Eliza Fenwick: Writing Life and Literature in Cork

Author: Lissa Paul (Brock University)

Despite the fact that Eliza Fenwick (1766-1840) was not Irish and did not write children’s literature that was in any way particularly Irish, her two years, between 1812 and 1814, as a governess in Cork figure as a transformative phase in her literary life. It was in Cork that she morphed from radical to reactionary, from her dubious status as a hack writer and single working mother, to appearing as a gentlewoman of reduced circumstances so suited, as she eventually would be, to running elite schools for the daughters of the rich in Barbados, the United States, and Upper Canada. It was also where she honed her literary skills as a letter-writer.

Besides not figuring in Irish children’s literature, Fenwick barely registers in histories of English children’s literature either, so I will take a moment to point out where she does appear, fleetingly, and not in a particularly flattering light. In Children’s Books in England, first published in 1932, F. J. Harvey Darton sweeps her into his “Moral Tale: Didactic” chapter as one of the writers—all of whom happen to be female—he “passed over with the mere mention of their names.”[1] He does, however, name her, in passing, as the author of Visits to the Juvenile Library (1805), though he then dismisses her novel as “an unblushing account” of the bookshop (Tabart’s Juvenile Library) and its contents.[2] From Darton’s perspective, Fenwick’s “puff,” or extended advertisement, was inconsistent with his view that children’s books should celebrate innocence and imagination. By way of contrast, from a twenty-first century perspective, Fenwick’s story reads as a prescient, intriguing product-placement novel.

Fenwick was a better writer, a much better writer, than Darton gives her credit for in his dismissive references, and, as I will argue, she is of more interest to twenty-first-century scholars of children’s literature and culture than she was to twentieth-century scholars in the field. In fact, when Anne Markey and Aiden Clements defined “changing paradigms and critical perspectives” as the mandate for their special issue of Breac, and listed “changing publishing paradigms,” “transnational/comparative approaches to children’s literature,” “children’s literature as a vehicle for education” and “changing emphases and changing priorities” as potential topics, I realized that I could tap into the distance that scholarship about children’s literature has come since Darton by situating my essay about Fenwick in any, or all, of those categories. In the end I decided that I could address many of the potential topics—to a greater or lesser degree—and engage Fenwick’s connection to Ireland, by focusing on the way her time in Cork reshaped her writing. It was there, in the letters she wrote between 1812 and 1814, that her literary talents—her ear for dialogue, eye for imagery, and nose for plot—emerge in her letters—her “life-writing,” as the genre might be defined anachronistically. As Fenwick had been forced to abandon her nascent literary career soon after her first work of fiction—her epistolary novel, Secresy: Or Ruin on the Rock, was published in 1795—there is a kind of narrative logic to the fact that her letters could become the equivalent of sketchpads for fiction in a way that the made-to-order children’s books she had written to earn cash quickly in the early nineteenth century—mostly for Benjamin Tabart, his mentor Sir Richard Phillips, and for William Godwin—could not.

Fenwick’s own account of her literary life is telling in its assessment of the relative value she accords to her work. In a letter written in 1832 from what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, to the Moffats in New York, Fenwick appears to be sniffing out the potential market for a couple of volumes of tales she plans to write, and so sketches for them her “history of authorship.” She cites first “a work of fiction, wild enough & under an odd title” which she doesn’t name but was clearly Secresy, “translations from the French & compilations, chiefly of school books,” for Richard Phillips, as well as, she says, “a Chapbook” for him under “the name of Rev’d David Blair,” then “some tales for young Children,” and “occasional critiques and reviews.”[3] If I add up the number of publications as clearly having been written by Eliza Fenwick, the total comes to twelve: nine children’s books, one novel, and two edited collections. That’s it, with the largest concentration being the children’s books mostly published in the eight-year period between 1804 and 1813 when Fenwick was struggling, more or less on her own, to support her two children: Eliza Ann, born in 1789, and Orlando, born in 1798. If Fenwick did publish the tales that she said she was planning to write in 1832, there is no evidence they have survived.

What does remain of Fenwick’s writing is an astonishing collection of letters. An edition of letters Fenwick wrote between 1798 and 1828 to her friend, the novelist Mary Hays, was published in a (heavily edited) edition by A. F. Wedd in 1927, but there are caches of largely unpublished manuscript letters in archives in London, Oxford, New York, Toronto, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.[4] If the books Fenwick published between 1795 and 1813 were written so that she could earn a living, her letters constitute her life in writing, her writing life. Those letters track with what Marilyn Butler describes as the “rage” in the early nineteenth century for “literary Lives, copiously illustrated by letters,” which were, she says, “part of a passion for documenting the natural world, including the human and social world.”[5] That’s what Fenwick did in her letters, and in every way they qualify as being included in her “history of authorship.”

Fenwick understood what it meant to be an author, very much in the terms defined by Roland Barthes more than two-hundred years later in his 1960 essay, “Writers and Authors,” in which he nailed the difference between authors who understand and negotiate the intellectual, cultural, and social implications of what they compose, and writers—implicitly “hack” writers—who do not. Fenwick wrestled with exactly that issue.[6] In an unpublished section of a letter Fenwick wrote to Mary Hays on December 17, 1802 (so when her children were young and she was struggling to support them on her own), presumably in response to a question about the status of a second novel-in-progress, Fenwick says that the manuscript has not materialized. “No,” she says, “my barren imagination and still more barren situation will not furnish any hint towards a second work for you.”[7] Then Fenwick reflects, clearly, on what it does take to produce a work of literary fiction: “Literature,” she says, “must be pursued either from necessity, more appetite, or for pleasure.” In 1802, Fenwick had none of the above. “From the first & last [so necessity and pleasure],” she writes, “my present situation equally excluded me, the appetite I fear God did not bestow on me & I have too little confidence in my powers ever to foster such an appetite.” It does appear that Fenwick had known for some time that supporting her children would have to be her sole priority and that she would have to give up the kind of intense concentration novel-writing requires in order to do so.

As early as 1798, soon after her son Orlando was born, she seemed to know that she would have to devote herself to earning enough to provide for her children, and that she could not do that by writing fiction. “I am persevering,” she had written to Mary in 1798, “to do that which I had done three years ago [publish Secresy] but now I have not even a hope to console me.”[8]

Fenwick’s life as a novelist was on hold. Despite the fact that her husband John was around, he had dissipated all his income, and so in 1800, when her children would have been just two and twelve, Fenwick had “determined,” as she says, to consider herself and her children as “totally separated” from the “bad or good fortunes” of her husband, and to focus instead on supporting her children by means of her own “industry.”  It’s not that John was a bad man. By all accounts he was completely charming, dedicated to the cause of parliamentary reform, and well liked by influential friends including William Godwin and Henry Crabb Robinson. It’s just that he was, as we’d say now, a deadbeat. In The Two Races of Men,” Charles Lamb memorialized his friend John Fenwick as a character “Ralph Bigod.” The name is cleverly suggestive, as it could be pronounced either as “be good,” or, more likely, as “by God,” perhaps a phrase John Fenwick might have said at the time, a catch phrase. Lamb also provides glimpses of what John was like, praising “his fiery glow of heart; his swell of feeling,” and saying that that he was “magnificent.”[9] In the same essay, Lamb also describes John as “an excellent toss-pot,” meaning that he was a drinker, and in another telling phrase gives us an aphorism by which John lived, and which accounted for the fact that he was regularly broke: that “money,” like fish presumably, “kept longer than three days stinks”—so Lamb reports John saying.

Given that John was not supporting his young family in the early years of the nineteenth century, Fenwick did try to fill the void by writing. Even though she was not writing what we would call “literary fiction,” her books for children often contain the same narrative drive that informed Secresy, and invoke the same themes of money, education, and parent-child relationships.[10] That is, she was writing the stuff of real, everyday life in what she regarded as her “hack” writing, but she was also writing with a novelist’s expertise about the same themes in her letters.

An acquaintance of Fenwick’s, Charlotte Smith, had turned her lived experience to literary ends years earlier when Smith’s husband—like John Fenwick—had proved prone to drinking, gambling, and otherwise not providing for his family. She published The Romance of Real Life, which includes a version of the French false-identity story of Martin Guerre, in 1787, and it was a bestseller. As Stuart Curran explains, her success coincided closely with the success of Mary Wollstonecraft’s first collection of stories for children—based on her real experience as a governess—Original Stories from Real Life, published in 1788. As Stuart Curran explains in “Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Romance of Real Life,” the doubling of the titles constitutes “a paradoxically important moment in the development of fiction in English,” in which “the intrusion of ‘real life’ into the world of romance marks the beginning of a reconstituted literary realism markedly distinct from that of Richardson, Fielding and Smollet….”[11]

The slipperiness between fiction that proclaims itself as “real” and personal letters (so, that is, real) written with literary publication in mind, becomes pronounced just a few years later with Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1796 Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden Norway and Denmark. Eliza and John Fenwick had been close friends of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin in the 1790s and it was Eliza who had been with Mary Wollstonecraft when she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Mary (later, of course, Mary Shelley). Although the letters were personal, Mary Wollstonecraft had written them with an eye to future publication. They read with what looks like a calculated mix of the personal and the political, the intimate and the public. In writing about travelling with her nursing child, for example, Mary Wollstonecraft begins, “[M]y child was sleeping with equal calmness—innocent and sweet as the closing flowers.”[12] Then she sets the soft image against a sharp social observation: “[S]ome recollections, attached to the idea of home, mingled with reflections respecting the state of society I had been contemplating that evening, made a tear drop on the rosy cheek I had just kissed.” It was in the context of the blurring of distinctions between the private letter and the novel, the personal and the political, the real and the fictional, that Fenwick turned to her letter writing as the platform on which she could exercise her vocation as a novelist, even as she turned her day-to-day life to the business of supporting herself and her children.

Fenwick’s letters from the early years of the nineteenth century record her attempts to figure out how to make a living. The school she tried briefly in 1799 appears to have failed almost as soon as it started, as there is only one surviving reference to it. In 1800, Fenwick took refuge at the home of the actress turned poet, Mary Robinson, who died the same year. Yet Fenwick’s descriptions in letters of Mary Robinson’s home, including the décor, are the ones that survive and appear in biographies.[13] Although there is no explicit evidence that Mary Robinson exerted any influence, at about this time, Fenwick did have her daughter Eliza Ann trained as an actress with a view to her becoming self-supporting. Fenwick experimented as she tried to provide social and financial security for her children. She briefly took up shop-keeping, once for her brother-in-law in Penzance, and once for William Godwin’s bookshop in London. Both attempts were abortive. As the books Fenwick published for children all date from the same period, mostly the first decade of the 1800s, she must have been churning out her stories at a relentless pace, fitting her writing in at night or between work and caring for her children.

By 1811 Fenwick settled into a position that did provide her with a steady income. For about two years, between 1811 and 1813, she worked as a governess for several of the children in the wealthy Jewish banking family of Moses Mocatta in London. In that position she came into contact with the family of Robert Honner, who had lately returned from India, settled at Lee Mount, just outside Cork, and was in need of a governess.[14] When Fenwick was tagged as a candidate for the job, she was shown a painting of Lee Mount. She described it to Mary Hays in terms that read as a setting for a romantic novel—complete with a view of a Gothic ruin in the distance:

It stands on the side of a Hill, sheltered to the North by a wood. The grounds slope down to a river, on the other side of which rises an abrupt precipice, crowned with the ruins of a fine old Castle. The background of a range of Mountains shuts in the whole. In the painting it is romantic and picturesque in the extreme.[15]

The setting delivered on its promise. The first thing Fenwick said on arrival was that Lee Mount was “indeed a Paradise” and that it was “exquisite in picturesque beauty; the house spacious & comfortable & most tastefully elegant in its accommodations & decorations.”[16] The house, currently owned by the Sheriff of Cork, Martin Harvey, still stands and retains its Georgian grace and sense of proportion. It is as beautiful and magical as Fenwick described it, a perfect setting for a romantic novel.[17] As it happened, Fenwick also found the real-life plot material that could easily have nested into a Jane Austen-ish novel. Given that Fenwick was working full-time as a governess, the story found its way into her letters instead.

Leemount (Photograph with permission of Martin Harvey, Sheriff of Cork, 2014)

In 1812, when Fenwick took up her position as governess to the daughters of Robert Honner, the eldest was “near 14,” and the younger two were ten and eight. Robert, the eldest son in the family was thirteen, just eleven months younger than her son Orlando. On the surface, Fenwick was very happy with her situation. She placed Orlando at a school in Cork and was delighted in the fact that he got on well with Robert Honner. Mrs. Honner gave Fenwick a beautiful room, full rein of the curriculum, and, best of all, not only was she treated as a member of the family but so was her son. It was at Lee Mount that Fenwick polished the skill-sets she would need to plot the course of her next moves, both as a teacher and as writer. Cork was the pivot point, the place from which she could launch herself into a new identity in the Caribbean and North America, presenting herself as someone whose station, education, and background would qualify her as being eminently suited to educating the upper-class daughters of the rich. In a letter to Mary Hays, Fenwick subtly explains that she was consciously taking lessons:

By conversing with Mrs. Honner & [her sister] Mrs. Hewitt, who were certainly very highly bred I have managed (artfully enough you will say) to draw from them a knowledge of certain particulars of my trade which I had not before. I profited from hints I gathered & fortunately Mrs Honner, feeling many inconveniences which arise from having been trained only to be ornamental, is anxious to blend the rational & useful with it, which suits by wish exactly.[18]

Although Fenwick only hinted at what she had learned in this passage, she said enough to make it clear that she would be able to adapt to fit the role she had to learn to play. Partly that meant that she had to dress the part, and so had to spend more money on clothes than she had in her earlier incarnations. More importantly, she figured out that she could promote the kind of curriculum—a “blend” of the “rational & useful”—of exactly the kind her friend Mary Wollstonecraft had advocated in Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and The Education of Daughters (1787). The confirmation from Mrs. Honner that she could teach intellectual and cultural accomplishments as well as pretty manners to girls was important for Fenwick. Ultimately, when she ran elite schools for girls in Bridgetown, Barbados, New Haven, Connecticut, New York and Niagara, she was able to advertise her brand of education for girls as incorporating both social skills (such as dancing and music) as well as “rational and useful” intellectual skills.

Lee Mount was also where Fenwick found she could incorporate the plots, scenes, and conversations of the “real life” around her into her letters. Almost in anticipation of Leo Tolstoy, Fenwick recognized the tension at Lee Mount between a superficially happy family and a hidden unhappy family, the day-to-day happiness covering up the disturbing underbelly of dark and difficult unhappiness beneath. There seems something uncannily prescient in the fact that Fenwick had set up a contrast between a “good” happy family and a “bad” unhappy family in stories she published first in 1809 in Lessons for Children. The “Good Family” is characterized as being “always cheerful and happy, the children love each other, and agree together, the servants are content and eager to oblige, and visitors delight to come to the house, because they pass their time there with both pleasure and profit.”[19] In “The Bad Family,” the parents of the “odious children” in the stories “never look happy, nor enjoy comfort,” the children “quarrel, so that the house is always in an uproar.” To add insult to injury, “[T]he servants hate them, the neighbours despise them, and the house is shunned as though it had some dreadful distemper within.”[20]

When Fenwick first arrived at Lee Mount, she writes as if she had landed in a real-life “good” family. In Mrs. Honner, she finds an attractive, youthful-looking “thinking” woman, the “gentlest, most unaffected Ladylike woman” Fenwick said that she had ever met. She describes Mr. Honner as “frank hospitable, pleasant & good-humoured” with “a lively kind of blunt humour, which diverts & is always unmixed with anything that could give offence.” “He is” also, as Fenwick says, “a kind husband & father & seems to prefer to all pleasure the evening circle of his family.”[21] The surface happiness disguises a darker backstory. The reason Mr. Honner relocated his family from India was because he had been court-martialed. The details, as recorded in the Asiatic Annual Register of 1807, documents his dismissal from the army as resulting from “behaviour unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman,” in that he had been charged with giving “blows or shoves to another officer in the mess room.”[22] By the time Fenwick sees him, six years later, he is the very model of a good family man. “He is,” says Fenwick, “all day in his grounds, planting, draining, fencing, building & clearing his land.”[23] Only later, on December 21, 1813, in a long, two-thousand-word sketch of what might have been the plot of a novel,[24] does Fenwick reveal the dark side of the purchase of Lee Mount and of Mr. Honner’s home-improvement initiatives. Fenwick begins with the folly of his “unwise” purchase of the estate in 1811. Initially, it had seemed a very good deal. He had ridden the four miles from Cork “on his fine hunter,” on a “lovely day” in June, and so it had seemed an easy distance—which, on a good horse, it was. Next, Fenwick enumerates the ways in which Mr. Honner was blindsided by his assumptions about the value of the property:

The trees he should cut down, the stones he should quarry, the lime he should find upon the domain wd, he schemed, pay for enlarging the house, building the stable barns, out houses & c. He forgot to look at the road & consider what it wd be in winter & indeed the greatest part of the year. Though not much or perhaps at all exceeding 4 English miles between this house & Cork it is the most impracticable road that ever was travelled & utter destruction of horses, carts, & carriages. […] One building begot another. One after another were found to be ill-placed & pulled down for removal.[25]

There was no limestone, he could not find laborers to cut the trees, and, because the land was flooded frequently by the River Lee, cultivating was not an option. Mr. Honner thought he might breed Arabian stallions, but they turned out to be the wrong kind of horse for the location and he lost a fortune. He tried to build a road, but ended up in legal tangles with people on whose land he trespassed. It also transpired that he had fathered a couple of illegitimate sons when he was still in his teens.

In a kind of “he said/she said” contrast between Mr. and Mrs. Honner, Fenwick writes:

She hates Ireland & most Irish people beyond all moderate & just bounds. He will, nay he must live in it. She wishes for more society as her girls grow up. She cannot have it. He says what can be necessary beyond her husband & children, but she is anxious to form these girls fashionably & elegantly as well as rationally & painfully conscious on little etiquettes which are in themselves nonsense.[26]

Fenwick also provides a report-card like critique of Mrs. Honner’s accomplishments:

She is an excellent French scholar & tolerably fluent, though out of practice in Italian. Her language, pronunciation & manners are graceful & admirable, & her music only wanting in theory that a little study could give.[27]

The intimate account of the details of family life at Lee Mount seem to have been composed partly to suggest to Mary Hays that she might be a suitable replacement governess if Fenwick should decide to take up the invitation to start a school in Barbados with her daughter. Fenwick writes coaxingly:

Were Mrs. Honner, her liberality of feeling, her judgment alone concerned, no obstacles would lie in the way. You would love her I know. Her little failings of pride & prejudice you would overlook or combat with that gentle firmness of manner & that eloquent and irresistible power of reasoning which you so eminently possess. It is but justice to her to say that never would she remind you of her station by the slightest failure of complete and real gentlewomanly observance….[28]

If Fenwick had read Jane Austen, she does not say so in any of the extant letters. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813—the same year as Fenwick’s letter—and Sense and Sensibility in 1811. Like Jane Austen, Fenwick pays close attention to the distinctions between surface and substance, authentic values and superficial manners dancing around the plot fixtures of love and money. Though Mrs. Honner does subscribe to the Cork library, Fenwick imagines it is “a very bad one,” as she says, “the novels of character we have sent for are never to be had & the generality of the Minerva Press compositions I cannot, however fond of a story, read.”[29] The Minerva Press was the Mills and Boon, or Harlequin, trashy romance-novel imprint of its day.

Literature, however, was very much part of life at Lee Mount, for both children and adults. There is a lovely passage in an unpublished section of a letter to Mary, written by Fenwick on June 3, 1813, about her son Orlando’s response to Sir Walter Scott’s just-published (in 1813) long narrative poem, Rokeby. Fenwick writes:

I have not read Rokeby. But Orlando has. His master had it soon after its publication from the Cork Institution Library. […] His commendations of the poem were so much like yours as to make me stare at the coincidence. Two days after reading he came to Lee Mount & detailed to me the whole plan of the story, describing the characters & repeated some short passages. The rejected address delighted hm. They fell in which his humour & with his extravagant action he often spouts lines of their Mock Heroics.[30]

Orlando would have just turned fourteen, and even accounting for the fact that Fenwick was clearly a doting mother, he seems to have been the embodiment of all the “good” boys in Fenwick’s stories: intelligent, attractive, industrious, active, obedient, diligent, playful, kind, and thoughtful—every mother’s dream child. Even Fenwick’s brief account of his response to Rokeby and how it compared so closely with Mary’s implicitly astute reading (especially given that Mary was a respected author and reviewer) reveals how much intelligent conversation about literature was valued and how well Orlando lived up to her expectations for him.

Despite the moments of happiness and success Fenwick found at Lee Mount, she recognized that she would not be able to secure long-term financial or social security there for herself or family. So, in September 1814, Fenwick and Orlando left for Barbados, in search of a better future. Fenwick’s daughter, Eliza Ann, who had gone to Bridgetown two years earlier to act in the newly-formed reparatory company, had married another expat, William Rutherford, had a son, and proposed establishing an elite school for girls. The plan was that Fenwick and Eliza Ann would run the school, and Orlando, his education complete, would find a position, perhaps with a merchant. After years of living a peripatetic existence, Fenwick was looking forward to being able to have a home for herself and her family, a home they could call their own. Things didn’t quite turn out as planned. By July 1815, in a letter to Mary, Fenwick confides that, unlike Lee Mount, Bridgetown, “is not my paradise.”[31] It was, at the time, in the years between the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the abolition of slavery in 1833, a deeply corrupt and slave-dependent society. 1816 was a very bad year for Fenwick. There was a slave “uprising,” which closed down the island. Orlando died of yellow fever. Eliza Ann bore three more children. Her health declined and her husband, like her father John Fenwick, turned out to be a deadbeat. The school continued to survive, if not to thrive, until 1822, when Fenwick, Eliza Ann, and the four children left to embark on another phase of their colonial adventure, this time to America.


[1] F. J. Harvey Darton, Children’s Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life, 3rd ed., rev. Brian Alderson (1932; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 168.

[2] I have previously situated Eliza Fenwick’s Visits to the Juvenile Library (Tabart 1805) at the heart of my book, The Children’s Book Business: Lessons from the Long Eighteenth Century (New York, NY and Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2011).

[3] Fenwick to the Moffat family, Ontario, Canada, June 10, 1832 Fenwick Family Papers, New-York Historical Society Library. I found the manuscript letters to the Moffat family in 2008. They had been unreferenced. That particular fragment was in a folder marked “undated.” Some of the letters had been cut up, with only fragments preserved. Internal evidence in the collection is that it was put there in the 1970s by one of Fenwick’s descendants, Thomas Casilear Cole. I was able to determine the date because I found the letter from which it had been cut apart. A list of clearly identifiable works published by Eliza Fenwick consists of one novel unmarked as being for children, Secresy (1795). The list books for children for which Eliza Fenwick can be identified as the author or compiler consists of: The Life of Carlo (1804); Mary and her Cat (1804); Presents for Good Girls (1804); Presents for Good Boys (1805); Songs for the Nursery (1805) Visits to the Juvenile Library (1805); The Class Book: or Three-Hundred and Sixty-Five Reading Lessons, published under the pseudonym Rev’d David Blair (1806), Lessons for Children (1809), Infantine Stories (1810), Six Stories (1809)—later published as Six Stories for the Nursery (1819), Rays from the Rainbow (1812)  and Lessons or Children (1813). With thanks to Anne Markey for tracing the provenance of Six Stories for the Nursery to Eliza Fenwick.  I have been able to identify Fenwick as the compiler of Songs for the Nursery in a complicated way. Charles Lamb, in a letter dated 2 June 1804 to Dorothy Wordsworth, thanks her for the “little scraps” (Arthur’s Bower and his brethren) which she had sent and confirms that “the bookseller has got them and paid Mrs. Fenwick for them.” Tabart published Songs for the Nursery, collected from the work of the most renowned poets in 1805. Opie’s Oxford Dictionary lists the first publication for “Arthur O’Bower” as Songs for the Nursery, credits Dorothy Wordsworth and lists the variants. Fenwick’s own list of her literary oeuvre contains hints of other material, but lacking publishing records, nothing else can clearly be attributed to her. Richard Phillips, for instance, commissioned authors to write school books under several generic names he’d dreamed up. Besides David Blair, there was also Goldsmith. Fenwick also writes about going to see a production of The Forty Thieves at Drury Lane and writing a little “pantomimic” which she tries to sell to a bookseller. She doesn’t say to whom she tried to sell it, but Tabart published versions of fairy-tale plays that had been produced at Drury Lane in the period. She provides the tantalizing reference to “occasional critiques and reviews” but given that reviews were unsigned in the period and lacking definitive evidence of her authorship, I can’t identify anything I can prove that she wrote. I did go through each issue of both the Analytical Review and the Monthly Review from 1795 to 1810, as they would have been likely venues for her, especially as Mary Wollstonecraft wrote for the Analytical Review. In one of the British Library copies of the Analytical Review, someone has helpfully written Mary Wollstonecraft’s name in full, in ink (so I would assume, before ink was banned from the Reading Rooms), next to the reviews she wrote. I was unable to find any helpful annotations attaching Eliza Fenwick’s name to any reviews.

[4] The largest cache of letters by Eliza Fenwick and by her granddaughter, Elizabeth Rutherford Savage, is in the New-York Historical Society Library. The collection consists of the manuscript letters to Mary Hays that formed the basis for The Fate of the Fenwicks (1927), as well as a previously unreferenced set of about sixty additional letters—some are fragments, so the count is approximate—mostly to John Moffat and his family in New York. Other letters to the Moffats survive in the William Rutherford Savage Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and in the Thomas Casilear Cole collection in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian. A few other manuscript letters survive: to William Godwin in the Abinger Collection in the Bodleian in Oxford; to Henry Crabb Robinson in the Dr. Williams’s Library, London; to Jane Porter in the Pforzheimer Collection in the New York Public Library; and, in the Baldwin Collection, Toronto Public Library, a few—unreferenced and unindexed—letters to the family of William Warren Baldwin survive.

[5] Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background, 1760-1830 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982), 2.

[6] See Barthes “Writers and Authors,” A Barthes Reader, ed. Susan Sontag (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), 185-93.

[7] Fenwick to Mary Hays, Penzance, December 17, 1802, Fenwick Family Papers, New-York Historical Society Library (NYHSL).

[8] Fenwick to Mary Hays, 1798, NYHSL.

[9] Charles Lamb, “The Two Races of Men,” Essays of Elia and Last Essays (1901; Oxford: Oxford UP, 1951), 35.

[10] See, for example, “Proof of Love,” “Ellen and Judith,” and “Birthday Gifts,” in Fenwick, Lessons for Children: A Sequel to Mrs. Barbauld’s Lessons (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1828).

[11] Stuart Curran, “Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Romance of Real Life,” in The History of British Women’s Writing, 1750-1830, vol. 5, ed. Jacqueline M. Labbe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010): 195.

[12] Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, ed. Tony Brekke and John Mee (1796; Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009), 11.

[13] See for example, Helen Davenport, The Prince’s Mistress: A Life of Mary Robinson (Stroud: Sutton, 2004).

[14] In The Fate of the Fenwicks, A. F. Wedd has transcribed the name of the family for whom Fenwick worked as “Honnor.” Records in Cork associated with the house and army records confirm that the correct spelling is “Honner.” Because I worked with the manuscript letters themselves, I’ve corrected to “Honner” even when the passages I quote were published in The Fate of the Fenwicks.

[15] Eliza Fenwick to Mary Hays, 5 Tavistock Square, London, April 24, 1812, Fenwick Family Papers, NYSHL.

[16] Fenwick to Mary Hays, July 21, 1812, NYSHL.

[17] In Irish Watercolours and Drawings, Anne Crookshank and a man who romantically calls himself the Knight of Glin, include Fenwick’s account of the picture she was given of Lee Mount in the context of the fact that “[p]rospective governesses as well as prospective wives were sometimes sent views.” Crookshank and Glin situate Fenwick’s account as similar to one in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), in which Mr. Dixon “was wooing Miss Campbell” by sending her his drawings of “Ballycraig, which the chattering Miss Bates described as a beautiful place”; see Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, Irish Watercolours and Drawings (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995), 209.

[18] Fenwick to Mary Hays, Lee Mount Ireland, June 3, 1813, Fenwick Family Papers, NYSHL.

[19] Fenwick, Lessons for Children, 100.

[20] Ibid., 98-99.

[21] Fenwick to Hays, July 21, 1812.

[22] The Asiatic Annual Register, or A View of the History of Hindustan, and the Politics, Commerce, and Literature of Asia, vol. 9—for the year 1807 (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies [Booksellers to the Asiatic Society in the Strand]; and Black Parry and Kingsbury [Booksellers to the Honourable the East India Company] in Leadenhall-Street, 1809), 202.

[23] Fenwick to Hays, July 21, 1812.

[24] In The Fate of the Fenwicks, A. F Wedd only includes a fraction of the sketch that appears in the unpublished manuscript letter.

[25] Fenwick to Hays, Lee Mount, Ireland, December 21, 1813, Fenwick Family Papers, NYHS.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Eliza Fenwick to Mary Hays, Lee Mount, October 27, 1812,.

[30] Fenwick to Mary Hays, Lee Mont, June 3, 1813, Fenwick Family Papers, NYSHL.

[31] Eliza Fenwick to Mary Hays, Bridgetown, July 11, 1815, Fenwick Family Papers, NYSHL.