- Celestina, and: Nature and Art, and: Emma
For more than a decade now, Broadview Press has been producing attractively packaged and reasonably priced scholarly editions of unjustly neglected works. Of the three new editions under review here—Charlotte Smith, Celestina (1791); Elizabeth Inchbald, Nature and Art (1796); and Jane Austen, Emma (1816)—only the last has continued to be regularly republished, read, and written about since its original publication. Within the last decade or so, Nature and Art and Celestina have appeared in a few inexpensive editions, but no scholarly ones. Celestina has also just been published as part of Pickering and Chatto's fourteen-volume set of The Works of Charlotte Smith (2005–7), but priced well out of the range of the average reader.
The Broadview editions of Celestina and Nature and Art are thus particularly valuable. In November 1791, the anonymous reviewer of Celestina in the Critical Review identified Smith and Frances Burney as the two principal novel-writers of their day. While Inchbald was more successful as a dramatist than as a novelist, she wrote at least one best-selling novel and made significant contributions to the development of what modern critics have called the "English Jacobin novel." Celestina and Nature and Art are not their authors' best-known novels. The Broadview editor of Nature and Art, Shawn Lisa Maurer, rightly complains that the disproportionate emphasis on Inchbald's first novel, A Simple Story (1791), has created a skewed perception of her as an author. The Broadview editor of Celestina, Lorraine Fletcher, identifies this work as a key transitional text in Smith's shift away from the "courtship novel" towards her more overtly political novels.
For other reasons, Celestina and Nature and Art are good choices for the Broadview Editions series. Admittedly, neither novel can compare to Emma in unity of design, subtlety of characterization, or command of language. Both suffer from improbable and not entirely coherent plots. Celestina is far too long and the outcome rather predictable even for modern readers unfamiliar with the conventions of the eighteenth-century courtship novel. Although faster paced and arguably more entertaining than Smith's novel, Nature and Art is at once heavy-handed in its didacticism and unclear in its final message. Yet enough happens in both novels to excite the attention [End Page 238] of readers without an academic interest in the period. Smith and Inchbald attempt some interesting experiments in terms of genre. As well as being a courtship novel, Celestina mixes elements from Gothic romance, from what Fletcher calls "Girondin romance," and from the novel of manners. Nature and Art is even more intriguingly hybrid, combining satire and romance with tragedy, and allegory with realism. Despite many type characters, both novels reveal their authors' talent for characterization. Tracing the fortunes of two brothers and their sons, Inchbald is particularly successful in her characterization of the elder William, whose mixture of love for and resentment of his brother Henry is both psychologically plausible and captured with nuance. Celestina contains a number of compelling minor characters, notably the Elphinstones, recognized as having been modelled on Smith and her husband (an autobiographical twist that had become the author's trademark). In the characters of Vavasour and his mistress Emily Cathcart, Smith achieves strikingly unconventional and memorable examples of the libertine and the fallen woman.
Both novels possess considerable intellectual appeal. More explicitly than Austen, Inchbald and Smith engage in a wide range of contemporary intellectual debates and address various social, political, and economic issues. Maurer defends the importance of Nature and Art with the persuasive claim that this novel "represents the writer's most concerted attempt to analyze...