I wrote at length recently about the discussion over the true identity and gender or the author better known as Mrs Carver. I didn’t expect to be returning to similar themes so rapidly, but on checking the entry on Sarah Green in Mr Summers’ Gothic Bibliography i found to my horror that he himself is spreading similar rumours concerning Mrs Green.
He refers to items taken from the Monthly Review of November 1811 which states:
“we cannot be such dupes of the preface as to believe that the experience of a lady could have furnished all the scenes which are here delineated; and much less would we attribute to a female pen the great illiberality which occasionally displays itself.”
Little, it would appear, is known about Sarah Green. She is believed to have been born in Ireland, but lived in London during her active career which strecthed from around 1790, if we believe that Charles Henly, or, The Fugitive Restored was from her pen, until around 1825. She wrote up to around 20 novels, many of which were romances, but also included satirical comedies. She certainly made much of the fact that her name was concealed from the public in her earlier works, but I remain to be convinced that she was male. There is no evidence in the brief biographical sketches around that give any credence to this.
I am currently reading her 1810 publication, a satire on Romance Readers and Romance Writers, a novel along the lines of E S Barrett’s The Heroine and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, in that it follows the adventures of an avid romance reader who tries to model her life along the lines of what she reads. It should be noted that the publication of Green’s work predates the other two, so it may be considered the first in this particular little genre.
The novel is entertaining, but even more entertaining is the six page advertisement that accompanies it, which takes to task, in a bitchy and witty manner some of the current novels of the day. Extracts from which follow:
On Horsley Curties, author of The Monk of Udolpho:
The romances of this gentleman are intolerably dull and tiresome, for he takes more words to tell a story than the most loquacious and circumstantial of talkative old women: he is as finical and particular in narration, as an old bachelor is in his habits and caprices: he is like a puppy that traverses twice as much ground as circumstances require—or perhaps he rather resembles a traveller, who, losing his way, takes a circuitous course of three miles, instead of a direct road of one only.
On authors in general
Would that, like the monster BRIAREUS, I could strike a hundred blows in the same instant, and that all the vampers of romance, who merit annihilation, were in my presence!—they are the vermin of literature—their spawn creep to our fire-sides, and cover our tables, our chairs, our sofas and our mantle-pieces; we find them in the bed-chambers of our daughters; nay, not unfrequently are they placed beneath their pillows, to occupy their minds at day-break, or to beguile a sleepless night.
On Joshua Pickersgill
Joshua Pickersgill, junior, esq. hath written a romance, entitled “THE THREE BROTHERS.” I beg leave to quote the author’s opinion of his own work, which appears in the title-page of his romance; it was intended, I imagine, for poetry, but has no legal claim whatever to such distinction, excepting indeed the terminating jingle of the couplets (which, by the way, are not unfrequently discordant). I am half inclined to think that the reader’s opinion may not, perhaps, be so conscientious and liberal as my own, in even supposing it intended for poetry. Alluding to his romance, he says it is
“A tale of horror! which, but to hear it told,
“Shall freeze the youngest blood to aged cold;
“Appal the soul, like to the author’s, when
“He paus’d, and fear’d the daring of his pen.”
Now whether thou art a “gentle reader” or not, I am firmly persuaded thou dost already fear “the daring of his pen.” The gentleman presumes to think these lines poetry, for he thrusts them into the title-page of his book as though they were particularly beautiful and aptly illustrative!—they have neither qualities simple nor compound for poetry; they are neither melodious individually, nor harmonious collectively:—Joshua is certainly one of those unhappy wights described by our immortal dramatic poet, who says that
———”he who hath not music in his soul,
“Is born for treasons, stratagems and spoils.”
Oh Joshua! Joshua! what hast thou brought upon thyself! and we are now to think the worst of thee.—He who feels desirous of reading “THE THREE BROTHERS,” will find how entirely the author’s mind has been busied with “treasons, stratagems and spoils.”
Quoting a particular extract from Pickersgill
“The huge misshapen fragments that choked this entrance, were slippery with moss, and splintered so pointedly by the forcible manner in which they had been broke from the mother-stone, that a fall (alluding to the perilous situation of one Claudio) “might have occasioned an imperfect empalement.”
—Oh horrible! ‘Tis said that the sublime sometimes borders on the ludicrous—This terrific situation was unquestionably intended to convey a sublime picture to the mind, but how powerful must the ludicrous be, when we feel inclined to laugh at a man in so perilous a state!
Those who read many romances are, I imagine, insensible to the inconsistencies which I am always unfortunate enough to detect, even in works written by men of talents and genius; and thus I am deprived of that interest in the perusal of them, which others enjoy in an intense degree. Sometimes I notice incongruities that the most accommodating and indulgent critic would be at a loss to reconcile: sometimes I read a picturesque description that turns nature into a second state of chaos; and sometimes I meet with an author who does all he can to make the human shape more than divine. Thus is the spell dissolved, nor can it be wondered at if I throw the book from me in disgust.
On The Fatal Revenge by Charles Marurin (author of Melmoth the Wanderer):
A romance, entitled “FATAL REVENGE, OR THE FAMILY OF MONTORIO,* ” has excited very general interest; the narrative is indeed of the most extravagant and romantic kind; it is told in bold and animated language: the author’s mind in every part of this “tale of terror” appears to have been wound up to a state of ardor and enthusiasm that I have rarely met with. Yet even in this work, which is evidently written by a man of education and very superior abilities, I detected frequent inconsistencies, one of which I will explain.
The mind of Annibal di Montorio, a weak and superstitious young nobleman, is represented to be in that state of fearful anxiety, which Collins has pictured in so masterly a manner in his personification of fear, who is said to start
“Even at the sound himself had made.”
This youth is alone, and at midnight in a turret of Montorio-castle, agitated with superstitious terrors: every thing is represented to be so still and silent, that he fears to hear even his own respiration; yet, immediately afterwards, he opens the casement to listen to the tempest raging without!
On Francis Lathom
If six months pass without my seeing in the daily papers a new work advertised, from the pen of FRANCIS LATHOM, author of The Mystery, Astonishment! Men and Manners,” &c. &c. &c. I shall verily conclude that he has not consumed with prudence, and in a direct and unvarying proportion, the produce of his latest production; and that his appetite, like that of most dullards, has been infinitely more keen than his wit.
On Rosa Matilda (who also wrote under the name Charlotte Dacre (and definitely comments I don’t agree with)
Of ROSA MATILDA I have but few words to say. How the absurd trash of this fair “libertine” has obtained so much notice, I cannot divine. How absurd, how ludicrous, how contemptible are sentiments of morality and religion from the pen of such a weak enthusiast!—But I have not patience to remain a minute longer in her company, and I am sure the reader will gladly bid adieu to this “chartered LIBERTINE.”*
And finally comments on writers and women writers in general
The modern system of book-making ought to be put down; it mars genius that is tempted to engage in it, disgusts men of taste, and puts bread into the mouths of those who have no brains. Historical romances are manufactured weekly—French novels* and tales of romance translated and published as originals—and old novels republished+, without being acknowledged as such.
Heaven knows! we have more authors now than ever: if a father writes, the son is straightway attacked with the cacoethes scribendi, and thinks to become—a greater man than his father!—As for the female part of the community, I verily believe that every third woman in these happy united kingdoms, considers herself a genius—nay, I have heard, and readily believe it, that there are many thick-headed female dames of fortune who sacrifice hundreds to establish—the reign of dullness and of folly!
Comments of a male or female author? I’m still with the “she” on this one.