Amanuensis

An amanuensis is ‘a literary assistant, especially one who writes from dictation’. The Ladies Museum Monthly (see below) states that Priscilla’s final three books were written by an amanuensis.

The last three of Priscilla’s books were An Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insect, 1816, A Brief Memoir of the life of William Penn, 1816 and Traveller in Asia, 1817. However this may not reflect the actual time they were written.

But, reading Priscilla’s books chronologically it is clear that a change is taking place in the writing style.  The Traveller in Africa, 1814 possibly being a critical point in that transition. By the end of the book gone is the sparkle and freshness of The Juvenile Travellers and Excursions in North America.  One  telling aspect is the apparent careless abandonment of the character of Sancho who was separated from his friend Arthur in Africa and not referred to again. The critical question is who may have been the literary assistant and where was the line drawn between dictation and writing?  Was it daughter Bell or granddaughter Catherine or another family member?

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Published in: on February 26, 2012 at 6:36 am  Comments (1)  

Travel

In the preface to Juvenile Travellers Priscilla states that it is desirable that children should be acquainted with other countries but travel books are not fit for children because they contain ‘passages of immortal tendency’.

At the end of the book both Laura and Theodore appear to have benefited from their travel experience. ‘Theodore and Laura were materially improved by what they had seen and suffered. From having been accustomed to the manners of different nations, they had learned to behave towards their fellow-creatures, however distinguished from themselves, with respect and humility ; nor could the most grotesque of appearances excite their ridicule or contempt.’

The characters of both children were so improved by their travel experiences that Mr and Mrs Seymour ‘passed their time in virtuous tranquillity’.

 

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Letters

The book Juvenile Travellers contains thirty letters written between the children characters. An earlier book An Introduction to Botany (1796) consisted of letters between two sisters but in Juvenile Travellers the letter writing reaches new heights. When the tour begins Theo, on one of his side trips with his father, writes descriptions to his sister Laura. But early in the book Priscilla introduces the character of Sophia Conyers who is a similar age to Laura and also travelling in Europe with her family. A friendship develops between Laura and Sophia who travels on to Petersberg with her family. The three children agree to write to each other and this is the basis of the letters in the book. Laura is the most prolific writing seventeen letters to Sophia. Theo writes to both girls but a lesser number.  In the following travel books Priscilla does not repeat this complexity of multiple letter writing characters nor do we hear the central voice of a female character.

In the travel books the inclusion of letters describing different places, along with the maps and itineraries added an interesting dimension to the books. Sometimes they  are interspersed in the text as in Juvenile Travellers in other books letters make up the entire book.

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Laura Seymour

Of all the girl characters that Priscilla creates in her writings Laura Seymour one of the characters in the Juvenile Travellers is one of the most significant in terms of gender roles. At the beginning of the family’s European tour Theodore and his father embark on a number of side trips together leaving Laura and her mother as the recipients of letters describing their activities. Part way through the book the family are caught up in a massive earthquake. Laura is buried under rubble and rescued while Theodore is swept away by a tsunami and believed to be drowned. At the end of the book Theodore is found and reunited with his family but, in the duration, Laura becomes her father’s companion and eagerly embraces the activities and information that he shares with her.

In all her travel books this central position of the role of the girl traveller is not repeated. Neither is the number of letters by a single female travel character. Laura Seymour is different and maybe it is no accident that this book was Priscilla’s most successful.

Did she see herself in Laura or was she modelled on one of her sisters? Possibly Lucy who died in 1796? Or was this character a reaction to the criticism of Reflections by setting Laura on a path of education and useful activities.

A detailed analysis of the gender roles in Juvenile Travellers can be found in:

Theresa A. Dougal, ‘Teaching Conduct or Telling a New Tale?: Priscilla Wakefield and The Juvenile Travellers’, In Eighteenth-Century Women: Studies in Their Lives, Work and Culture, 1 (2001): 299-319.

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Juvenile Travellers

The book Juvenile Travellers; Containing the Remarks of a Family using a Tour through the Principle States and Kingdoms of Europe with an account of the Inhabitants, Natural Productions and Curiosities was first published in 1801. It was Priscilla’s most popular book and can be seen as a critical mid-point in her writing of what came before and what would come later.

From her previous works such as Mental Improvement she uses a family of characters in this case the Seymour family. The book is set in the present day and the basis of the book is the family’s tour through Europe as a way of teaching children about other countries.

To achieve that Priscilla takes her characters on interesting and often exciting adventures. She introduces non-family characters and uses scenarios that physically separate characters and require them to write letters to each other describing their experience.

Along with the interesting text Juvenile Travellers is the first of Priscilla’s book to include a folded map and other features such as lists of the places visited.

Digital copy of the nineteenth edition of Juvenile Travellers

Published in: on October 29, 2009 at 4:50 am  Leave a Comment