Wandering about in the realm of obscure 18th and 19th century fiction as I do, I often stumble over interesting cross-currents and odd coincidences. (On that subject, remind me to tell you sometime about The Two Lizzie Bates-es.) Not infrequently a factoid I’ve picked up in one context proves to have a bearing in another, or I’ll notice the same name cropping up in a number of seemingly unrelated places. Generally none of this is of the least actual importance, but in terms of my hunt for forgotten fiction, it adds another layer of enjoyment, like sprinkles on ice-cream.
When I turn up one of these writers who has, to all intents and purposes, vanished into oblivion, I like to see if I can find out anything about them. As you would appreciate, research such as this is a lot easier if the person in question is called, say, “Wilhemina Adelina de Vere Loftington”, than it is if they’re called “Anne Smith”. In this respect, a writer I’ve had a vague curiosity about since I first noticed her, but have been unable to discover anything concrete regarding, is one “A. Rogers”. If attributions are to be believed – and they are not necessarily so – “A. Rogers” wrote approximately ten novels, in addition to some miscellanea, during the second half of the 18th century. None of her works carried her name on their title page, but were all published as by “a young lady”.
There were a couple of reasons why this obscure novelist with a common name stuck in my memory.
The first is that although, to the best of my knowledge, she published spasmodically over a twenty-seven year period, “A. Rogers” never stopped referring to herself as “a young lady”.
The second reason is that, having started to publish novels in 1773 (perhaps; I’ll be coming back to that point in a minute), in the years 1787 and 1792, respectively, we find in the bibliography of “A. Rogers” the following works:
- Lumley-House: A Novel. The First Attempt Of A Young Lady. In Three Volumes
- Fanny; or, The Deserted Daughter. A Novel. Being The First Literary Attempt Of A Young Lady
So, simply because her discovery gave me a couple of giggles, I have always remembered “A. Rogers”.
Of course, attribution can be a tricky thing; and as I say, none of these novels carry an author’s name on the title page. However, “A. Rogers” comes up as the author of the works in question using a search of the Oxford University library system, which is good enough for me…
Imagine my surprise when my research into the background of The Adventures Of Miss Sophia Berkley turned up this:
This particular attribution does not come up searching through the Oxford University system, or through the Amazon system (a surprisingly good source for lost works), but only via Overcat, a search engine associated with the cataloguing site LibraryThing, which consists of “32 million library records…assembled from over 700 sources…” Boston College, as we see, happens to be the source of this particular search result.
I’m not quite sure what to think about this. My first impulse was to reject the attribution, chiefly because in spite of the spate of recent research into the origins of the Gothic novel and the Irish Gothic, academics in this area continue to refer to The Adventures Of Miss Sophia Berkley as an anonymous novel. It seems to me that if it were possible to confidently assign authorship of the novel, someone would have done it.
In addition, this attribution puts a thirteen-year gap in the bibliography of “A. Rogers”, which doesn’t seem very likely.
On the other hand, if I arbitrarily reject this attribution, why should I believe any of the others? This confusion also throws a new light on those “first attempt[s] of a young lady”. Perhaps we’re not talking about the same person? Or perhaps “A. Rogers” was a very early example of the “house name”, the practice of concealing a variety of writers behind a single pseudonym, as with the Nancy Drew books by “Carolyn Keane”. Or perhaps an over-zealous cataloguing system simply decided that anything by “a young lady” was also by “A. Rogers”?
After pondering this for a ridiculous amount of time in the lead-up to my last spate of blogging, I finally decided to put the bigger problem to one side, and for the moment to stick with “If A. Rogers wrote The Adventures Of Miss Sophia Berkley, someone else would know it”. I was further confirmed in this line of argument by accessing the works of “A. Rogers” which are available online and noting their publication details. The Adventures Of Miss Sophia Berkley, as we have seen, was published in Dublin; whereas all the other novels attributed to “A. Rogers” were published in London; some of them (including one of the “first attempts”) by the Minerva Press.
All of them, that is, except 1786’s The History Of Jessy Evelin…which was published in Dublin.
The mystery deepens…