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Work in Progress: Kim Simpson, 'Hacking into the Hackneyed in the Anonymous Amatory Canon' Seminar

Work in Progress
13 June 2018
65/2123 Avenue Campus SO17 1BF

Event details

Part of the English Work in Progress Seminars 2017-18

Kim Simpson, 'Hacking into the Hackneyed in the Anonymous Amatory Canon'

A recent resurgence of interest in questions of aesthetic value and form, partly a backlash against recovery run amok in a digital age, has already put early eighteenth-century amatory fiction – a genre that deals in seduction narratives – in a vulnerable position. Whilst Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina (1725) remains a token text on eighteenth-century literature courses, the less interesting examples of this genre do not often find themselves studied by anyone outside of a small academic group. The Mills and Boon of the eighteenth century – mildly titillating, but ultimately a repetitive and dull formula of heaving bosoms, lovesick swooners, and sexually-frustrated nuns – amatory fiction has been described as ‘unreadable’. 

Scholars such as Ros Ballaster and Toni Bowers have recuperated the genre as both proto-feminist and politically engaged – an impulse that informed my own doctoral project. However, the author-based approach taken to the genre solidifies a limited impression of it as the production of just three beleaguered women – Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Haywood – battling against a primarily hostile literary marketplace. This is not the case. In that murky but massive part of the archive populated by unattributed or deattributed fiction, lies a considerable body of anonymous and pseudonymous work that participates in the amatory genre. Fair Ones, both Distress’d and Unfortunate abound, as do Secret Histories and Fatal Amours; Vertue is Rewarded and Innocence Preserv’d, sometimes; Masquerades are promised and characters Unmask’d; and both Atalantises and Nunneries are plentiful. Lacking definitive or large bodies of work, or any biography, these shadowy writers – Ladies of Quality, initials, classical pseudonyms or simply absences – pose an interpretive problem for recovery-project scholars, and have thus been neglected. 

Why does it matter? What scholar in their right mind would read these derivative trifles? My current research explores what these little-known anonymous amatory fictions can tell us about authorship, affiliation and advertising in the literary marketplace. I examine the ways in which their paratextual materials establish relationships with attributed amatory texts that are not necessarily vampiric, and that resist the models of authorship that we impose retrospectively upon them. And building on my doctoral research, I suggest some of the insights that a close attention to form coupled with a queer lens might yield about a genre characterized by compulsive repetitions.

Speaker information

Dr Kim Simpson, is the Chawton House Library Postdoctoral Fellow and a Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature.

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