A Paper Delivered at the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference22-25 March 2006, Atlanta, Georgia. "Paratexts." Chair: Caroline Breashears. Panelists: Stephen Szilagyi, Pat Rogers, Evan Davis. I publish the paper on this website to provide a preface for an etext edition of Halkett's autobiography and to make the paper widely available, complete with scholarly notes.
A hole in the manuscript big enough to put your finger through:' the misframing of Anne Murray Halkett's autobiography
by Ellen Moody
Often the paper was scorched a deep brown in the middle of the most important sentence. Just when we thought to elucidate a secret that has puzzled historians for a hundred years, there was a hole big enough to put your finger through" (Virginia Woolf, Orlando)
When a reader begins the autobiography written by the 17th century gentlewoman, Anne Murray Halkett (1623-1699), she is immediately confronted by a missing paratext. Halkett's original two page-opening was torn away, and all that has been left is a fragmentary paragraph of pious religious reflection and a sentence telling Halkett's name, her father's position at the Stuart court, and her second husband, James Halkett's name and title (Loftis, Memoir, 11). As she reaches the end of a multi-episode story about a quarter of the way into, and a dramatic confession by Halkett 3/4s the way through the extant book, she is again confronted by the absence of two ripped out pages. If, undaunted, she reads on and begins Halkett's first experiences politicking as the wife of a Pro-Stuart Scots landowner in Cromwellian Scotland, she is finally thwarted by a broken-off sentence in a passage which begins a description of political maneuvers and once led into an unguessable number of pages (Loftis, Memoir, 87). I will first describe the misframings of Anne Halkett's book these absent pages have facilitated, and then suggest that by reading what is left of Halkett's memoir in tandem with memoirs by women hers resembles we can understand Halkett's perspective. My argument is an inattention to the nature of the real sexual contract (as Carole Pateman called it) that disconnects women from society at large has prevented scholars from hearing the story Halkett told.).
Distorted descriptions of Halkett's manuscript occur in a number of studies of Halkett's book which describe it as if we can say for sure what was in the missing parts, and as if this remnant of a text can be taken to represent the original story's shape. We are, for example, confidently told that Halkett's opening was wholly devotional and framed her book as a religiously- rooted confession whose source is Halkett's guilt about her sexual life. Halkett's book is then a somewhat unconventional spiritual autobiography. Sara Mendellson's remark after studying what has survived of Stuart women's life-writing is apposite here: it's "no accident that three- quarters of the [texts by women that survive are devotional in nature". Families saved "tangible evidence" of piety and destroyed whatever they thought might threaten their reputation. The Halkett family preserved a vast sea of Anne Halkett's exemplary meditations in the form of 21 folio and manuscript volumes and 30 stitched books. The probability, then, is the destroyed matter was not devotional.
I tend to agree with David Stevenson who suggests part of Halkett's opener foregrounded her Scots lineage, though his reading reflects a different misframing: Stevenson titles his discussion, "A Lady and Her Lovers" and discusses Halkett's book alongside male adventure memoirs of "things done." Halkett's narrative differs from those by men because the adventures she had which count are (to Stevenson's mind) sexual in nature: Anne Murray had been for a time dclass, someone "cut loose" from her social origins," and hence as she began her book she was anxious to assert her niche in the Stuart social order. It is probably true that in the summer of 1648 Anne Murray married Joseph Bampfield, soldier, courier, agent and spy on his own behalf and for the Stuarts, Scottish pro-Stuart royalists, Cromwell's government and the Dutch republican leader, John de Witt. Bampfield was not only hated by Charles II and distrusted by many of Charles's English supporters, he was already married.
We are told equally confidently Halkett's book is memorable because it's a novel in embryo. Several scholars have argued Halkett dramatized her story as an active quest for a suitable husband: the manuscript now consists mostly of, and was meant to be, three linked love stories. The missing ending allows such readers to posit a brief ending of wedded contentment. They align Halkett's people with Jane Austen's characters, and the missing gaps in the manuscript become Halkett's socially unacceptable admissions about her sexual experiences. From a comparison of Halkett's narrative with Simon Couper's 1701 biography of her, I have concluded David Stevenson is again probably more accurate when he suggests in the first gap was Halkett's description of her mother's death. Halkett may have reflected on her and her mother's antagonistic relationship, which dominates the opening quarter of the extant book. The second gap probably contains some political commentary as it leads into a memorable scene where Anne Murray helps Bampfield's ally, Alexander Lindsay, Lord Balcarres and his wife, Lady Anna Mackenzie, flee English Parliamentarian soldiers, and secures their children's safety and preserves a once famous library (Loftis, Memoir 73).
Descriptions of Halkett's book as a conventional romance glide over Anne's numerous carefully-recorded courageous political acts, e.g., she helped Bampfield rescue the young James, Duke of York, from imprisonment in London, and nursed wounded survivors of the Battle of Dunbar (Loftis, Memoir, 24-26, 55-56). This is not to say the book is brought into accurate focus as the political narrative of an adventurous fringe person. Halkett's focus is more on how she was accepted into communities of respectable Scots gentlewomen, and how from within such groups she acted effectively on behalf of her political beliefs, as in, for example, her public debate with Colonel Robert Overton, a Cromwell-supporter (Loftis, Memoir, 60-61, 201n.). Like her puritan contemporaries, Anne saw herself as having a political role; unlike English but like Scots Royalist women, she would have to act outside the networking of courts. If we used the categories of French scholars studying 17th and 18th century French women's memoirs, we could understand Halkett's purpose through the way her book has been used: like these French memoirists, Halkett achieved her purpose as a historian of "particulars," for, once published, her memoir has supplied later scholars with information found nowhere else.
The nature of Halkett's book mutates in accordance with the genre in which it's described, phases of feminism, and the critic's gender. For example, in L. M. Cumming's early 20th century popular account of Halkett's life, Cumming's story of (I quote) a "masterful" "generous" "vigorous" adventurer anticipates Emily Hahn's perception of Apha Behn in her 1949 novel. Thus Cumming:
"Her life was eventful, with the interest of a rapidly moving novel, and her character was refreshingly many-sided. She mingled piety [and learning] ... contrived to indulge whole-heartedly in complicated romantic experiences, in which strict virtue went hand-in- hand with startling unconventionality. She was strong-minded and a woman of action ... destined for real adventure in all its picturesque trappings, and she had a fertile pen."A recent spate of articles celebrating Halkett's 4 and 1/2 year relationship with Bampfield, as pleasurable "romance" make visible the return of third-wave feminism to Cumming's designations. Gone are Halkett's ruminations over her "perpetual disquiet," her "shame" about how others "reproach" her, forgotten the "distraught" (all Halkett's words, Loftis, Memoir, 29) episodes of psychosomatic illness brought on by her understandable inability to decide what to do once she was told Bampfield's wife was living and she must separate herself from him.
Paul Delany's dismissal of a fourth long episode in the book has often been quoted: this "tedious" episode reveals Halkett's "neurotic over-sensitivity" and is "a tempest in a teacup, to which no male autobiographer would give so much importance." Halkett wrote this episode to demonstrate she made a mistake to entrust a clergyman with the truth she had married Bampfield because he immediately used the information to damage her reputation further (Loftis, Memoir, 35-36, 39-40), and himself attempted flattery as a prologue to sexual aggression, after which her friend's husband began to treat her with a disrespectful familiarity that ignited her friend's jealousy and distrust. As Anne Murray, Halkett was in Naworth castle in northern England as this friend's dependent companion, and found a new place only after Bampfield sent her a letter which assured her that she would be welcome among the royalist Scots Presbyterians he was working for (Loftis, Memoir, 49). In 1650 to be a female member of the Pro-Stuart factions and perceived as cast out from respectability was to encounter sexual harassment, distrust (Loftis, Memoir, 42, 46, 49-50), homelessness, and (as Halkett shows when she arrived in Edinburgh) molestation when she lodged alone for a single night (Loftis, Memoir, 63-64). Halkett devoted 16 pages to this story because the way she had been treated threatened her identity and bodily security.
An anachronistic and sexist failure of imagination is responsible for the insistent reading of Halkett's story as a confessional romance with a happy ending. We persist in reading women's stories as inevitably "narrative[s] of sexual conduct." Since Halkett attempts to hide her transgression without lying, and suffers acutely, she gains the sympathy of conventional readers; professional readers evade her story's resemblance to the "scandal memoir" strategically since discussions of women's memoirs as scandal chronicles about transgressive sex, whether or not the author approves, still work to distort and depreciate the woman writer. It was once not unusual to find descriptions of Anne Murray as a woman who in life needed protection, as a writer needs defense, and whose text creates "soft spots" in male scholars' hearts. In a review published in Modern Philology in 1981 (not all that long ago), Anne Halkett is described as an "adulteress." Scholars visibly sigh with relief when their errant heroine marries James Halkett. By contrast, Anne Murray put off this second marriage for three years and goes to London in order to settle her debts (Loftis, Memoir, 79-84) lest James Halkett be liable for them; even though she is twice thrown into debtor's prison (Loftis, Memoir, 81, 85), she is reluctant to invite her new bethrothed to come to London and obtain the Halkett family lawyer's services for her. Like other early modern women, Anne Halkett considered her personal solvency a feature of a woman's pre- marital rank: she rightly anticipated she'd have a problem gaining respect from the other Halketts she would have to deal with.
In the first paper I presented on Anne Halkett at the East Central meeting of our society, I used Simon Couper's biography of Halkett, which was based on the manuscript before it was mutiliated, Joseph Bampfield's memoir, and Halkett's diary and devotional papers, to suggest in the original manuscript Halkett covered her 14 years of marriage to James Halkett, and poured her last 29 years into diary entries kept with, but not written up as part of it. I suggested she wrote her autobiography to recreate her respectability and her role in the pro-Stuart order, and demonstrated she presented herself as having survived the war by becoming a companion to titled women. I concluded the problem we have when we approach women's autobiographies is we read backwards from memories of conventional 19th and 20th century domestic novels, and the preponderance of devotional material that has been allowed to survive. For this study I approached Halkett's book through contemporary and near contemporary women's autobiographies in France and England. I discovered today's continued misframing of Anne Halkett's memoir is symptomatic of a desire to downplay characteristics still thought to mar texts and a continued resistance to allowing women to "tell the stories they want to tell."
A sufficient number of narratives and letters by seventeenth and eighteenth-century women autobiographers have survived where the woman writer intends to show how the way she was treated sexually determined her fate to permit the following conclusion: the story not heard, altered or destroyed is that of a woman, propertyless by definition, who is continually at risk of convenient expulsion from her local community. I've read many and here focus on five where, unlike Halkett, the woman was able to publish her autobiography during her lifetime. Including Halkett, all six contain stories of how the narrator coped when she found herself mistreated because of a more powerful person's sexual behavior to her and required to live in ways she could not accept as a life (e.g., in poverty, isolated or under surveillance). Hortense and Marie Mancini, Francis Hawes Vane, Catherine Jemmat, and George Anne Bellamy's memoirs manifest the same paradigms and make visible the contradictory and punitive sexual norms and lack of money which shape Halkett's story. Halkett wrote her book in 1677/78, prompted perhaps by the Mancini memoirs.. As two arcs in Halkett's memoir concern two pursuits and promises of marriage (Loftis, Memoir, 11-22), which result in public humiliation for Halkett, so two in Bellamy's apology tell of her long-term relationships with men who pursued her and two who married her bigamously. Like Halkett, Jemmat and Bellamy lacked the status, connections and money to attract most socially desirable partners; once Cardinal Mazarin was dead and their dowries handed over to their husbands, the Mancini sisters were vulnerable to erasure.
Like many pre-20th century women's autobiographies, all six are "discontinuous" or interrupted, fragmentary works which end abruptly or have been severely censored; Halkett's and Jemmat's books include sections which manifest sudden startling transformations, where coherent modes of candid self-discovery or objective clear narrative suddenly turns disingenuous or anecdotal. Halkett's lacks its paratextual opening; Marie and Hortence Mancini and Bellamy's texts have been attributed to men, and Marie and Hortense 's framed by derogatory paratexts. Vane's memoir appears as part of a novel by Tobias Smollett. Catherine Jemmat's text ends abruptly (1-68), and is followed by a long inset story she attributes to a Lord D who heard it in a coffee house (69-96). The Mancini memoirs and Catherine Jemmat's first book are all too short and directed to too specific a goal to have the cyclical repetitious feel of Halkett's and Bellamy's, but none have a climactic achievement or final closure, and all six reveal defensive and distrustful subjects who present themselves as oppressed, harassed, and make a point of showing how they were treated badly by a woman on whose friendship they were supposed to depend. None of their plot-design are quests, but reactive.
Like most women's autobiographies still, five write their lives in ways that "ground their identity in their relationships with others." (Vane is the exception.) For Marie Mancini and Anne Halkett an adversarial relationship with a mother alienated them from home; against their own interests, Hortense Mancini and George Anne Bellamy cling to their mothers. Bellamy's mother enabled her to become an actress; she gave her mother her children to bring up while she worked, and was with her mother when her mother died not long before she herself died. Catherine Jemmat's significant other is her father with whom she has a destructive relationship: he is willing to allow one candidate for her hand to harass her and coerces her into marrying a brutal man for money. The Mancini sisters are as dependent on one another, as Halkett upon her sister, Elizabeth, Lady Newton, and Halkett, Jemmat and Bellamy upon female friends, patrons, and their maids. Pregnancies, demands they care for children, and a sense of inward responsibility towards their own children are a determining constant in their lives. Hortense left her husband when he attempted to destroy her son's inheritance. Halkett was needed by pregnant titled women.
Nonetheless, pivotally, four leave a husband or man they are sexually involved with even though they are supported by him; three insist on staying with a man they are not legally tied to. They write to prove that whether they freely entered the relationship or were abducted or deceived, they cannot return to their original community. They are profoundly shocked, and become depressed, ill, at first unable to act or then flee when they discover law and custom disable them. Their stories are intended to demonstrate that far from being the solution, marriage customs as then practised have caused their misfortunes. This is how Mary Astell understood Hortense's memoir in her Serious Reflections on Marriage.
Hortense Mancini, Francis Vane, and Catherine Jemmat build their cases explicitly. They appear to have thought that, once described, their husbands' outrageous and cruel behavior would persuade others they should be enabled to live separately from them. After Hortense records the judges' requirement she resume conjugal life with Mazarin (in the 1677 English translation by P. Porter), she writes:
"I confess my Constancy was not of strength enough to receive so great a shock of so many Afflictions altogether. I fell into a deep Melancholy, and these kind of proceedings leaving me no hope for an Accommodation, I left off thoughts of returning to Brussels (Mancini Englished by Porter, 82; cf. Hortense Mancini, Memoir, 75).
Then far from comforting her, her relatives "persecute" her, and her text becomes a morass of vexatious argument, charge and counter-charge, very like Anne Murray's dramatization of her time in Naworth castle. To Mancini's tale of emotional abuse, unfounded sexual jealousy and mean capricious conduct, Vane and Jemmat add their husbands' physical brutality. Although Jemmat's husband was also an alcoholic and isolated and bankrupted them, she feels a need to prove she remained sexually faithful to her husband to obtain sympathy (II, 24-34, 55-57, 92-94); Vane's story is still retold in hostile or salacious ways by others since she is frank about her desire to enjoy sex with men she is attracted to, control her life and takes on male partners for financial support.
The story told is of women excluded from social protection once they marry. In response Hortense's mid-20th century male editor annotates the episode where the judges refuse to grant her a separation to inform us she may have been pregnant by one of her male servants (Descot, 213n.68); this defames her and might for some readers justify her husband's jealousy and her family's desire to "imprison" (Hortense's word) her in a convent; like Bellamy, Frances Vane has been treated as incompetent and bizarrely prosmiscuous; the difference is Vane is called sociopathic and her book aligned with Mary Delaviere Manley's slanderous novels.
Like Hortense Mancini's, George Anne Bellamy's autobiography continues to be read as an incriminating document. Her last biographer presented her as "notoriously" a second-rate actress whose extravagance and naviete led to her death in destitution; a recent literary study arraigns her book as a "suspect enterprise" where we find poses of sensibility meant to excuse "failure".,a href="http://www.jimandellen.org/halkett/ahole.notes.html#41"> Bellamy's behavior when told the man she thought she had married was married to someone else is strikingly like that of Halkett: first hysteria, then illness, then a persistent pretense of faith in the man's word, and at long last, a sudden separation from him. Like Halkett's, Bellamy's reactions call to mind Mary Wortley Montagu's dilemma in her Italian Memoir: how do you disclose what will be held against you?
The story as yet unrecognized in Bellamy's case is of an adolescent girl and then woman subject to failures of nerve (more than once on the stage), nervous collapses, and paralyzing depression. For example, when, at the age of 15, Bellamy is abducted, and abandoned in a house outside London, she remains there indecisively, retreats to a relative's home in Sussex, and loses the niche she had gained in Rich's theatre company. Significantly, her biographer assumes she is a liar and so simply says she colluded in her abduction. She writes she dreaded the probable shaming, was fearful of the powerful lord and his friends and stupefied (I:70-73) and, when her mother joined her, wrested a legacy due her. Bellamy slowly develops a literary and psychological vocabulary which enables her more accurately to describe if not understand her behavior. At Tunbridge Wells, now a successful actress and unmarried mother, she is asked point-blank if she is really married; if not, an important patroness will drop her. Bellamy finds herself unable to lie, "humbled," with "a mind" somehow "exhausted" and "chagrined," and, saying she is a Dido without an Aeneas, that night allows herself to be drawn into a card game where she loses a large sum and so has to return to London. Her "extravagance" (bought up repeatedly by her detractors) was in this instance her way of forcing herself to flee mortification (2:97-99).
Tellingly, the scenes in Halkett's autobiography which most consistently show readers at variance with her concern the supposed brief happy ending. After James Halkett wrests from Anne Murray a confession she knows Bampfield's wife is living, and she recovers from another breakdown, he sends his ally, a respected clergyman, David Dickson, to Anne to persuade her she is legally able to and should marry him. Scholars and critics alike read this episode as follows: "good sense in the persons of Mr Dickson and Sir James Halkett prevailed; and if her conscience was never totally clear, she escaped the destructive self-torture of Richardson's Clarissa" (Loftis, Memoirs, xiv). But Bampfield had been no Lovelace, and Dickson's coercive responses to Anne's confessions did not come close to quieting her conscience.).
As I have time only to deal briefly with Anne and Dickson's several meetings, I will have to leave my readers to John Loftis's excellent revisionary edition of Bampfield's memoir which bears out Halkett's description of Bampfield as basically a well-educated and moral if outcast and desperately maneuvring man). In Halkett's first meeting with Dickson, she tells him the truth: "[I] told him all the story of my beeing unhapily deceaved and what lengh I had gone, and rather more than lesse (Loftis, Memoirs, 76). She puts it that although "hee knew that I had that tye upon me to another that I culd nott dispose of my selfe to any other," he insisted repeatedly that she is free to marry as her first marriage had been based on a bigamist's deceit:
"since what I did was suposing C. B. [Colonel Bampfield] a free person, hee nott proving so, though I had beene puplickely maried to him and avowedly lived with him as his wife, yett, the ground of itt failing, I was as free as if I had never seene him" (Loftis, Memoirs, 77)
She is not persuaded and is reluctant to marry at all: "yett I was nott fully convinced butt that itt might bee a sin in mee to marry, butt I was sure there was noe sin in mee to live unmarried." So Dickson shifts ground. To refuse is to go against providence: "hee thought I might bee guilty of a fault if I did nott when I had so good an offer" (Loftis, Memoirs, 77). She returns to Halkett to tell him that Dickson "had made itt appear lawful to mee, yet I could not think it convenient, nor could I consentt." She says her respect and gratitude make her unwilling to degrade him by a marriage which would lower her reputation too (Loftis, Memoir, 77). In Anne's devotional books just after she married Halkett, we find terror lest she be punished in childbirth and intense remorse when her children died young; Anne Halkett's biographer, Simon Couper's Life and Halkett's diary entries show that after James Halkett died, Anne was shamed, experienced guilt-ridden nightmares, and watched Bampfield's career from afar. She rigidly held herself to a reclusive self-denying existence, only towards the end of her life opening a school to try to pay her debts. Not until the last two years of her life, was she able to free herself from harassment for debt and the Halkett family's persistent pressure on her to live less unconventionally: like Samuel Johnson's, the widowed Anne Halkett's household consisted of poor people and misfits dependent upon her.
Misframing can be a way of policing stories. We could, for example, describe Halkett's memoir as the story of how a woman's emotional nature is perverted by social norms. Psychosomatic breakdowns recur, take up an enormous amount of space in the narrative, and drive her to make choices that resulted in a frustrated lonely life. Halkett is the only one of these autobiographers where scholars have not assumed an adversarial relationship to their subject and scoured her text for lies in order to invalidate it; I submit this is due to her having opted for marriage to Halkett. Since we can't know how the present text ended, she does not threaten the marriage system. The other women here do. For example, Marie Mancini's memoir has only recently been told as the story of a woman who who justifiably feared her husband was trying to kill her after she refused conjugal relations because her third pregnancy had almost cost her her life, and had attempted to get him to agree to a public separation.
Of course paratexts matter. The way a book is framed influences the way readers perceive and describe it. In the case of autobiographical framings, it's vital that we do not align these books with fiction. Their protagonists are real people living among other people, not characters in novels, and the writer cannot tell all, but relies on us to understand the experience presented is but a part of a life whose full context includes matter assumed known outside the book. The writer is aware her matter may hurt the lives of others she is connected to and that autobiography endangers her much more than fiction since the convention is that there is no mask.