Book Review Friday!

Charlotte Lennox (ed. Susan Kubica Howard)
Broadview Press, 2008 (1790). 472 pages.  $26 (paperback).

Book Review Friday is usually an excuse for me to read contemporary books without feeling guilty.  Unfortunately, I’m also supposed to be reading for my comprehensive exam, so that didn’t happen this week.  Instead, I finished Euphemia.  And since it is a new edition of this work, it kindof counts, right?

Broadview Press is an amazing resource for academics.  They specialize in out-of-print texts and have quite an impressive collection of Romantic novels.  (PS-if you’re looking for out-of-print Gothic books for Halloween, you should check out Valancourt Books.  I wish I had one of everything in their catalogue.)  Broadview editions are unique in that the paper is usually of a heavier quality than Oxford or Penguin, and their appendices offer additional resources for classroom discussion such as contemporary reviews and related texts.  I hate hate hate the covers of Broadview editions because they love to stick Victorian covers on everything.  But once you get inside, you’re safe.

Charlotte Lennox is perhaps best known for her novel The Female Quixote, an early version of Jane Austen’s satire, Northanger Abbey.  Euphemia bears little in common with The Female Quixote.  Euphemia is an epistolary novel, an exchange of letters between Euphemia Nelville and Maria Harley.  Whereas most novels of the period end in marriage, Euphemia begins with the title character’s marriage and ends when Euphemia and Maria are reunited.  Mr. Nelville is arrogant and abusive, and poor Euphemia has to play the 18th century wife and go along with his schemes.  He gets a job in America and they move across the ocean, a dangerous task at that time.  Thus time moves slowly as Euphemia and Maria write to each other, knowing it may take up to 8 months for their letters to reach the other person.

By now I’ve read so many 18th century novels by women that they’re all starting to sound the same.  Euphemia certainly wasn’t the least entertaining, but it also wasn’t the most.  The most interesting moments, to me, were the letters from Maria to Euphemia.  Maria wants to marry for love, but her uncle isn’t so keen on the idea because she’s fallen in love with his enemy’s son.  Yet, as such things go, her beloved renders some essential service to the uncle and Maria is allowed to marry him all the same.  Hurray!  Too bad this plot ends about a third of the way through the book.

The rest deals with Euphemia’s experience in America.  I’m not interested in post-colonial studies, so there wasn’t much for me to sink my teeth into as far as the dissertation goes.  But I could see myself teaching this book alongside The Female American.  Since Euphemia was written in 1790, I also expected more debate on the “New Woman” question, but as the editor Howard argues, the novel takes place in the 1740s, predating any revolutionary zeal. 

Howard does a fine job providing footnotes when footnotes are needed and letting the text stand for itself.  The appendix has a good mix of reviews and selections from marriage tracts, travel narratives, and captivity narratives.  I would recommend this book to those who are interested in the sentimental novel or the eighteenth-century novel.  Otherwise, stick to The Female Quixote.