“Mrs. Meeke” was the most prolific novelist of the Romantic period, publishing twenty-four novels and four translations between 1795 and 1823, eclipsing Walter Scott’s twenty-two titles. Yet until recently, scholars knew little about her, and she was misidentified for decades as “Mary Meeke,” the wife of a Staffordshire vicar. It was not until 2013 that an article by Simon Macdonald conclusively revealed the author’s actual identity as Elizabeth Meeke—not a respectable vicar’s wife, but the scandalous stepsister of Frances Burney. Meeke published all her fiction with the infamous Minerva Press, which issued staggering levels of new fiction written primarily by women. Meeke’s title-pages employed a complex system of authorship: some works carried her name (“Mrs. Meeke”); others were anonymous; a third strain employed the pseudonym “Gabrielli.” As an author of numerous fictions forced to adopt a multifaceted persona, Meeke both represented and shaped the literary culture that the Minerva Press created for its voracious patrons. Examining the case of Elizabeth Meeke, my paper considers the ways in which women novelists found themselves continually inscribed, erased, and reinscribed in a volatile literary marketplace that has left little trace of them for posterity. The first part of the essay will analyze the publishing ecologies that shaped Meeke’s career, while the second part considers Meeke’s output and reception more closely, offering an account of the tropes and preoccupations that characterize a writing career spanning three decades.
Anthony Mandal; Mrs. Meeke and Minerva: The Mystery of the Marketplace. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 April 2018; 42 (2): 131–151. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-4384591
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