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Jane austen and rhoda: a further postscript to persuasions 20 (1998). (Miscellany).

IN MY BOOK A Bibliography of Jane Austen I quoted some comments on Emma made in 1816 by Maria Edgeworth, ending with the words "it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth thin water gruel!" (71). I took these comments from Marilyn Butler's Maria Edgeworth (44.5); a re-reading of Mrs. Butler's book reveals that she added on the same page: "And the family went on to Frances Jackson's Rhoda, which Maria liked 'much--50%--better than Emma.'"

Maria Edgeworth herself, writing on 24 November 1818 to Miss Waller (aunt of the fourth Mrs. Edgeworth) says: "We have not yet seen any visitors since we came here and have paid only one visit to the Miss Jacksons. Miss Fanny you know is the author of Rhoda--Miss Maria Jackson the author of Dialogues on botany..." (Letters from England 141).

But who was Frances Jackson? I have only now discovered (through the kindness of Christine Penney of Birmingham University Library, which led me to an article published in 1997 by Joan Percy) that her name was in fact Frances Jacson (Maria Edgeworth's spelling was at fault), that she lived from 1754 to 1842, and that she published, as well as Rhoda, four other anonymous novels: Plain Sense (1795), Disobedience (1797), Things by their Right Names (1812), and Isabella (1823)--the first two of the novels being published by William Lane at the Minerva Press--and a pamphlet entitled Everyday Christianity (1816). Copies of all five novels are in fact in the British Library (while I have Isabella, in addition to my copy of Rhoda).

Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Maria Edgeworth's father, had as his second and third wives Honora Sneyd (1751-1780) and her sister Elizabeth Sneyd (1753-1797), daughters of Major Edward Sneyd of Byrkley Lodge, near Lichfield, Staffordshire; Maria's letter of 24 November 1818 was in fact written from Byrkley Lodge, where she was staying with members of the Sneyd family Joan Percy's well-documented article (which is based on family papers), not only reproduces an 1814 watercolor portrait of Frances Jacson aged 60 by Henry Edridge, but also reveals that the novelist and her sister Maria were distantly related to the Sneyd family (whom they regularly visited) through Edward Sneyd's wife. Although there seems to be no evidence of any further direct contact between the Jacsons and Maria Edgeworth, the sisters' connection with the Sneyds offers a source for the otherwise curious place name Byrhley, apparently in Staffordshire, which is mentioned in Rhoda as the home of the heroine's friends Mr. Wyburg and his daughter Frances.

Joan Percy's article also reveals that Rhoda was admired by Sydney Smith (to whom it had been recommended by a friend), and Sydney Smith, in turn, recommended it to Lady Holland, without, apparently, knowing the identity of its author.

I can offer another possible contemporary mention of Rhoda, within the same circle of friends. Lady Anne Romilly wrote to Maria Edgeworth on 7 May 1816: "I have read both Emma and [illegible]. In the first there is so little to remember, and in the last so much that one wishes to forget, that I am not inclined to write about them" (Romilly-Edgeworth Letters 143). Since this letter is to a friend who we know has read and commented on both Emma and Rhoda, might not the work whose title is illegible in Lady Anne Romilly's letter be Rhoda? If so, here is a contemporary who does not praise that novel (however much we must lament her dismissal of Emma!).

David Gilson was a librarian for thirty-four years at the Taylor Institution Library in Oxford, England, the library of Oxford University's Faculty of Mediaeval and Modern Languages. He is the author of A Bibliography of Jane Austen (1982, reissued 1997).


BUTLER, MARILYN. Maria Edgeworth: a Literary Biography. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1972.

EDGEWORTH, MARIA. Letters from England, 1813-1844. Ed. Christina Colvin. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1971.

GILSON, DAVID. A Bibliography of Jane Austen. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1982. Reissued Winchester: St. Paul's Bibliographies; New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll P, 1997.

PERCY, JOAN. "An Unrecognized Novelist: Frances Jacson (1754-1842)." The Bristish Library Journal 23.1 (1997): 81-97.

ROMILLY, SAMUEL HENRY, ed. Romilly-Edgeworth Letters, 1813-1818. London: John Murray, 1936.
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Author:Gilson, David
Publication:Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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