Attribution confusion

Having succeeded in getting Chronobibliography moving again, I wanted to see, while I was on something at least resembling a roll, whether I could get another neglected blog section kick-started. And for obscure reasons with which I need not bore you, I came down upon the Authors In Depth section, and specifically the next novel by one or both of the sisters, Margaret Minifie and Susannah Minifie Gunning.

And almost immediately I hit a speed-bump…which my OCD promptly magnified into a brick wall.

It is known that the sisters wrote novels both separately and together, but correct attributions are difficult due to the range of ways in which they referred to themselves on their title-pages, and by Susannah changing her surname when she married (naturally enough, for the time).

Another complication is that Susannah’s daughter, Elizabeth, also became a novel-writer; and though she is referred to correctly as “Miss Gunning” in some quarters, in others her works have been attributed to her mother, that is, as by “Mrs Gunning”.

So instead of relying upon what seem, frankly, to be some people’s best guesses, I thought I would try to access the ladies’ books online and see what the title-pages actually say; and, working with the knowledge that Susannah got married in 1768 and that Elizabeth was born in 1769 and married in 1803, see what I could pin down, and what remains obscure.

The Histories Of Lady Frances S—, And Lady Caroline S— (1763) : “Written by the MISS MINIFIES, of Fairwater, in Somersetshire”
Family Pictures (1764) : “By a LADY”
The Picture (1766) : “By the MISS MINIFIES of Fairwater in Somersetshire, Authors of The Histories Of Lady Frances S—, And Lady Caroline S—”
Barford Abbey (1768) : Neither the Dublin first edition nor the London second edition carries an attribution, although the latter carries a handwritten note, “By Mrs Susannah (Minifie) Gunning” (NB: this is the year Susannah married) [NB: epistolary]
The Cottage (1769) : “By Miss MINIFIE, Author of Barford-Abbey”
The Hermit (1769) : “By a LADY” (NB: the 1770 edition is attributed to “Miss MINIFIE, Author of Barford-Abbey, The Cottage, &c”; the 1771 edition is attributed to “Miss MINIFIES”, which we can cautiously assume to be a typo rather than a joint-attribution)

Apparently both Margaret and Susannah then fell silent for some eleven years (during which time, some of their works did appear in second and third editions; incredible as that may seem if you’ve actually read them).

The Count de Poland (1780) : “By Miss M. Minifie, one of the authors of Lady Frances and Lady Caroline S—” (the latter suggesting that the ladies’ first novel had been reissued under a revised title; though I can find no record of it)
Coombe Wood (1783) : “By the author of Barford-Abbey and The Cottage” [NB: epistolary]

More silence followed, until the eruption of the Gunning scandal in 1791; in which Margaret was (rightly or wrongly) implicated. And it was after that – after John Gunning had booted them out in an attempt to save his own skin – that both Susannah and Elizabeth began writing to support themselves.

Susannah died in 1800; Elizabeth married John Plunkett in 1803, and after that published as “Mrs Elizabeth Gunning Plunkett” (or a variation thereof). Margaret, meanwhile, almost certainly died during the 1790s: the date of her death is not known, but the last records to show her alive are from April 1791.

Anecdotes Of The Delborough Family (1792) : “By Mrs Gunning”
Memoirs Of Mary (1793) : “By Mrs Gunning”
Delves, A Welch Tale (1796) : “By Mrs Gunning”
Love At First Sight (1797) : Reviewed by Tobias Smollet in The Critical Review as “From the French. With Alterations and Additions. By Mrs Gunning”
Fashionable Involvements (1800) : “By Mrs Gunning”
The Heir Apparent (1802) : “By the late Mrs Gunning” (Susannah died in 1800, leaving this unfinished; Elizabeth finished and published it; it is sometimes listed as “Revised by Miss Gunning”)

The Packet (1794) : “By Miss Gunning”
Lord Fitzhenry (1794) : “By Miss Gunning”
Memoirs Of Madame de Barnveldte (1975) : “Translated from the French by Miss Gunning”
The Foresters (1796) : “Altered from the French by Miss Gunning”
The Orphans Of Snowdon (1797) : “By Miss Gunning”
The Gipsy Countess (1799) : “By Miss Gunning”
The Farmer’s Boy (1802) : “By Miss Gunning” (in some editions; others have it as “By the author of Love At First Sight–Gipsy Countess”, which is just confusing)
The War-Office (1803) : “By Mrs Elizabeth Gunning Plunkett”
The Exile Of Erin (1808) : “By Mrs Plunkett, late Miss Gunning”
Dangers Through Life (1810) : “By Mrs Plunkett (late Miss Gunning)”; may have been reissued in 1815 as “The Victims Of Seduction”

And an outlier: The Union (1802), listed as “By Miss Minifie”, at a time when Susannah was dead, and Margaret presumed so.

We can appreciate that, cashing in as they were on the family scandal, both Susannah and Elizabeth wanted their authorship known. It is those earlier novels where the mystery remains—and while most of them have traditionally been attributed to Susannah (probably because her name is better known), the weight of that title-page evidence suggests that Margaret wrote all of the earlier solo efforts; and that Susannah did not write a novel on her own until the 1790s. It also makes more historical sense, if I can put it that way, that the unmarried Margaret went on writing, while Susannah did not take it up in earnest until she had to earn her own living.

One of the consequences of this research is that I now believe that, in originally attributing Barford Abbey to Susannah, I was probably wrong; and that I need to revise my post about the novel to reflect this.

As for the book that brought me to all this, 1764’s Family Pictures – “By a LADY” – the jury is out. Granted, it’s one of the works usually attributed to Susannah—but then, nearly everything is. And if I needed any more of a reminder to tread cautiously in that respect, I have it in The New Cambridge Bibliography Of English Literature, edited by George Watson, which on one page of the second volume lists both Family Pictures and Barford Abbey, attributing both to Susannah—and offering of the latter the following synopsis:

Heroine, disfigured with smallpox, rewards hero with riches.

…when in fact:

  • she catches smallpox but is not disfigured;
  • she has no riches;
  • she marries the hero.

 

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4 Comments to “Attribution confusion”

  1. Sounds like the notes for the film adaptation…

  2. This is one of those minor jobs that somebody needed to eventually get around to doing.

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