The Widow, or a Picture of modern Times. A Novel, in a Series of Letters ….

London: Printed for Hookham and Carpenter ... 1794.

Two vols, 12mo, pp. [4], 182, [2, errata and ads]; [2], [2, errata], 187, contemporary half calf, spines gilt-ruled; Downshire monogram to spines. A very fine copy.


US $6870€5859

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First edition of Robinson’s second novel. The widow of the title is presented with many bad options for re-marriage (such as Lord Woodley, who, robbed of feudal power by modern laws, asserts ‘since I cannot tyrannize over my vassals, I will over the women’), eventually chooses one, and dies unhappy. Its critique of the fashionable world of ‘modern times’ did not garner it approval among its fashionable readers.

Robinson had been the leading Shakespearean actress of her day, and (briefly) mistress of the Prince of Wales, before a miscarriage left her crippled and she took to laudanum and literature. ‘A singularly brave writer’ (Jonathan Wordsworth), she became a close friend of Mary Wollstonecraft and Coleridge was a fervent admirer and thought her ‘a woman of undoubted genius’; her contacts among other female novelists of the day including Jane Porter, Eliza Parsons, Elizabeth Gunning, and Anna Maria Bennett.

Robinson wrote both sentimental and Gothic fiction, often using her own personal relationships as the basis of her plots. Her first foray, Vancenza (1792) had attracted 600 subscribers and sold out in a day, at least in part in the basis of her scandalous reputation. On that basis Hookham printed an ambitious 1500 copies of The Widow.

It is nevertheless now rare, with copies at Cambridge, Bodley; Harvard, Virginia; and New South Wales only in ESTC.

Godfrey Frank Singer, in The epistolary novel (1933), and Heinsius report a Leipzig 1793 edition, but this seems extremely unlikely. The Widow was however reprinted in Leipzig in 1797 as Julia St. Laurence; and was translated into German in 1795.

Garside 1794:51; Denlinger, Before Victoria: extraordinary women of the Romantic era, pp. 2-21; Black, The epistolary novel, 703. Not in the CBEL list of her writings.

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