outspokenness contributed to her illustrious public
reputation. Samuel Johnson and Robert Walpole were highly critical of her. Pope
unattractively modeled his character "Atossa" from Ethic Epistles (Moral
Essays) on her life, which led the Duchess to arrange for the works suppression.
However, Henry Fielding did publish in her defense A Full Vindication of the
Duchess-Dowager of Marlborough (1742). During the end of her life, she authored An Account
of the Conduct with the help of Nathaniel Hooke.
An Account of the Conduct of the Dowager Duchess of
Marlborough, from Her First Coming to Court, to the Year 1710. In a Letter from Herself to
My Lord. London: Printed by James Bettenham, for George Hawkins, 1742.
Elizabeth Robinson Montagu, 1720-1800
Younger sister of novelist Sarah Scott, Elizabeth Robinson Montagu was
educated at home and read widely. Active in literary circles, she became known as
"Queen of the Bluestockings," a circle of women who promoted literary and
intellectual exchanges. She invited educated guests to her gothic house at Sandleford,
where she encouraged intelligent conversation between both women and men. Through her
gatherings, she made friendships with Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale, David Garrick, Edmund
Burke, and Horace Walpole. In her popular Essay on the Writings and Genius of
Shakespear, she defends Shakespeare against Voltaire by comparing him with French and
Greek dramatists, and sets Shakespeare up as a great figure worthy of national pride.
An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, Compared with the Greek
and French Dramatic Poets with Some Remarks upon the Misrepresentations of Mons. de
Voltaire. London: Printed for J. Dodsley . . . , 1769. First edition.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1689-1762
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, cousin of writer Henry Fielding, was born in
London to parents of the aristocracy. Her father, Evelyn Pierrepoint, later became the
first Duke of Kingston. She eloped with Edward Wortley (1712) and the two became active in
court. Through social activities, she made social contacts with several literary figures,
including John Gay and Alexander Pope, although Pope later attacked her in print. From
1716 to 1718, her husband served as ambassador to Turkey, where Montagu wrote her Embassy
Letters. At age 47, she shared an infatuation with Francesco Algarotti, a 24-year-old
native Italian with literary promise. She moved to Italy to join Algarotti and, although
their relationship cooled, remained on the Continent for the next twenty years. Montagu
distributed her writings privately and was content not to publish avidly during her
lifetime. With the exception of some anonymous articles and a pirated edition of her
poetry, her letters, essays, and poems were published posthumously. In her works, she
advocated higher education for women and, in turn, more political interest and
The Works of the Right Honorable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Including Her
Correspondence, Poems, and Essays. Published by Permission from Her Genuine Papers.
London: Printed for Richard Phillips, 1803. 5 vols.
This particular imprint is one of two editions of Montagus first collected works
released in 1803 by Phillips. It appears to be quite rare, as no other copies of this
edition have been located.
||The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley
Montagu. Edited by Her Great Grandson Lord Wharncliffe. London: Richard
Bentley, 1837. 3 vols. Second edition, revised.
Hannah More, 1745-1833
Hannah More was one of the most prolific and
widely read writers of her time. Educated as a schoolmistress, she soon began publishing
plays for the instruction of children and, later, religious writings, including several
chapbooks for youths. She also became a part of Samuel Johnsons illustrious circle.
Besides being a writer, she was a committed religious and social reformer, establishing
Sunday schools for the poor. She encouraged other women to volunteer their time to helping
the poor and, as a result, increased womens influence in social work. However,
although she advocated female education, she did so only in the context of an educated
domesticity. In her only novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife, she stresses the role
of the subservient wife. Ironically, More, herself, never married or entered into a
domestic situation. She "died friendless and alone, the victim of servants who
mistreated her" (Horwitz).
Sir Eldred of the Bower and the Bleeding Rock:
Two Legendary Tales. London: Printed for T. Cadell, 1776. First edition
Hints toward Forming the Moral Character of a Young
Princess. London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, in the Strand, 1819.
Fifth edition. Inscribed by Hannah More to Lady Arland. The volumes each include fore-edge
An Unfortunate Mothers Advice to Her Absent
Daughters in the Letter to Miss Pennington. London: Printed by H. Hughes for
J. Walter, 1773. Sixth edition.
Sarah Pennington began writing after a publicly and personally painful
separation from her husband, Joseph Pennington, and their several children. The reasons
behind their separation are unclear, although Sarah admits to behaving like a
"coquette." Her four publications are often autobiographical and remorseful. An
Unfortunate Mothers Advice was her most popular work. It went through three
editions the year it was released (1761) and at least seven more by 1800.
Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, 1741-1821
Piozzi was born into the English aristocracy and well educated. In 1763, after her
fathers death, her mother forced her into an unloving marriage with Henry Thrale, a
wealthy brewer, by whom she had twelve childrenonly four living to adulthood. In
1765, she met Samuel Johnson and helped him with a translation of Boethius. Through
Johnson, she was introduced to several popular figures, including Fanny Burney, David
Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. After her husbands death, she
chose to marry a man both Italian and Roman Catholic, Gabriel Piozzi. Her decision to
marry both a foreigner and a Catholic was controversial, and ruined her relationship with
Johnson, who adamantly opposed the union. Despite objections, their marriage was highly
successful. During the time of their travels on the Continent and later settling in Wales,
she became a prolific writer of histories, travel accounts, and poetry.
Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. during the Last Twenty Years of
His Life. London: Printed for T. Cadell, 1786. Second edition.
First published in 1786, Anecdotes is Piozzis best known work. It is
considered to be one of the most authoritative contemporary accounts of Johnsons
British Synonymy; or, An Attempt at Regulating the Choice of Words in
Familiar Conversation. Inscribed, with Sentiments of Gratitude and Respect, to Such of Her
Foreign Friends as Have Made English Literature Their Peculiar Study. Dublin:
Printed by William Porter for P. Byrne, and W. Jones, 1794.
Sarah Scott, 1723-1795
Elder sister to writer Elizabeth Montagu, Scott grew up in a family that
valued education. Scott was briefly, and apparently unhappily, married to a George Lewis
Scott. After her family "rescued" her from the marriage, she went to live with
Lady Barbara Montagu (unrelated) and began an active life of charity work and writing. She
tried to start a "utopian community" with her sister, Elizabeth, and friends.
Her novel, A Description of Millenium Hall, idealizes her utopian ideals. Her
novels were published anonymously and sold quite well. Although they lost popularity in
the nineteenth century, her work has recently been reprinted.
|A Description of Millenium Hall, and the Country Adjacent:
Together with the Characters of the Inhabitants, and Such Historical Anecdotes and
Reflections, as May Excite in the Reader Proper Sentiments of Humanity, and Lead the Mind
to the Love of Virtue. By a Gentleman on His Travels. London: Printed
for J. Newbery, 1762. First edition.
Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797
After surviving an unhappy childhood with an alcoholic and violent
father, Mary Wollstonecraft spent time as a ladys companion, a schoolmistress, and a
governess. Later, her life took a dramatic turn. Beginning in 1794, she visited France and
Scandinavia. She had a daughter out of wedlock with an American businessman and attempted
suicide when their relationship failed. She then had an affair with British author William
Godwin, and the two married after she became pregnant. Sadly, she died shortly after
giving birth to a daughter, Mary, who would later be known as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
Wollstonecrafts diversified writings include subjects such as education, travel,
history, politics, and womens rights. She is best known for A Vindication of the
Rights of Woman (1792).
||Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations Calculated
to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness. London:
Printed for J. Johnson, 1791. Designed and engraved by William Blake.
Stories from Real Life are moral tales written for children. This particular edition
is noteworthy because it includes engravings by famous artist and poet William Blake.