Lady novelists of the early eighteenth century, and other adventures at the Newberry.

I have received my first official LJ “nudge” to remind me that I’ve been quite lax in my procrastination for the past week or so. I’m technically at work right now, if “work” can be defined as “getting completely sidetracked from 17th-century Jesuit accounts of China by the trashy novels of one Mrs. Penelope Aubin, a popular fiction-writer of the 1720s who successfully combined the popular romance style of other trashy lady novelists with Defoe-esque overseas adventure themes and occasional Christian moralizing.” Which I suppose it can in my profession, so hey.

Mrs. Aubin first caught my eye with her outstanding titles. To wit:

The NOBLE SLAVES: or, the Lives and Adventures of Two Lords and Two Ladies, who were shipwreck’d and cast upon a desolate Island near the East-Indies, in the year 1710. The Manner of their living there: The surprizing Discoveries they made, and strange Deliverence thence. How in their return to Europe they were taken by two Algerine Pirates near the Straits of Gibraltar. Of the Slavery they endured in Barbary; and of their meeting there with several Persons of Quality, who were likewise Slaves. Of their escaping thence, and safe Arrival in their respective Countries, Venice, Spain, and France, in the Year 1718. With many extraordinary Accidents that befel some of them afterwards.

Being a History full of most remarkable Events.

How can you not read a book with a title like that? Nevertheless, Penelope Aubin is woefully neglected, even in this age of excavating neglected female and other minority writers of English literary history. I did find one article devoted to her on JSTOR, “Mrs. Penelope Aubin and the Early Eighteenth-Century English Novel,” by William H. McBurney (published in the Huntington Library Quarterly in May, 1957). Professor McBurney writes,

Mrs. Aubin’s method of composition was simple and undoubtedly explains her ability to produce lengthy novels rapidly, by slight variations on a basic pattern. From fictional and dramatic sources she borrowed a group of stereotyped characters, who differ from novel to novel only in nationality. Her heroine, whether English, Welsh, Irish, French, or Spanish, is invariably endowed with good birth, beauty, inviolable honor, and “solid sense.” The hero, a male counterpart of the heroine in beauty, is an ardent lover and often an erring husband; the villain is a lustful pirate, Turk, Moor, or Londoner. Among the minor characters are the female confidante, who … may lack unwavering virtue and thus serve as a foil to the heroine; the blackamoor slave, who is always named Domingo; and the benevolent Catholic hermit, who is usually a noble and repentant sinner.

This description really spoke to me, because I’ve long held that the only thing missing from NBC’s sublimely weird daytime drama Passions were a few lustful pirates and a blackamoor slave named Domingo.

Mrs. Aubin also translated a French “History of Genghizcan the Great” in 1722, so I’m going to go read that now.

2 thoughts on “Lady novelists of the early eighteenth century, and other adventures at the Newberry.

  1. Great title! ~sigh~ Wish we had titles like that these days. You are very lucky to have a job which allows you to justify your digressions with such ease, not to mention veracity.

    (P.S. Don’t forget the Printers’ Row Book Fair this weekend!)

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