Family Pictures, by GUNNING, Susannah, née Minifie (1740?-1800).

‘to tingle a harpsichord, and play quadrille, includes the whole of female education’
GUNNING, Susannah, née Minifie (1740?-1800).

Family Pictures, A Novel. Containing Curious and Interesting Memoirs of several Persons of Fashion in W-re. By a Lady. In Two Volumes. Vol. I [-II]. London, W. Nicoll, 1764.

First Edition. Two volumes, 12mo (168 x 90 mm), pp. xii, 179; [ii], 214, small marginal stain I, 97-104, show through from the pastedowns affecting several leaves of both volumes, in contemporary speckled calf, single gilt fillet to covers, plain spines with raised bands, numbered in gilt.

A handsome copy of the scarce first edition of Susannah Gunning’s first independent novel, preceded by the collaborative Histories of Lady Frances S --- and Lady Susananah S --- , 1763, which was written with her sister, Margaret, and published by subscription. Set in Worcestershire, Family Pictures focusses on middle-class life and morality and is written partly as an epistolary novel. It contains an interesting preface which ‘blasts inadequate female education’ (Feminist Companion) and talks of novels and circulating libraries as the inevitable refuge of ‘illiterate sisters’ trying to keep up with their ‘pedant’ brothers.
‘It has been, indeed, the custom of the world in general, and consequently of England, to be negligent and backward in training up female minds to literature, the distaff or domestick concerns being allotted them as their proper and most natural province... it is evident, that the generality of mothers instruct their daughters, or cause them to be instructed, merely in such particulars, as are not only useless to society, but likewise highly pernicious. Should Miss be handsome, she is early taught to hold her person in the greatest admiration... She must not learn to write, for fear of becoming round-shouldered, or work, lest she impair her fine eyes. Therefore a little imperfect French, an easy (and too frequently an insufferable) assurance, to tingle a harpsichord, and play quadrille, includes the whole of female education’ (pp. vi-viii).
Susannah Minifie married the unsavoury Captain John Gunning in 1768 and was the mother of the novelist and translator, Elizabeth Gunning. A scandal ensued when Elizabeth opposed her father’s choice of husband. Dubbed the ‘Gunninghiad’ by Walpole, it embroiled the family in years of shameful revelations concerning John Gunning’s behaviour with reputed forgeries, adulteries and accusations of criminal behaviour.
‘SG was most pungent when she was fictionalizing her personal experiences, but her rather innocent novels do not truly reflect the lurid complications attendant on marriage to John Dunning. In her most dramatic scenes, SG tends toward hyperbole, a habit for which Lady Harcourt coined the word ‘minific’... Yet SG’s satirically treated characters often speak with compressed vigor’ (Janice Thaddeus, A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800, p. 144).

ESTC t125378, at BL, Rylands, Bristol and Penn only.

Raven 854.

Keywords: English Literature
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