London: Printed at the Minerva Press, for Lane, Newman, and Co., 1806. Item #01475
"Vivid Sexual Comedy and Strong Handling of Sexual Exploitation"
By One of the Most Popular Female Writers of Her Generation
Issued by the Most Successful Publisher of Novels of His Era
BENNETT, MRS. [Anna aka Agnes Maria]. Vicissitudes Abroad; or, The Ghost of my Father. London: Printed at the Minerva Press, for Lane, Newman, and Co., 1806.
First (only) edition, complete as issued, of the authoress's last novel. "Her first, anonymous novel, Anna…(1785)…was said to have proved her notoriety by selling out in a day…[Her] The Beggar Girl and Her Benefactors, 1797…made her a Minerva [Press] best-seller. Her best work (featuring a whole gallery of female intellectuals ands outcast children) bridges that of Fielding and Dickens in its verbal irony, robust satire and free range of low-life, high life and the economic interactions between. But her fame (high with Scott and Coleridge) was brief: her vivid sexual comedy and strong handling of sexual exploitation quickly became equally unacceptable" (Feminist Companion to Literature). But, until that time, her works were wildly popular; the novel under notice is said to have sold 2,000 copies on its first day of publication. It is now, however, exceedingly scarce with no copies found in ABPC auction records, OCLC locating only eight copies in U.S. institutions (AN#, ZNS, CLU, YUS, UIU, NOC, VA@ and BLSTP), and KVK locating only one other, at the British Library. Not in Wolff or Sadleir.
Six large twelvemo volumes (6 1/2 x 3 7/8 in; 160 x 97 mm) with all half-titles present, one ad to rear of volume three, and five pages of ads to rear of volume four. [2, blank], , vi, 7-308, [2, blank]; [2, blank], , 340; [2, blank], , 323, [1, adv.], [2, blank]; , 355, [5, adv.], [2, blank]; [[2, blank], , 316, [2, blank]; , 384, [2, blank] pp.
Full contemporary mottled calf with crimson and black morocco spine labels. Gilt rules to spine. Minor tear at pp. 191-192 of volume five with no loss. Small chip to upper fore-margin of volume five just touching page number. Completely unsophisticated, with small loss to spine head of volumes one and four, some occasional spotting, and expected wear. With the armorial bookplate of George M. Knipe to the front pastedowns. Overall, an excellent set of the author's last, and now extremely rare, book. Housed in two quarter brown morocco clamshell cases.
In this novel, the heroine, Julia, unsuspectingly marries a gambler, who soon abandons her in London. Alone and penniless, she finds that she cannot even pay for a hired carriage, and when the driver abuses her and a crowd gathers, presuming her to be a prostitute, she goes mad and is delivered to a charity hospital. As final insult to injury, the hospital's doctor offers to waive her hospital care costs if she will become his mistress.
Of Anna Bennett (c.1750-1808), the European Magazine, 1790, said her father and husband were customs officers. But other sources claim that her father was a grocer and her husband a tanner with whom she moved to London. She left her husband and began work as a shopkeeper, workhouse matron, and then mistress ("housekeeper") to Admiral Sir Thomas Pye, whose name she gave to two of her children. He died in 1785, the year her first novel, Anna, or Memoirs of a Welsh Heiress, was published.
In 1763, William Lane decided to cash in on the novel reading craze. He opened a circulating library in Whitechapel. Around 1790, the operation moved to Leadenhall Street in London where he established Minerva Press, a publishing house noted for creating a lucrative market in sentimental and Gothic fiction in the late 18th century and early 19th century.
Over the next fifteen years, Lane dominated the novel publishing industry and made a fortune. In addition to Mrs. Bennett, his stable of writers included many other female authors including Regina Maria Roche; Mrs. Eliza Parsons; and Eleanor Sleath whose Gothic fiction is included in the list of the seven Northanger Horrid Novels, recommended by the character Isabella Thorpe in Jane Austen's novel of similar name. Six of the Northanger Seven were published by Minerva. However many titles were anonymous, including such novels as Count Roderic's Castle (1794), The Haunted Castle (1794), The Animated Skeleton (1798) and The New Monk (1798). Authors who wrote for Minerva Press are obscure today, and its market became negligible after the death of its charismatic founder who, according to the poet, Samuel Rogers, was often seen tooling around London in a splendid carriage, attended by footmen with cockades and gold-headed canes.
In 1804, he took on Anthony K. Newman as his partner. And while Minerva's market share fell to about 39% between 1805 and 1819, it continued to crank out copious amounts of the types of novels that became synonymous with its name. Few authors who wrote for Lane and Newman are critically acclaimed today. And after its founder died in 1814, Minerva Press' share of the print market became negligible, giving evidence to the fragmentation and diffusion occurring within the industry at the time.
Garside, et al., English Novel, 1806.18. Blakey, Minerva Press, p. 221. Bloch, The English Novel 1740-1850, pp. 19, 344. Cardiff University, Center for Editorial and Intertexual Research, British Fiction 1800-1829. NSTC B1579.