Arabella, whose taste was as delicate, sentiments as refined, and judgment as clear as any person’s could be who believed the authenticity of Scudery’s romances . . .
Arabella, the “female Quixote”, does not go around tilting at windmills and having heroic adventures on the road. Instead, like her eponym, she thinks novels are reality—even though, as the editor assures us, she is “rational in every respect where her particular whim is not touched”. Think of her as the precursor to Catherine Morland.
The Female Quixote was published when the author was in her early 20s. It was a great success, and remains her best-known work. But it didn’t last; Charlotte Lennox (1729 or 1730–1804) died in poverty.
The present ebook is based on the British Novelists edition from 1810. The editor, Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743–1825), includes a brief biography of the author, along with some editorial comments it’s hard to disagree with. She is probably mistaken about the author’s birthplace, though; more recent sources tend to say it was Gibraltar.
The footnotes in Books One and Nine were supplied by the author herself. Already in the mid-18th century, English readers would have needed some clues about the rules governing the 17th-century French pseudo-historical romances that form Arabella’s literary diet. That goes double for readers in the early 19th—or, for that matter, the early 21st—century.
Unless you are writing a dissertation on Charlotte Lennox, there is no earthly reason to read the French novels themselves. Among other things, their authors liked to spread themselves out; ten volumes is not uncommon. If you are really wild with curiosity, there’s currently a web site giving as much detail as any normal person would need. Otherwise just wait for Book Six, which is largely taken up with Sir George Bellmour’s recounting of his (wholly fabricated) “history”. Arabella eats it up. A shorter version of the same thing—again staged for Arabella’s benefit—comes in Chapter IV of Book Nine.
Fortunately, Arabella’s story is lots of fun even if you don’t know the literary background. Here she is instructing her maid in how to narrate her mistress’s history. Arabella is not just annoyed but offended at the girl’s reluctance:
you ask me to tell you what you must say, as if it was not necessary you should know as well as myself, and be able not only to recount all my words and actions, even the smallest and most inconsiderable, but also all my thoughts, however instantaneous; relate exactly every change of my countenance, number all my smiles, half-smiles, blushes, turnings pale, glances, pauses, full-stops, interruptions; the rise and falling of my voice, every motion of my eyes, and every gesture which I have used for these ten years past: nor omit the smallest circumstance that relates to me.
I did say that Arabella thinks novels are reality, but you thought I was exaggerating.
Two baronets figure prominently in the story. Sir Charles is Arabella’s uncle, the father of Mr. Glanville—whose given name, we eventually learn, is also Charles. Sir George Bellmour is the young man who is in love with Arabella(’s fortune). If, like me, you keep getting them mixed up, it may help to postulate that the older man is named for a 17th-century king, while the younger man is named for a current king.
Caution: Along with accepting—or at least understanding—Arabella’s peculiar version of reality, you also have to accept the author’s alternative reality. In the world according to Charlotte Lennox, an eighteen-year-old heiress can live on a country estate all by herself, unsupervised and unchaperoned, entertaining any guests she happens to invite.
The illustrations, with captions, are taken from the 1799 Charles Cooke edition. (Trivia: This is by far the oldest book I have ever bought. I can just about count on my fingers the number of books I own that were even printed before I was born, let alone in a different century. It was stunningly inexpensive.)
The six exquisitely detailed engravings were made for Cooke, individually dated from April through September 1799. Four are based on drawings by Richard Corbould (1757–1831), and two more from paintings by Thomas Kirk (1765–1797). I’ve shown them in their original locations; the captions are as printed, long esses and all. But to really appreciate the work, you have to see the engravings at original size. They are tiny. The books themselves are smaller than today’s mass-market paperbacks. The picture area is about 7×12 cm: less than 3×5 in., or smaller than an index card.
In addition to the engravings, Volume I had three vignettes—end of Book One, end of Chapter IX of Book Two, and end of Book Three—and a decorative title page. For the ebook I’ve distributed them around this front page instead.
The Female Quixote came out in 1752, ten years before Robert Lowth’s A Short Introduction to English Grammar. That means the ahistorical pseudo-rules you learned from a succession of mediocre teachers had, quite literally, not been invented yet. I especially like the many clauses that end with a preposition:
(For the record, this wasn’t even a “rule”. Bishop Lowth—rhymes with “south”—merely expressed it as a preference.)
Arabella absolutely loves the word “questionless”, especially in the early-to-middle part of the novel; almost nobody else uses it. The word was at its peak of popularity in the second half of the 17th century, when all those French novels’ bad translations would have been made. Meanwhile, everyone likes saying “in fine”, and they all say “dispense with” where today we would say “excuse” or “forgive”.
At the time the novel was written, it was common to say “you was” when addressing a single person. There’s not a thing I can do about it. You will also see the occasional “neither . . . or” where today we would insist on “neither . . . nor”.
More linguistic quirks and inconsistencies, in no particular order:
This ebook is based on the 1810 British Novelists edition, volumes XXIV and XXV (of fifty). I’ve cross-checked some things against the 1820 version (Vols. XXIV and XXV)—which conveniently has all the same page breaks—and also the 1752 second edition (Vol. I, Vol. II).
Although I bought the 1799 edition for the illustrations, once it was on my shelf it was inevitable I’d check the text when I wanted a third—or fourth—opinion. Generally it turned out to have the same text, with the same errors and omissions, as 1810. Were they both set from the 1752 first edition (which I haven’t seen)? Or was the British Novelists edition set directly from Cooke?
Main exception: In the last three Books, which are filled with long conversations, the 1752 second edition has many paragraph breaks that aren’t present in later editions. Since the author didn’t believe in quotation marks, the paragraph breaks make the conversations much easier to follow. I have added—or perhaps restored—them here. Many of these paragraph breaks replaced a — (dash) in run-on paragraphs. I have generally omitted this, except when the omission would have left no paragraph-ending punctuation at all.
Further exception: The British Novelists edition did not have a table of contents. The 1752 edition did—using the author’s delightful chapter summaries—so I have added one here too.
Apparent errors, such as missing words or dubious punctuation, were corrected if the 1752 and 1820 editions both had the expected form. Blatant errors, like “cofinrm” for “confirm”, were corrected regardless. (In case anyone wondered: The 1820 British Novelists edition corrects a fair number of minor errors from the 1810 edition, and would probably have made a better base text. But, as so often, I used the one with better scans, and hence cleaner OCR for a starting point.)
Typographical errors are marked with and are listed again at the end of each Book. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.
Contains a turn at court, neither new or surprising.—Some useless additions to a fine lady’s education.—The bad effects of a whimsical study, which some will say is borrowed from Cervantes.
Contains a description of a lady’s dress, in fashion not much above two thousand years ago. The beginning of an adventure which seems to promise a great deal.
In which the adventure goes on after the accustomed manner.
A mistake, which produces no great consequences—an extraordinary comment upon a behaviour natural enough—an instance of a lady’s compassion for her lover, which the reader may possibly think not very compassionate.
In which one would imagine the adventure concluded, but for a promise that something else is to come.
In which the adventure is really concluded; though possibly, not as the reader expected.
In which some contradictions are very happily reconciled.
In which a mistake, in point of ceremony, is rectified.
In which a lover is severely punished for faults which the reader never would have discovered, if he had not been told.
Contains several incidents, in which the reader is expected to be extremely interested.
In which a logical argument is unseasonably interrupted.
In which the reader will find a specimen of the true pathetic, in a speech of Oroondates—the adventure of the books.
The adventure of the books continued.
In which the adventure of the books is happily concluded.
Which contains a very natural incident.
Which treats of a consolatory visit, and other grave matters.
Which contains some common occurrences, but placed in a new light.
The history of Miss Groves, interspersed with some very curious observations.
Containing what a judicious reader will hardly approve.
Which treats of the Olympic Games.
Which concludes with an excellent moral sentence.
Containing some curious anecdotes.
In which our heroine is engaged in a very perilous adventure.
In which the lady is wonderfully delivered.
Two conversations, out of which the reader may pick up a great deal.
A solemn interview.
In which the interview is ended, not much to the lover’s satisfaction, but exactly conformable to the rules of romance.
In which our heroine is greatly disappointed.
Some curious instructions for relating an history.
A very heroic chapter.
In which our heroine is suspected of insensibility.
In which we hope the reader will be differently affected.
In which our heroine discovers her knowledge in astronomy.
In which a very pleasing conversation is left unfinished.
Definition of love and beauty—The necessary qualities of a hero and heroine.
In which our heroine is engaged in a new adventure.
Being a chapter of mistakes.
In which the mistakes are continued.
In which the mistakes are not yet cleared up.
Which contains some necessary consequences of the foregoing mistakes—a soliloquy on a love-letter.
Containing a love-letter in the heroic style; with some occasional reasonings by Lucy, full of wit and simplicity.
A dispute very learnedly handled by two ladies, in which the reader may take what part he pleases.
Which inculcates, by a very good example, that a person ought not to be too hasty in deciding a question he does not perfectly understand.
In which our heroine is in some little confusion.
Where the lady extricates herself out of her former confusion, to the great astonishment, we will suppose, of the reader.
In which will be found one of the former mistakes pursued, another cleared up, to the great satisfaction of two persons, among whom the reader, we expect, will make a third.
Containing some account of Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons, with other curious anecdotes.
Containing the beginning of Sir George’s history; in which the ingenious relater has exactly copied the style of romance.
In which Sir George, continuing his surprising history, relates a most stupendous instance of a valour only to be paralleled by that of the great Oroondates, Cæsario, &c. &c. &c.
A love adventure, after the romantic taste.
The adventure continued.
An extraordinary instance of generosity in a lover, somewhat resembling that of the great Artaxerxes in Cassandra.
In which it will be seen, that the lady is as generous as her lover.
Containing an incident full as probable as any in Scudery’s Romances.
A single combat fought with prodigious valour, and described with amazing accuracy.
In which the reader will find a description of a beauty, in a style truly sublime.
Wherein Sir George concludes his history; which produces an unexpected effect.
Containing only a few inferences, drawn from the foregoing chapters.
For the shortness of which the length of the next shall make some amends.
Not so long as was first intended; but contains, however, a surprising adventure on the road.
Which concludes with an authentic piece of history.
In which one of our heroine’s whims is justified, by some others full as whimsical.
Containing some historical anecdotes, the truth of which may possibly be doubted, as they are not to be found in any of the historians.
Which contains some excellent rules for raillery.
In which the author condescends to be very minute in the description of our heroine’s dress.
Some reflections very fit, and others very unfit, for an assembly-room.
Being a chapter of the satirical kind.
In which our heroine justifies her own notions by some very illustrious examples.
In which our heroine being mistaken herself, gives occasion for a great many other mistakes.
In which our heroine reconciles herself to a mortifying incident, by recollecting an adventure in a romance, similar to her own.
In which our heroine’s extravagance will be thought, perhaps, to be carried to an extravagant length.
A dialogue between Arabella and Lucy, in which the latter seems to have the advantage.
Contains the conversation referred to in the last chapter of the preceding book.
In which our heroine, as we presume, shews herself in two very different lights.
The contrast continued.
In which Mr. Glanville makes an unsuccessful attempt upon Arabella.
In which is introduced a very singular character.
Containing something which at first sight may possibly puzzle the reader.
In which, if the reader has not anticipated it, he will find an explanation of some seeming inconsistencies in the foregoing chapter.
Which concludes book the eighth.
In which is related an admirable adventure.
Which ends with a very unfavourable prediction for our heroine.
In which Arabella meets with another admirable adventure.
In which is related the history of the Princess of Gaul.
A very mysterious chapter.
Not much plainer than the former.
Containing indeed no great matters, but being a prelude to greater.
Which acquaints the reader with two very extraordinary accidents.
Which will be found to contain information absolutely necessary for the right understanding of this history.
A short chapter indeed, but full of matter.
Being in the author’s opinion, the best chapter in this history.
In which the history is concluded.