Report: _The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph_

Danielle N. W. Pelfrey



Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan was born in Dublin in 1724, descended (on her father's side) from several generations of Church of Ireland/Anglican clergymen; Anastasia Whyte Chamberlaine, Frances' English mother, died not long after Frances' birth. According to granddaughter Alicia Le Fanu's 1824 biography of Sheridan, "Miss Fanny"'s father was an admired preacher, but not terribly progressive in his daughters' upbringing: "he was with difficulty prevailed on to allow his daughter to learn to read; and, to write, he affirmed perfectly superfluous in the education of a tending to nothing but the multiplication of love letters, or the scarcely less dangerous interchange of sentiment inthe confidential effusions of female correspondence." However, thanks to the good graces of two of her brothers, Frances learned not only reading (which she did voraciously), but also Latin and some botany. At the age of fifteen, she wrote a two-volume romance, *Eugenia and Adelaide*; years later, upon reading this piece, Samuel Richardson would encourage Sheridan to undertake the novel which would become the *Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*. Le Fanu also mentions that, by this tender age of fifteen, Sheridan had written two sermons, which are not extant.

In 1743 -- after her father's death permitted her a greater degree of liberty, including greater liberty to attend the theatre with her brothers -- nineteen-year-old Frances Chamberlaine anonymously published a poem in defense of actor Thomas Sheridan (then the dominant personality of the Dublin theatre) and his role in a recent theatre riot. "The Owls" apparently occasioned the first meeting between the two, and they were married in 1747.

In 1754, the Sheridans left Dublin for London, where they would become part of a notable circle, including Samuel Johnson, Edward Young, Mrs. Cholmondeley, Frances Brooke, Sarah Scott, Sarah Fielding, and Samuel Richardson. Frances Sheridan was admired by all (rather more than her husband was) as intelligent and amiable. They lived in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, for two years, then moved back to Dublin; two years after that, however, they returned to London, under mounting financial pressures exacerbated by the failure of Thomas Sheridan's theatre. In the winter of 1759-1760, somewhat isolated by having moved out to Windsor for financial reasons, Frances Sheridan secretly began work on the *Memoirs*, not least in hopes of providing financial relief for herself, her husband, and their four surviving (of six) children. Apparently Sheridan actually managed to write this novel in between domestic duties; Alicia Le Fanu makes much of Sheridan's domestic virtue, commenting, "The authoress of some of the most admired productions of her time was also acknowledged to excel in every branch of domestic economy."

Following the tremendous success of the *Memoirs* in 1761, Sheridan produced a comedy, *The Discovery*, which enjoyed an enthusiastic, long (relatively) run. But her next play failed to generate much enthusiasm or income. The Sheridans' financial woes worsened, and they fled to France in 1764, pursued by creditors. At Blois, she wrote a new comedy, an exotic moral tale which was to be the first of five such "Oriental" stories, and the *Conclusion to the Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*.

In 1766, however, just as the Sheridans were planning a return to Ireland, Frances was suddenly seized with fainting fits and fever; two weeks late, she was dead at the age of forty-two. The *Conclusion* and *Nourjahad* (the exotic moral tale) were published posthumously in 1767, and *Eugenia and Adelaide* was finally published in 1791.

The Sheridans' family proved an extremely literary one. Most noted, of course, is her son, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, author of *The School for Scandal* and *The Rivals*, and upon whom Frances Sheridan was a decisive influence. Her elder daughter, Lissy, wrote two plays; her younger, Betsy, wrote a novel and kept a journal which was recently published. Betsy's daughter, Alicia Le Fanu, was a prolific poet and novelist as well as her grandmother's sole biographer, and Lissy's grandson was novelist and short story writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.


*Memoirs* was first published in 1761, both in London (by R. and J. Dodsley) and in Dublin (by G. Faulkner). The London edition appeared in three volumes, as we have read it, and the Dublin edition in two. A second London edition in three volumes was also published in 1761, testament to the novel's immediate popularity; third and fourth editions were published by Dodsley in 1767 and 1772.

In 1767, Dodsley first published the *Conclusion* as Volumes IV and V of the novel. A second Dodsley edition of the *Conclusion* appeared in 1770. Dodsley's fifth edition (1796) of the *Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph* again includes all five volumes. And all five volumes also appeared in volume xxii of *The Novelist's Magazine* (1787), with plates after drawings by E.F. Burney.

*Sidney Bidulph* appears then to go out of print until 1987, when Pandor Press reprinted the first edition of Volumes I and II and the second edition of Volume III, with an introduction by Sue Townsend.

If you read the Oxford World's Classics 1995 edition of the novel, yu read a version of the 1761 second edition. In preparing that edition, Sheridan corrected the dates of some of the letters which had been duplicated in the first edition, errors perhaps occasioned, as Patricia Koster, co-editor of the 1995 edition suggests, by the fact that Sheridan was writing "by stealth." Other letters in the second edition are re-dated for plot reasons; for example, much of the dating of Faulkland's abduction of Mrs. Gerrarde to France has been altered significantly in order to shorten the amount of time he spends abroad with "that vile designing woman." Koster notes that the changes in dating are most numerous in Volume III, in which all dates after Lady Bidulph's funeral are moved up by one month, but offers no explanation for this change. Koster also notes that Sheridan made "numerous small improvements in style" in the second edition, mainly for clarification. Small dating and wording errors "inadvertently produced in the printing-house" have been silently corrected by the editors of the 1995 edition.

If, however, you read the Brillig Books packet, you read the UVA Library Electronic Text Center 1993 version of the 1767 third edition of the *Memoirs*. This 1767 edition had no further authorial correction from the second edition. Although only Volumes I, II, and III are included here, Alderman Rare Books holds all five volumes of this edition (Ask me if you'd like to hear a happy research anecdote about Volume IV...). A number of errata have been corrected in this electronic edition (see the "back matter" of the document), but others, mainly typographical, seem to have been reproduced and/or introduced.


Although it was published anonymously, the identity of the *Memoirs*' author was an "open secret" from the first, and some contemporary reviews find occasion for a backhanded compliment to the female author behind the persona of the male editor in the text. For example, the *Monthly Review* critic concludes his review, after a lengthy excerpt from the novel, "We had prepared a few slight criticisms on this performance: but being assured that it is the work of a Lady, we shall only add, that, in our opinion, it is, upon the whole, greatly superior to most of the productions of her *brother* Novelists."

The inscription of the novel to Samuel Richardson surely encouraged comments on the similarities between the *Memoirs* and *Clarissa* and *Sir Charles Grandison*, but reviewers also compare the talents of the two writers favorably. Sheridan's skill with the epistolary form is praised; the *Memoirs*, *Clarissa*, and *Grandison* are declared in the *Critical Review* to be "indisputably the best models in this species of writing, perhaps the most engaging, persuasive, and difficult of any other[, which] imitate[s] nature more closely,...this kind of dramatic writing."

Although the novel was universally hailed as deeply affecting -- Samuel Johnson wrote to Sheridan, "I know not, Madam! that you have a right, upon moral principles, to make your readers suffer so much" -- not all were certain of the novel's moral efficacy. The critic who reviewed the *Memoirs* for *London Magazine* worried that "the too popular doctrine of predestination seems here to be encouraged." After praising Richardson's works as the most "pleasant vehicle[s]" for administering moral medicine -- "so that the patient may imbibe the salutary parts without disgust, and enjoy their effect without perceiving their operation" -- the *Monthly Review* critic comments:

"...The author [of the *Memoirs*] seems to have no other design than to draw tears from the reader by distressing innocence and virtue, as much as possible. Now, tho' we are not ignorant that this may be a true picture of human life, in some instances, yet, we are of opinion, that such representations are by no means calculated to encourage and promote virtue."

*Clarissa* works as moral physic (clearly considered the high aim of literature) because the virtuous heroine's most extreme sufferings come as a result of her "flagrant error" of fleeing with Lovelace. Because Sidney is so entirely virtuous, her sufferings seem gratuitous; there is, therefore, the reviewer seems to suggest, no inducement in her story for the reader to be virtuous.

Others, however, including the writer in *Critical Review*, felt that the novel set a useful as well as entertaining example to society at large as well as to "the republic of letters":

"All the situations are highly interesting, because the passions are strongly engaged in the fate of the characters rendered so eminently amiable, noble, and heroic. The reflections are equally just and natural....Not a single impropriety of thought or expression occurs in the course of three volumes; but the whole flows easy, chaste, natural, simple, and beyond measure affecting and pathetic."

Whatever the reservations of reviewers, the popular response was tremendous; the *Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph* was a bestseller.

The *Conclusion* was received with less critical enthusiasm. The *Monthly Review* critic recapitulated his disagreement with *Sidney Bidulph*'s argument against "poetical justice" in narrative as articulated at the opening of Volume I by the aged Cecilia (*MSB* I, 5-8), but finally leaves the question of the moral value of Sheridan's fiction "to the sagacity of the reader." *Critical Review*'s comments on the sequel complain of its lack of narrative variety and of "[t]he thinness of the plot, which is unconscionably spun out [and] renders it impracticable [in this review] to enter into all the minutenessess which bring about interviews, correspondences, removals, disappointments, &c, &c. among the parties." Still, the novel's "sentiments [are] such as Virtue herself, were she personified, according to Plato's wish, might breathe." The story remains "plaintive" and "affecting"; the narration of Sidney's death could "not be read, we believe, even by profligacy itself, without, at least, some resolutions of amendment."


At the opening of the second part of *Sidney Bidulph*, Sidney is living in the country with her two daughter and Orlando fils. An acquaintance, Sir Edward Audley, comes with Orlando from university, bringing his sister, Sophy. These two despise the sober and moral Arnold existence, and combine in an elabrate plot to marry the financially insolvent Sir Edward to one of the now-wealthy Arnold girls. They decide to encourage a secret love affair between Orlando and one of the Arnold daughters (against Sidney's express wishes); once one of the sisters has defied parental authority, they believe, the other sister will be more inclined to do the same by engaing herself to Audley. Audley induces Orlando to declare love for Dolly Arnold, when in fact he loves her sister, Cecilia. Evenutally, Audley kidnaps Dolly in otder to force her to marry him to save her honour. Mentally shattered, Dolly escapes and returns home just in time to prevent the wedding between orlando and Cecilia. Cecilia rejects Orlando for his perfidy to her sister and marries the good Lord V--. Orlando challenges Audley to a duel and kills him. Sidney dies a pious death at the age of thirty-eight. Dolly regains her reason and nobly rejects Orlando.


A French translation of the *Memoirs*, attributed to J.B.R. Robinet, was published in Amsterdam in 1762. The Abbe Prevost's free translation and adaptation of the first three volumes also appeared in 1762, in Cologne, and again in 1763. In 1784, Prevost's translation of the *Memoirs* was published in Paris and Amsterdam with Robinet's translation of the *Conclusion*. A Spanish translation of the first three volumes was published in 1792.

*L'Habitant de la Guadeloupe*, a play by Louis-Sebastien mercier, based on an episode in the *Memoirs* (the same episode later used by Richard Sheridan in *The School for Scandal*) appeared in 1782 in Neuchatel. This play was very popular on the Continent, going through nine editions in French, Dutch, and Italian between 1782 and 1823; an English translation was performed in London in 1802. Mid-twentieth-century critic James Foster notes that the same episode was borrowed by Henry Brooke for *Juliet Grenville*.

In 1814, Charles edward Horn published *Rich and Poor: A Comic Opera in Three Acts*, which is affixed with the following descriptive note: "An alteration of Lewis' *The East Indian*, published also as *Rivers, or, The East Indian*. Based in part on *The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph* by Frances Sheridan and an anonymously written novel entitled *Cecilia*."

Foster suggests the influence of *Sidney Bidulph* on numerous late eighteenth-century sentimental novels, including: the anonymous *History of Miss Delia Stanhope* (1767), *The Injured Daughter; or, the History of Miss Maria Beaumont* (1768), *Margaretta, Countess of Rainford: A Sentimental Novel* (1759), and *The Sylph, A Novel* (1779); Maria Susannah Cooper's *Exemplary Mother, or Lettrs between Mrs. Villars and her Family* (1769); and Harriet Lee's *The Errors of Innocence*.

According to Morris Golden's 1979 article, the *Memoirs* also provided a model for the more canonical Goldsmith. In addition to replicating character names, he argues, Goldsmith may have elaborated on the Miss Price episode in Volume III of Sheridan's novel for the narrative involving George Primrose in *The Vicar of Wakefield*.

Maragaret Anne Doody's 1986 article suggests other possible *Sidney Bidulph* progeny among more canonical texts. The *Conclusion* may have influenced *Wuthering Heights*' exploration of "the interlocking life of two generations, with parents the heroes of the first half of the story and those parents' children the central characters of the second." Doody also notes resonances between the *Conclusion* and *Mansfield Park* (1814), drawing parallels in the *Conclusion* with *Mansfield Park*'s "worldly false friends," Mary and Henry Crawford, and with Sir Thomas Bertram and Mrs. Norris' complacency toward possible erotic attachments between Fanny Price and a Bertram son. In addition, Doody sees prefigured in the *Conclusion*'s interrupted wedding similar scenes in *Cecilia* (1782), *The Italian* (1797), and *Jane Eyre* (1847).

Corrections to the first posting:

1) After the paragraph in the biographical note which concludes "'...acknowledged to excel in every branch of domestic economy.'" should be inserted the following paragraph, which I omitted in transcribing from my Mac:

Throughout these trials, Richardson continued as Sheridan's friend and correspondent as well as literary mentor. He read the work in progress as early as the autumn/winter of 1756, and was influential in bringing it to publication, though it is uncertain whether he ever read the finished novel in its entirety, as he died only a few months after its initial publication.

2) Also omitted in transcription is the following sentence at the conclusion of the third paragraph of the publication history section:

(I found an uncertain suggestion that there was also a 1900 Dodsley edition of the *Memoirs*, but could find no other evidence among my sources for such an edition.) H3>TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

Critics have from the first commented on the *Memoirs*' resonances with *Clarissa* and to *Sir Charles Grandison*, from the *Critical Review*'s gentle reproof of Sheridan's "imitation" of Richardson's characters, to late-twentieth-century feminist readings of Sheridan's *rewriting* of Richardson.

In *The Sign of Angellica*, Janet Todd comments that *Sidney Bidulph* is "a cross between the wayfaring quest of romance and its religious counterpart such as *Pilgrim's Progress* which, allegorising and spiritualising the quest, in the end proves its inadequacy in the world. In concern [it] is close to Richardson, but...avoid[s] some of its implications in much the same way as Richardson's correspondent Lady Echlin had recoiled from the ultimate expression of *Clarissa*...its comforting message of power from powerlessness, the almost magical quality of the dying feminine body." What does the *Memoirs* reject in refusing to kill Sidney off at the end of the novel? How does what Ms. Spacks calls, in *Desire and Truth*, "the curious aggressiveness of the novel's sentimentalism" negotiate that supposedly compensatory "message of power from powerlessness"? How does it inflect the dependence on the justice of heaven over the chaos of earthly events?

What does it mean to be, as the *Critical Review* describes Faulkland, "a composition of...Grandison and Lovelace"? How is Sidney like and not like Clary? What about the friendship between Cecilia and Sidney as compared to that between Anna and Clarissa?

Todd asserts that Sheridan "investigated the sentimental obsession with female chastity and probed the implications of an altruism and familial piety that could so easily become self-destructive masochism." This "politically and socially significant" sentimental philosophy, she claims, stands in contradistinction to "the apolitical self-indulgence associated with the Cult of Sensibility." (Is Richardson to be charged with the latter?) Is this political/apolitical characterization a useful demarcation for us in our continuing quest to define sensibility and sentimentality?


Sheridan's fiction opens in 1703, though written between 1759 and 1761; as Todd notes, "Set in the past, with its future therefore known, it expresses an almost elegiac sense that the compassion and benevolence so necessary for human life, like the femininity that best expresses them, inevitably form social victims." Margaret Anne Doody comments extensively on the hermetic "patterning of generational interrelation" in the *Memoirs* as well as in *Sidney Bidulph* as a whole; the (enforced) reenactment of Lady Bidulph's first engagement in both of Sidney's engagements to Faulkland is but one example of the "recurrence of the past which is reality." What is the nature of this oppressive sense of predestination? Doody calls it "less Providential than psychological, and less psychological, and less psychological than visionary."

How else might it be significant that the novel is published near (and both speaks the idiom of and engages the moral concerns of) the beginning of the reign of George III, but is set "in the beginning of Queen Anne's reign" (*MSB* I, 13)?

Although I have not yet been able to look at her dissertation in its entirety, I am intrigued (no surprise here) by Siobhan Kilfeather's insistence on reading Sheridan as an Anglo-Irish woman writer. She suggests that both parts of *Sidney Bidulph* interrogate the ways in which the "strong and early prejudices [that] are almost insurmountable" (*MSB*) are passed from parent to child; "this investigation," she continues in her abstract, "becomes a metaphor for the political condition of Ireland...the site of a politics of grief." Kilfeather suggests that the novel encodes a guilty and anxious Protestant Anglo-Irish negotiation of the dispossession of the native Irish (there certainly is a marked anti-Catholicism here in the portrait of Mrs. Gerrarde, devil, witch, and fury that she is). What other readings a la Gayatri Spivak in "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" might we be able to discover in the *Memoirs* -- what is -- and how/does the novel negotiate the issue of -- the source of Mr. Warner's wealth, for example "the fantastic [device] turning on the notion of a benefactor with no authoritarian threat to the benefited," as Todd has it?


Kilfeather describes the Ireland of the *Memoirs* as "the novel's gothic zone." But there are other "horrors" in the novel, such as Lady Bidulph's several-times-repeated sense of horror at the thought of Sidney married to the fallen Faulkand, the "tincture of superstition" in Lady Bidulph's "genuine and rational" piety (*MSB* I, 126). Sidney's own "chill with horror" the night before she at last gives herself up to her fate ("reconcile[s] [her]self to [her] lot," as she has it [*MSB* III, 300]) and agrees to marry Faulkland. I know some of you all are Gothicists (?) -- what can be made of these horrors?

I'm just going to jot down a couple of other topics perhaps ripe for the picking, without too much detail...


Faulkland the plotter as "a hero of romance" battling Mrs. Gerrarde's evil magic (*MSB* II, 140)...the doctor's highly aestheticized representation of Sidney at Mr. Arnold's deathbed (we don't get her description of this scene at all)...Sidney' early reading of love through the literary lenses, making light of her brother's portrayal of Faulkland as superior to any "hero of romance" (*MSB* I,28), but also disavowing rank "amongst the first-rate lovers, who have neither eyes, nor ears, nor sensations, but for one object" (*MSB* I, 51).


This is the subject of Jean Coates Cleary's introduction to the 1995 World's Classics edition; I hope that those of us who read that edition will expound therfore upon it for the benefit of those of us who read the packet.


Doody comments that part of the course of action that Lady Bidulph takes seems motivated by a sort of proto-feminist desire to stand in solidarity with other women. How and where does female community succeed and fail?

7) "rendered the close of her history still more........................" -- still more what?



Holloway, Laura C. *The Mothers of Great Men and Women, and Some Wives of Great Men*. Baltimore: Wharton, 1883.

Le Fanu, Alicia. *Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Frances Sheridan*. London: G. and B. Whitaker, 1824.

Wilson, Mona. *These Were Muses*. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1924.


Rev. of *Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *Monthly Review* 24 (1761): 260-266.

Rev. of *Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *Critical Review* 11 (1761): 186-198.

Rev. of *Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *London Magazine* 30 (1761): 168.

Rev. of *Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *British Magazine* 2 (1761): 212.


Rev. of *Conclusion to the Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *Monthly Review* 37 (1767): 238.

Rev. of *Conclusion to the Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *Critical Review* 23 (1767): 274-278.

Rev. of *Conclusion to the Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *London Magazine* 36 (1767): 150.

Rev. of *Conclusion to the Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph*, by Frances Sheridan. *Political Register* 1 (1767): 483.


(I have included Ph.D. dissertations dealing substantially with Sheridan in this list of references both because critical treatments of Sheridan and her work are not numerous and because these dissertations seem to me an important part of the chart of a twentieth-century revival of interest in Sheridan.)

Barker, Gerard. *Grandison's Heirs: The Paragon's Progress in the Late Eighteenth Century*. Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1985.

Barnes, Mary Emma Wadlington. "Mrs. Frances Sheridan, Her Life and Works: Including a Study of Her Influence on Richard Brinsley Sheridan's Plays, and an Edition of Her Comedy, 'The Discovery.'" Diss., Yale University, 1914.

Barron, Sarah. "Female Difficulties: Woman's Role and Woman's Fate in Eighteenth-Century English Women's Fiction." Diss., Ohio State University, 1982.

Chew, Samuel P., Jr. "Life and Works of Frances Sheridan." Diss., Harvard University, 1937.

Doody, Margaret Anne. "Frances Sheridan: Morality and Annihilated Time." *Fetter'd or Free?: British Women Novelists 1670-1815. Ed. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986. 324-358.

Foster, James R. *History of the Pre-Romantic Novel in England*. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1949. esp. 140-145.

Golden, Morris. "*Sidney Bidulph* and *The Vicar of Wakefield*." *Modern Language Studies* 9:2 (1979): 33-35.

Harris, Marla. "Strategies of Silence: Sentimental Heroinism and Narrative Authority in Novels by Frances Sheridan, Frances Burney, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Hannah More." Diss., Brandeis University, 1992.

Hogan, Robert, and Jerry C. Beasley, eds. *The Plays of Frances Sheridan*. Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1984.

Kilfeather, Siobhan. "'Strangers at Home': Political Fictions by Women in Eighteenth Century Ireland." Diss., Princeton University, 1989.

Lacom, Cindy. "Essential Fictions: Infirmity, Maternity, and Language in the Novels of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Women Writers." Diss., University of Oregon, 1992.

Marino, Sarah R. "'Almost Infinite Variation': Eighteenth-Century Epistolary Fictions." Diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1994.

Russell, Norma H. "Some Uncollected Authors XXXVIII: Frances Sheridan, 1724-1766." *The Book Collector* 13 (1964): 196-205.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer. *Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth- Century English Novels. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. esp. 134-140.

Todd, Janet. *The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing, and Fiction 1660-1800*. London: Virago, 1989. esp. 161-175.