- Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace 1670–1820
Nobody’s Story is a valuable addition to the ever growing body of theoretical works on the origins of the novel. Indeed, it will be surprising if the book does not become required reading for advanced courses on eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century fiction. More particularly, this book focuses on the contribution of female novelists to the incipient novelistic discourse. Gallagher’s intention is to find intersections between the concepts “women,” “author,” and “marketplace.” She sees in these terms the common thematic of “nothing” or “nobody,” and from this sense of anonymity the notion of “fiction” emerges.
The book concentrates on the lives and works of Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, Charlotte Lennox, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth. Her choice of these five authors turns out to be somewhat serendipitous since, as Gallagher herself concludes about her own work, “I am struck by its incompleteness. I might have discussed other, lesser-known novelists. I might have spent more time on women playwrights and poets, or I could have given a fuller picture of the major women novelists” (327). Her selectivity certainly provides ample range, but since there is no necessity to the selection, it is a little hard to understand how Gallagher can claim [End Page 443] a teleology implied in the ordering of her authors and her specifications of their contributions to the development of the novel.
Nevertheless, that order begins with two chapters on Aphra Behn. The first one emphasizes Behn’s role as playwright, particularly Behn’s envisioning of her role as dramatist as a form of prostitution. “This persona has many functions in Behn’s work: it titillates, scandalizes, arouses pity, and indicates the peril of public identity and the poignancy of authorship in general” (14). Behn, in forging this public female authorial self for the marketplace, preserves her authentic self from contamination and even from representability. Gallagher emphasizes the connection between “publication” and “public,” a blurring that would have consequences to literary women who would be regarded as “public women.” Behn complexly co-opts the term, much as contemporaries put reverse spin on “queer,” and takes up the stance of courtesan. In so doing she “skillfully intertwined the age’s available discourses concerning women, property, selfhood, and authorship” (27).
Gallagher introduces the idea of anonymity and marginality associated with Behn’s major prose characters. Dark skin color, especially, is seen as the signifier of this anonymity. Gallagher metonymically links blackness, ink, and writing. This kind of typographical embodiment/disembodiment is seen as a characteristic of communications in print culture, since, unlike the situation on the stage, there is no body physically present in textual relations. Gallagher plays out “the relationship of blackness, authorship, textuality, exchange, and transcendence” (66) in a detailed reading of Oroonoko.
The career of Delarivier Manley becomes an occasion to investigate the cultural significance of fictionality in the reign of Queen Anne. Gallagher begins by noting that authorship became heavily politicized in this period, and the libelous and political nature of Manley’s writings encouraged anonymity. She takes issue with those theoreticians of the novel who see this veiled, allegorical, or disguised writing leading to the creation of fiction as a safe haven from prosecution. Gallagher counters that such allegorical subterfuges had to be easily seen through to make sense and so, rather than denying culpability, these techniques actually signal illicit political intentions. Instead of defending writers from charges of libel, this kind of writing helped to make even more effective libels. “What Manley gained from the allegorical necessity of altering and therefore inventing circumstances was a representational density that we would now call a ‘novelistically’ satisfying story” (101). This explanation, while raising legitimate questions about the signification of allegorical writing, does not, however, come up with an outcome radically different from the conclusions of earlier critics. Gallagher does add the idea that female writers in a time of increased political debate needed anonymity and pseudonymity...