Charlotte Smith’s ‘Manon L’Escaut’ Now at the Chawton House Library

Our happy Band of Sheep Finders went off track recently with helping in the acquisition of a rare copy of Charlotte Smith’s Manon L’Escaut – not a Lost Sheep from the Godmersham Park Library, but an important work not in the Chawton House library for early women writers – and it should be. So our generous group of donors [North American Friends of Chawton House and GLOSS] stepped up and contributed to bringing it to Chawton – here is curator Emma Yandle’s post from the CH website, and with hearty thanks to all those GLOSSians who helped put it on the shelves next to Smith’s other works.

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Chawton House has acquired a rare copy of Charlotte Smith’s (1749-1806) first novel, 
Manon L’Escaut: or, The Fatal Attachment

We are delighted to announce the acquisition of Manon L’Escaut: or, The Fatal Attachment. A French Story (London: Printed for T. Cadell in the Strand, 1786) for our historic books and manuscript collection.

This first – and only – edition of Charlotte Smith’s debut novel is exceptionally rare, with only two other copies listed in private collections in the UK. Following the success of her Elegiac Sonnets in 1784, Smith began her successful career as a novelist with Manon L’Escaut appearing at the end of the 1785 (the title-page listing the following year, as was customary).

Ostensibly a translation of Abbé Prévost’s 1731 novel of the same name, it was conceived by Smith for ‘some English friends who did not read the French’, leading her to ‘translate the whole; or’ – as she pointedly notes – ‘rather to write it anew in English.’[1]  Her wording is important for she substantially adapts the original story, changing the characterisations of the criminal Manon, and the hero, the Chevalier des Grieux, in an act of creative translation that rewards further study.[2]  It is by far her rarest work, likely due to charges of plagiarism levied by critic George Steevens, which had a terrible impact on sales. Smith declared that she would rather ‘withdraw the book than let Cadell [the publisher] suffer.’[3]

Smith is one of the most important woman writers of the Romantic period, who made substantial contributions to poetry and to the Gothic. Manon L’Escaut is an important work within Smith’s oeuvre, as the transition between her poetry and novel writing.

With this acquisition, Chawton House’s collection contains the complete set of Charlotte Smith’s novels in their first editions. We are grateful for the support of GLOSS (The Godmersham Lost Sheep Society) and individual donors to aid in this purchase.—

[1] ‘Translator’s Preface’ to the above work.
[2] See Terry Hale, ‘Translation in Distress: Cultural Misappropriation and the Construction of the Gothic’, in European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange 1760-1960, ed. By Avril Horner. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp.17-38.
[3] Catherine Dorset, ‘Charlotte Smith” in Walter Scott, Miscellaneous Prose Works, 6 vols (Edinburgh: Cadell, 1827), vol. iv, p.46

[Images from the catalogue of Stuart Bennett Rare Books, used with permission.] ]

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You can read about Charlotte Smith [Husband a gambler! 12 children! Debtor’s prison! Lawsuits!] in this Chawton House biography by Ruth Facer: https://chawtonhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Charlotte-Smith.pdf

A Bibliography of Smith’s works: [see the CH library catalogue for what they have in the collection]

  1.  Elegaic Sonnets and other Essays (London: J. Dodsley, 1784)
  2.  Manon Lascaut, or, The Fatal Attachment (trans.) from Abbé Prevost (London: T. Cadell, 1785) (later withdrawn)
  3.  The Romance of Real Life, a translation of selected tales from Gayot de  Pitaval’s Les Causes Celebres. 3 vols. (London: T. Cadell, 1787)
  4.  Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle. 4 vols. (London: T. Cadell, 1788)
  5.  Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake. 5 vols. (London: T. Cadell, 1789)
  6.  Celestina: A Novel. 4 vols. (London: T. Cadell, 1791)
  7.  Desmond: A Novel. 3 vols. (London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1792)
  8.  The Emigrants, a poem, in two books (London: T. Cadell, 1793)
  9. The Old Manor House: A Novel. 4 vols. (London: J. Bell, 1793)
  10. The Wanderings of Warwick, a sequel to The Old Manor House (London: J. Bell, 1794)
  11. The Banished Man: A Novel. 4 vols. (London: T. Cadell junior and W. Davies, 1794)
  12. Rural Walks: In Dialogues: Intended for the Use of Young Persons. 2 vols. (London: Cadell and Davies, 1795)
  13. Montalbert: A Novel. 3 vols. (London: Sampson Low, 1795)
  14. Rambles Farther: A Continuation of Rural Walks: In Dialogues Intended for the Use of Young Persons. 2 vols. (London: Cadell and Davies, 1796)
  15. Marchmont: a Novel. 4 vols. (London: Sampson Low, 1796)
  16. A Narrative of the loss of the Catharine, Venus and Piedmont Transports, and the Thomas, Golden Grove and Aeolus Merchant-ships near Weymouth, on Wednesday the 18th November last. Drawn up from information taken on the spot by Charlotte Smith, and published for the Benefit of an unfortunate Survivor from one of the Wrecks, and her infant child (London: Sampson Low, 1796)
  17. Elegiac sonnets, and other poems. Vol.II. (London: T. Cadell, junior, and W. Davies, 1797)
  18. Minor morals, interspersed with sketches of natural history, historical anecdotes, and original stories. 2 vols. (London: Sampson Low, 1798)
  19. The Young Philosopher: a Novel. 4 vols. (London: Cadell and Davies, 1798)
  20. What is she? A comedy, in five acts, as performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. (London: Longman and Rees, 1799)
  21. The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer: containing narratives of various description. Volumes 1-3 (London: Sampson Low, 1800-1)
  22. The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer. Volumes 4-5 (London: Longman and Rees, 1802)
  23. Conversations, Introducing Poetry; chiefly on subjects of natural history, for the use of children and young persons, with an engraved portrait of Charlotte Smith, by J. Conde. 2 vols. (London: J. Johnson, 1804)
  24. A History of England, from the Earliest Records, to the Peace of Amiens in a Series of Letters to a Young Lady at School. 3 vols. Volumes 1 and 2 by Charlotte Smith. (London: Richard Phillips, 1806)
  25. Beachy Head, Fables, and Other Poems (London J. Johnson, 1807)
  26. A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons. 2 vols. (London: J. Johnson, 1807)
©2022, Reading with Austen Blog

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