Beyond Recognition: Jane Austen as Consumer of Eliza Nugent Bromley

Stream: Session C
Date: Wednesday, 18 May 2022
Time: 3.30 pm – 5.00 pm

Abstract

Thanks to the scholarship of Marvin Mudrick and Juliet McMaster, Eliza Nugent’s Laura and Augustus, published anonymously in 1784 by T. Hookham, is now recognised as the main target of young Jane Austen’s satire in Love & Freindship (completed June 1790, when Jane was fourteen). A second influence that critics point to, citing the resemblance between the two narratives’ recognition scenes, is Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778). My paper builds on this foundation, and draws as well on recent scholarship on the marketing, circulation, and consumption of the material book in the 1780s, to argue that Bromley’s second novel, The History of Sir Charles Bentinck, Bart. and Louisa Cavendish (Hookham, 1788), also strongly influenced Love & Freindship: an argument founded in part on my observation that Sir Charles Bentinck features two recognition scenes, each ripe for parody, and each containing details that readers of Love & Freindship may find they recognise (such as a "venerable" grandfather). Neither of Bromley’s first two novels ever received a second printing, and copies today are scarce. (Neither Chawton House Library nor the British Library holds a copy of Sir Charles Bentinck.) Yet their publisher Hookham also owned a successful circulating library, and did well enough with Laura and Augustus to place an advertisement for Sir Charles Bentinck, identifying it as the product of “the Author of Laura and Augustus,” inside the first edition of Ann Radcliffe’s The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (Hookham, 1789). Given the similarities between Bromley’s and Radcliffe’s work, not to mention Austen’s demonstrated willingness to read both authors, this appears a sensible marketing strategy with a good chance of success among readers who subscribed to circulating libraries. It may help explain why Austen’s mind turned to Bromley’s Whiggish and sentimental works—both Sir Charles Bentinck and Laura and Augustus—at the time she was beginning Volume the Second. Since a significant percentage of titles listed in circulating libraries’ catalogues are now lost—not one copy extant—the obscurity of Sir Charles Bentinck today might mean that few copies were sold, but it might also mean that the copies in circulation were read so voraciously they all fell apart. If Austen takes delight in chewing Bromley’s works to pieces in her juvenilia, this approach may therefore be read in terms of the culture of circulating libraries in the 1780s, where books were often viewed as consumable commodities that were both desirable and disposable. After a brief review of this broader context, I will identify and analyse select evidence of Sir Charles Bentinck’s influence on Love & Freindship and other works in Volume the Second. This influence can be traced in plot (elopements, flights, recognition scenes), character (besides our hero and heroine and various abductors, we might consider the sexually voracious Charlotte and her avaricious mother), form (the epistolary), structure (embedded narrative), and rhetoric (the discourse of sentiment), as well as topical concerns (inheritance, embezzlement, politics). In the interest of time, however, I will focus primarily on a few key character parallels and the rhetoric of the recognition scenes, to suggest how an analysis of Bromley's influence on Austen may contribute to our understanding of young Austen’s reading, her strategies as a parodist, and the targets of her ravenous appetite for satire.

Author

Lesley Peterson (Presenter), Journal of Juvenilia Studies
Lesley Peterson recently retired as Professor of English from the University of North Alabama. She has published or presented on the juvenilia of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Tanfield Cary, Virginia Cary, Charles Dickens, Anna Maria Porter, Alfred (later Lord) Tennyson, and Opal Whiteley, and she has directed Austen's juvenile drama, "The Visit." With David Owen, she co-edited Home and Away: The Place of the Child Writer (2015). She is a founding member of the International Society of Juvenilia Studies and founding editor of the online peer-reviewed academic Journal of Juvenilia Studies.