Jane Barker

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The Entertaining Novels of Mrs. Jane Barker

Jane Barker (1652–1732) was an English poet and novelist of the early 18th century. The Amours of Bosvil and Galesia (1713) was considered her most successful work. A staunch Jacobite, she followed King James II of England into exile at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in France shortly after James’ defeat in the Glorious Revolution (1688). During her exile, she wrote a group of political poems, "A Collection of Poems Referring to the Times" (1701), which conveyed her anxiety towards the political future of England. She later became a novelist and wrote Exilius; or, The Banished Roman (1715), A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies (1723), and The Lining of the Patch Work Screen (1726). Barker was never married and her works show a strong lack of interest in marriage.


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Barker family

Jane Barker was born in May 1652, in the village of Blatherwick, Northamptonshire in England. She was the only daughter, and the second of three surviving children, of Thomas and Anne Barker. Thomas Barker was one of the Secretaries of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England.

Jane’s mother belonged to a Cornish gentry family–the Connocks — which produced a number of army officers who provided traceable evidences of Catholicism in the family. A major, William Connock, quit his Dutch service in order to follow James II — the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and who was forced into exile in France after the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

Accordingly, the Catholicism circulating around the Connock family had a major influence on Jane, who also followed James II into exile at St-Germain from 1689 to 1704. In 1662, the Barker family moved to a manor house in Wilsthorp, Lincolnshire, where Thomas Barker held a lease to some 80 acres (320,000 m2) of farm. Jane lived here from 1662 to 1717, with intervals in London and St. Germain.

Like other families of the gentry class, the Barkers dedicated their limited resources to the education of the eldest son and heir, Edward, who received a B.A. in 1672 and an M.A. in 1675 at St. John's College, Oxford. However, Edward’s premature death in 1675 made Jane an heiress to her parents’ property. Upon her father’s death in 1681, Jane inherited the Wilsthorpe manor house and the property in Northamptonshire, while her younger brother, Henry, was left a sum of only ten pounds.

Literary sociability

Barker’s earliest work, Poetical Recreations (1688), can be viewed as a part of an ongoing social discourse. For example, one of the poems in this compilation is addressed to the local rector, George Hawen, to whom Barker expressed her gratitude for presenting her with two books, The Reasonableness of Christianity and The History of King Charles the First.

While the first part of this two-part compilation comprises Barker’s own poems addressed to her friends, the second part contains the poems written by Barker’s friends addressed to Barker herself. Described as written by "several Gentlemen of the Universities, and Others," the second part of Poetical Recreations has an intense aura of collegiality, with the contributors of the second part often identified as Barker’s friends from Cambridge or Oxford University. The publisher, Benjamin Crayale, also contributed twelve poems in Part Two and expressed his admiration for Barker’s literary taste.

Barker’s network of literary friendship nourished her earliest efforts as a poet. Unlike her later works, "Poetical Recreations" often conveys personal matters which show the sociability of a young female writer. Described on the title page as "Occasionally written by Mrs. Jane Barker," Part One of this compilation comprises more than fifty items, some of which were later copied into the Magdalen Manuscript. Compiled sometime after 1701, this manuscript contains Barker’s note expressing her concern that the selections from Poetical Recreations were published "without her consent" in 1688 and are "now corrected by her own hand." This brief note in the Magdalen Manuscript indicates that Barker may not have initially intended for the selections in Poetical Reactions to be read by the public. In order to make her verses more presentable for the public, she made a few changes before their release: she removed personal references as well as subjects involving private emotions, such as family sorrow, which she did not consider suitable reading for people other than her circle of literary friends.

Medical career

A 1685 advertisement entitled "Dr. Barker’s Famous Gout Plaister" provides physical evidence that Barker’s medical practice did exist. Sold for five shillings a roll at the bookshop of Benjamin Crayale (Barker’s first publisher), the plaster was said to have the power of "effect[ing] a perfect cure" within "twelve hours time." The advertisement was found on the last page of the anonymous literary work, Delightful and Ingenious Novels: being choice and excellent stories of amours, tragical and comical (1685). Corroborating evidences can also be found in Barker’s medical poems and novels: passages in A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies give detailed accounts of the medical practice of its heroine, Galesia (often identified by literary critics as Barker’s literary incarnation), who dispenses doctoral advice and prescribes medicine right out of her lodging.

There is no recorded evidence suggesting that Barker had any formal medical training, or sought a license (as many women of her time did) to establish herself as an authority. However, passages from A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies indicate that her elder brother may have given her an erudite medical education; in addition, her medical poem, "Anatomy" (found in Poetical Recreations), reveals her extensive knowledge of the academic medicine of her time.

Faith and exile

Barker was baptized on May 17, 1652 according to the rites of the Church of England; however, she converted to Catholicism under the Catholizing reign of James II (of England), between 1685 and 1688. After James’ defeat by the Prince of Orange (William III) in the Glorious Revolution, London became a dangerous place for Catholics. This prompted Barker, along with 40,000 other people, to seek refuge in France. Once there, she took lodging at St-Germain-en-Laye, where James II established a court-in-exile in an old royal palace borrowed from Louis XIV, from 1689 to 1704.

Barker’s Jacobite involvement is further proven in her letter to James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde, who had been organizing a Jacobite invasion from France. Dated March 19, 1718, the letter implicitly informs Ormonde that his supporters in England await his invasion. However, the letter was intercepted in that same year by the British Secrete Office, the anti-Jacobite intelligence organization. Since Barker’s name and handwriting were unknown to the government authorities, it is suspected that she was used as a ghost-writer for the letter—a technique used to protect plotters whose identities and handwriting are already well-known by authorities.

Also linking Barker to the Jacobites is a letter addressed to an unidentified person in 1730. This letter further underscores Barker’s firm belief that James II—not William III or his wife Mary II—was the legitimate ruler of England. Enclosed in the letter was a rather odd present: a tumour expelled from her breast years before she wrote the letter.

While she apologized to the receiver for sending such a seemingly inappropriate present, she announced her intention to use the breast tumour as evidence of the intercession of the "holy king" (James II). As she describes in the letter, James’ blood, soaked in a rag, had been applied to her breast to cause the expulsion of the tumour cells. Barker, along with her contemporaries, believed the miraculous bodily event to be a signifier of the divine will and message conveyed through the human flesh, confirming James II as the legitimate ruler.

Political poems

During the period of her exile at St-Germain, Barker wrote a collection of twenty political poems, titled "A Collection of Poems Referring to the Times" (1701). To be presented as a New Year’s gift for the Prince of Wales (the 12-year-old James Francis Stuart), this compilation became one of the most important contributors to Barker's literary fame. The collection contains themes of England’s various political affairs from 1685 to 1691, including the disasters after the Glorious Revolution (1688) and James’ defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland (1690). Comprising nearly ninety quarto pages of loyalist verse, the collection of poems vents the anguish of a Jacobite poet and her anxiety towards the political future of England.

Interestingly, the making of this collection of poems involved the help of a male amanuensis, Barker’s cousin William Connock. Having suffered from cataracts, Barker decided to undergo a couching operation in 1696, which involved the insertion of a needle into her eye to remove the clouded lens. The operation worsened her eyesight, and she was unable to produce legible handwriting suitable for presentation at court. As a result, she sought the assistance of her cousin, who permitted the presentation of the collection of poems to the Prince of Wales.

Pertinent prose fictions

From 1714 to 1725, Barker wrote a series of novels, beginning in 1714 with Exilius; or, The Banished Roman and ending in 1725 with The Lining of the Patch Work Screen. In 1714, the death of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, spurred a deluge of pro-Stuart writings expressing anxieties toward the succession of the Hanoverian George I and the change of ministry. Among other pro-Stuart writings, Barker’s Exilius (1715) was published by Edmund Curll, who saw its market potential during this period of political upheaval. An old fashioned heroic romance, Exilius applauded the loyalty and moral integrity held by Stuart supporters, whose determination and steadfast adherence to the Jacobite Ideals permitted them to triumph over adverse circumstances.

Barker’s subsequent novels, however, were less optimistic. The new Hanoverian regime resolved to crush all Jacobite and Catholic oppositions, many members of which having been executed, imprisoned, or forced into exile. Shortly after the hanging of the Jacobite conspirator Christopher Layer and the exile of Bishop Francis Atterbury in 1723, Barker published the novel A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies, which develops themes of frustration and failed attempts to achieve spiritual integrity, in response to the bleak events of recent history.

The sequel, The Lining of the Patch Work Screen (1726), explores a Jacobite’s dilemma in pacifying the rival demands of the new Hanoverian regime and his/her spiritual inclination.

'The Christian Pilgrimage'

In 1718, Barker published her translation of a French Catholic devotional manual, The Christian Pilgrimage, originally written by the French prelate François Fénelon. Translated as a response to the severe government reprisals on the Catholic community in England in early 1716, this devotional manual was intended to reduce any further egregious movements against the Catholic community by reframing Protestants’ understanding of Catholicism. Fénelon’s pleasant personality permitted Barker to produce a refreshing take on the Catholic image, counterbalancing the "superstitious" and "tyrannical" Catholic stereotype of English society.

Popular novels

Barker’s status as an entertaining novelist does not emerge until the publication of Love Intrigues; or, the History of the Amours of Bosvil and Galesia (1713). The novel develops themes of an adolescent girl’s coming of age to experience sexual awareness. Due to popular demand, it was reissued in 1719, 1735, and again in 1743, along with Exilius, in the two-volume The Entertaining Novels of Mrs. Jane Barker. It was suspected that while Barker may have proposed Love Intrigues to be its original title, the publisher Edmund Curll must have added the term "Amours," in order to better suit the general appetite of the commercial industry.

The publication of The Amours of Bosvil and Galesia marked the transition of Barker’s literary works from an aristocratic and court-centred literary culture to a democratic literary system. Like Barker’s previous literary work "A Collection of Poems Referring to the Times" (presented to the Prince of Wales), The Amours of Bosvil and Galesia was originally written to be presented to the members of aristocratic families. Dedicated to the countess of Exeter (who married John Cecil, 6th Earl of Exeter), the novel was not intended for print originally, as indicated by Barker’s apology to the Countess in the 1719 revision of the novel, in which she expresses that the “unauthorized” printing and publication of the novel in 1713 had emerged to be a distressing surprise.

Involving a female narrator, The Amours of Bosvil and Galesia dwells on a personal and female-oriented narrative. This coincides with Barker’s original intention of gaining the sympathy of her female patron, The Countess of Exeter. However, Barker’s subsequent novels reach for a wider readership, as evidenced in A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies (1723): featuring a set of mix-gendered narrators–three men and two women—the novel establishes an open and communal atmosphere, which widens the possibilities of its readership. In addition, a variety of themes in the Patch-Work narrative (crimes, seduction, and betrayal) largely expands the market potential of Barker’s works as she sought to satisfy the appetite of the general audience in the ever expanding democratic literary system of her times.

Gender issues

Barker’s literary works often involve gender relationships that intrigue literary critics. A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies (1723) involves conflicts between the two genders, and the sufferings of separation between lovers.

The theme of celibacy appeared previously in Exilius (1715), which took on the theme of gender relationships in quite different terms: the heroine, princess Galecia, is a highly fashionable character to the seventeenth century aristocratic woman of England and France. A celibate woman, she belongs to the tradition of female martial valor and enjoys her freedom from men.

In particular, Barker’s Poetical Recreations contains Barker’s challenge of the status-quo of female subordination. The collection of poems offers Barker’s own criticism on gender issues, exemplified by the poem "An Invitation to my Friends at Cambridge," which satirizes the exclusion of woman from intellectual life, as the speaker of the poem innocently decides that the "Tree of Knowledge" would not grow in the "cold Clime" of a woman’s body, since the humoral theory suggests that the female sex is cooler and moister than the male sex.

In "To Ovid’s Heroines in his Epistles," Barker expresses her grievances with Ovid’s Epistles, Translated by Several Hands (1680), a text which exhibits feminine abjection, describing the sorrows and despairs of abandoned women; by contrast, Barker’s poem aims to link the idea of dignity with independence, as evidenced in her medical poem "On the Apothecary’s Filing My Bills amongst the Doctors." In this poem, the speaker celebrates her dignified role as a "fam’d Physician," a woman who is emotionally and financially independent. In a mixture of humour and zeal, Barker’s character could "almost bless" a previous lover, who has abandoned her, since this action has now freed her from being the subordinated figure in the relationship who only studied "how to love and please" her partner.

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