Happy New Year!
And in the words of Colonel Sherman Potter of M*A*S*H: “May she be a damn sight better than the old one.”
I typically binge books and television shows/movies over the holiday break. These past few weeks have been the exception in that we were simply too busy. Even though we’re still social distancing and being extremely careful, we did get out more and several typical holiday events resumed, so our schedule was full. Add to that, the weather was unseasonably warm, even for Texas, so we’ve been outside doing outside things – which was hopefully terribly good for our health.
When I found myself reading, I discovered a new pet peeve: the serial. Not book series, and not a set of full-size books with continuing side-storylines, but these short (even shorter-than-novella) serials that seem to be cropping up in my suggested reading lists. I’m talking thirty pages of characters repetitively ruminating over one or two events followed by a “to be continued” cliffhanging tag line, all for the price of a full-length book.
The times I’ve peeked at the entire serial collection, it was obvious the story could have been presented as one, full-length book. As a reader, separating the story into five short novellas feels like a money grab. As an author, this still feels like a money grab.
But perhaps I’m being too salty.
I’m beginning to feel a little petty-critical of fellow authors, so I’ll jump off my
salt soapbox and look at some authors who wrote because they had to – they felt that compulsion and burn to put ink on paper. Or some simply felt the desire to set the world on fire with their words.
(1 January 1767, Blackbourton, Oxfordshire — 22 May 1849, Edgeworthstown, Ireland)
Born in England, Edgeworth moved with her family to Ireland at the age of 15 and assisted her father with the management of their estate. There she learned the basics of the rural economy and Irish peasantry that would define her stories. She was fortunate that her parents supported her writing, and she found plenty of material and listening ears in her family of 24. Edgeworth wrote stories of children and Irish life; her first collection, The Parent’s Assistant, was published in 1796. Her first novel, Castle Rackrent in 1800, was praised for “social observations, character sketches, and authentic dialogue.” It was also praised for being free of moralising, which was attributed to her father’s editing of her earlier works. Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen admired this new “regional novel” that highlighted the people of the area in which Edgeworth wrote.
Edgeworth never married, but she had many friends an acquaintances in literary and scientific circles. She took great pride and import in devoting herself to her family estate, and later working for the relief of peasants stricken during the Irish famine of 1846. Her novels continued to be regularly reprinted even in the 21st century, especially Moral Tales for Young People, 5 vol. (1801) and Letters for Literary Ladies (1795).
(17 January 1776 – 24 May 1850)
Born in Durham, England, but the daughter of a Scot, Jane Porter is considered one of the foremost female Scottish novelists and dramatists. After her father’s death, the family moved for a while to Edinburgh, where Walter Scott was a frequent visitor and storyteller in their home. Their next move found the family in London, where more artistic acquaintances further nurtured Porter (and two of her five siblings, a sister who also became a novelist, and a brother, a painter). Here she met Elizabeth Inchbald (actress, novelist), Anna Laetitia Barbauld (poet, essayist, literary critic, editor), Hannah More (poet, playwright, literary circle mistress), Elizabeth Hamilton (essayist, poet, satirist, novelist), Selina Davenport (novelist), Elizabeth Benger (biographer, novelist, poet), and Mrs Champion de Crespigny (artist, novelist).
Porter’s first novel was published in 1803 to moderate success, but her second novel in 1810, The Scottish Chiefs, soared to fame. The story features William Wallace as its hero, causing the book to bear the label as one of the first historical novels ever written. It remains popular among children in Scotland.
Born in Fishponds, More taught at a girl’s school in Bristol that was set up by her father (he also established a similar boy’s school). She was betrothed to William Turner, the owner of Belmont estate, at the age of two and twenty; the beauty of the area inspired her to begin to write poetry. Turner postponed their wedding three times over the span of six years before eventually breaking their engagement (which caused a possible nervous breakdown). He offered her £200 a year as recompense; she initially refused but after contemplation, accepted. These funds allowed her an independence women of the period rarely experienced, and she pursued a literary career with great success.
More wrote both poetry, plays, and social-cause pamphlets and essays, and was a champion of female education, social reform, and abolition. Her play, Percy, featured a forward by David Garrick, and was found in Mozart’s possessions upon his death. She was a member of London’s literary elite, keeping company with the likes of the Bluestocking group (until falling out with many of them over her anti-feminist/industry and piety views after the publishing of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which More refused to read). She established twelve schools in the Mendip District of England, and was monetarily instrumental in the founding of Kenyon College in Ohio.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Information on Maria Edgeworth culled from Britannica.
- Information on Jane Porter culled from A look into the women of the Scottish Enlightenment and Nobody’s Argument: Jane Porter and the Historical Novel.
- Information on Hannah More culled from A Web of English History and National Trust UK.