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The Introduction to the Work or Bill of Fare to the Feast.
I, Fanny Hackabout-Jones, having been blest with long Life, which makes e'en the Harshest Events of Youth pale to Insignificance or, i'faith, appear as Comedies, do write this History of my Life and Adventures as a Testament for my only Daughter, Belinda.
I have, in other Documents, left this most Excellent Young Woman my Houses, my Lands, my Jewels, the Care of my Dogs, Horses, and Domestick Animals, and yet I am convinced that the ensuing History shall have more Value to her than all the Riches I have acquir'd in my Life, either by my Pen or by my Person. For tho' 'tis no easy Thing to be born a Man in this Vale of Tears, 'tis more difficult still to be born a Woman. Yet I believe I have prosper'd despite this Capricious Destiny, or e'en because of it, and what better Legacy can I give to my beloved Belinda than a full and true Account of that very Life which hath been so oft' distorted, slander'd, or us'd to inspire scandalous Novels, lascivious Plays, and wanton Odes?
If these Pages oft' tell of Debauchery and Vice, 'tis not in any wise because their Author wishes to condone Wickedness, but rather because Truth, Stark-Naked Truth, demands that she write with all possible Candour, so that the Inheritor of this Testament shall learn how to avoid Wickedness or indeed transform it into Goodness.
All possible Care hath been taken to give no deliberate Offence to Modesty or Chastity; yet the Author avows that Truth is a sterner Goddess than Modesty, and where there hath been made necessary a Choyce betwixt the Former and the Latter, Truth hath, quite rightly, triumph'd.
If some of the Episodes in the ensuing History offend the gentler Sensibilities of an Age less lusty than that which gave me birth, let the Reader put it down to the Excesses of my Epoch, the doubtless impoverish'd Origins of my poor Natural Parents, the Lack of Formal Education occasion'd by my Sex, and the Circumstances of my Life, which caus'd me to make my Living by my Wits, my Pen, and my Beauty.
The World is so taken up of late with Histories and Romances in which Vice fore'er perishes and Virtue triumphs, that the intended Reader may wonder why Vice is not always punish'd and Virtue not always rewarded in these Pages, as in the Histories of Mr. Fielding and Mr. Richardson; to which your Humble Author can only reply that 'tis Truth we serve here, not Morality, and with howe'er much Regret we affirm it, ne'ertheless we must affirm that Truth and Morality do not always, alas, sleep in the same Bed.
'Tis a trite but true Observation that Examples work more forcibly upon the Mind than Precepts; yet whilst the Male Sex hath had no Derth of Examples of Greatness from Jesus of Nazareth to William Shakespeare, the Bard of Stratford, the Members of the Female Sex search in vain for Great Women on whom to model their perilous Destinies.
The Authors of contemporary Novels and Romances do little Service in this regard, for either they prate of Female "Vartue," a Luxury which few Women can afford, and only the dullest and most witless can tolerate, or they condemn Female Vice in such Terms that upon reading these Male Authors, any spirited Young Woman should resolve to slit her own Throat forthwith. Neither Pamela Andrews, with her incessant Scribbling of her "Vartue," nor tiresome Clarissa Harlowe, with her insuff'rable Weeping and Letter-writing, nor yet the gentle Sophia Western of whom Mr. Fielding so prettily writes, nor the wicked Moll Flanders of whom Mr. Defoe so vigorously writes, shines out as an Example upon which a Flesh-and-Blood Female can model her Life. For Life, as the Ancients knew, is neither Tragedy nor Comedy, but an Intermingling of the twain. 'Tis a Feast in which one is serv'd delicate Viands as well as spicy Hashes and Ragoos; rotten Meats as well as exquisite Fruits; exotick Spices and Sauces as well as plain Country Fare. If 'tis thus for Man, imagine how much more so for Woman! Woman who is ev'rywhere in Nature misunderstood and apprehended only as the Embodiment of Virtue or the Embodiment of Vice.
I have endeavour'd in this History to show the Falsity of these Embodiments; for like the aforemention'd Feast of Life, Woman is a Mixture of Sweets and Bitters. I here solemnly protest that not only have I no Intention to asperse or vilify anyone, but that ev'rything herein is copied faithfully from the Great Book of Nature and that I, your Author, am no more than an humble Amanuensis.CHAPTER 2
A short Description of my Childhood with particular Attention to the Suff'rings of my Step-Mother, Lady Bellars.
I was born in the Reign of Queen Anne, but the exact Date of my Birth I did not, for many Years, know, owing to the unfortunate Occurrence of my having been abandon'd upon a Doorstep in tend'rest Infancy. Whether my Natural Parents were, as the Saying goes, poor but honest, or whether they were poor and vicious, I could not in Good Conscience say. That they were poor was a fair enough Conjecture, else why would they have left a helpless Babe of their Begetting upon the Doorstep of a Great House in the Neighbourhood?
The Foster-Parents that Fate thus arranged for me were nam'd Bellars: Laurence Bellars and his Lady, Cecilia. Lord Bellars had been born of impoverish'd Noble Ancestry, having had settl'd upon him a Family Seat as heavily mortgaged as our Chestnut Trees were heavy with Chestnuts; but thro' judicious Employment of his Wife's Dowery to finance his Speculations in Stock of the East India Company as well as thro' Holdings in the Bank of England, he had grown extreamly rich, and ev'rything he did, it seem'd, made him richer. So able was he at Speculation, that e'en during the South Sea Bubble, when I was but a Young Girl, he was one of the few that not only prosper'd, but managed to transfer his Earnings into Land before the Bubble burst. I'faith, that Scandal, which was the Ruin of so many, provided our Estate with another two thousand Acres, not to mention paying our Debts and providing us with yet a more handsome Equipage, and still more Footmen in gorgeous Livery.
Lord Bellars chose to live mainly in London, pleading the Excuse of his business Dealings; tho' i'faith, Gaming and Whoring probably occupied many of his Leisure Hours. He left his Wife, Cecilia, to preside o'er the Great House and Park in Wiltshire and to instruct the Children—Daniel, Mary, and myself—in the Virtues which he had neither Time nor Inclination to impart, either by Precept or by Example.
My Position in the Family was neither that of an Inheritor of the Family Fortune, nor that of a Servant. I was a Foundling, lov'd for my Quick Wit, my russet Curls, and my playful Disposition, yet not granted the Indulgences given to a proper Child, who, for better or worse, is of one's own Blood.
I was e'er a Bookworm, loving to read almost from the Time I was given my first Alphabet. In a Day when Girls were commonly thought to need no Education but the Needle, Dancing, and the French Tongue (with perhaps the Addition of a little Musick upon the Harpsichord or Spinet), I was plund'ring My Lord's Library for Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies, new Books by Mr. Pope and Mr. Swift, as well as older ones by Shakespeare, Milton, Boccaccio, Boileau, and Moliere. Latin I was left to teach myself; for tho' that Noble Tongue was consider'd the Mark of Erudition in a Man, 'twas deem'd superfluous to Womankind. I'faith, I ne'er could comprehend why Daniel, a rather dull-witted, lazy Boy, but a Year my senior, should be sent to Day School to learn Latin, Greek, Algebra, Geometry, Geography, and the Use of Globes, whilst I, who was so much quicker, was encouraged only in Pastry-making, Needlepoint, and French Dancing, and laugh'd at for being vain of my fine Penmanship. Yet of all the Crafts I learnt in Childhood, Writing is the one that hath stood me in greatest Stead during my whole Life and hath most distinguish'd me from other Women. Beauty, alas, fades; Riches may be lost in one Turn of Fortune's Wheel. A Woman with a fine Dowery can fall into the Hands of a Rogue who will not e'en allow her Pin-Money, and will gamble away her Widow's Jointure and leave her nothing but Play-Debts and hungry Mouths to feed; but a Woman of Learning who can make her Living with her Quill is more secure of the Future (tho' all the Coffeehouse Wits may scoff) than any Woman whatsoe'er. For what is Marriage but a Form of indentur'd Service in which the Wife gives up all (her Name, her Fortune, her very Health and physical Constitution) to secure the occasional Night-time Visits of a Knave with whom she shares nothing but a Roof and a Nursery full of screaming Babes?
My Step-Mother, Lady Bellars, was one of the most wretched Creatures who e'er liv'd, tho' had she been a Man her Fortune and Beauty would have made her happy. Too clever to spend her Life betwixt the Tea-Table and the Card-Table, too sweet of Disposition to nag and scold her Husband for his long Absences, his Whoring and Gaming, and too timid to be a Female Rake in the Fashion of the Day, and use her Married State as a Cloak to cover divers Amours, she languished in the Country, devoting herself to her Children far past the Age when they requir'd her Care, and to a Menagerie of Beasts on whom she lavish'd more than natural Maternal Affection.
In addition to three Lapdogs and a Parrot, she kept a Marmoset Monkey, two Paroquets of Guinea, four Cockatoos, three Macaws, a dozen scarlet Nightingales from the West Indies, a half-dozen Canaries (both ash and lemon Colour), two dozen or so white and grey Turtledoves from Barbary, and num'rous Milk-white Peacocks that hopp'd freely around the Park. So devoted was she to her Menagerie that e'en upon the rare Occasions when Lord Bellars sent for her to come to London, she declin'd, pleading the Care of her Animals.
Thus, from my earliest Childhood, I had before me the Example of what a blighted, unloving Marriage could do to a Woman of tender Disposition, and I resolv'd in my Heart ne'er to let become of me what had become of my gentle Step-Mother, who, I sincerely believ'd, was driven half mad by the painful Betrayals practis'd upon her by her Husband.
Where a less tender Soul would have given Tit for Tat and repaid her Husband's Amours with Cuckoldry and Back-Talk, Lady Bellars withdrew into her Menagerie, until at last, when she was a white-hair'd old Woman, she spoke more to her Peacocks and Turtledoves than she did to human Visitors.
Let that be a Lesson to you, I would silently command my Heart as I listen'd to my Step-Mother speaking to her Menagerie; and tho' I learnt from her the Love of Animals which hath lasted to this Day, I also learnt to be wary of the Male Sex and to view ev'ry handsome Gallant and Man of Pleasure as a likely Robber of my Wits and my Peace of Mind. That Lesson, above all, hath been the Making of whate'er Good Fortune I have enjoy'd upon this Earth.
I'faith, like Belinda in "The Rape of the Lock" (a Poem which I read and read again thro'out my younger Years), my Guardian Angel taught me one Lesson above all others:
This to disclose is all thy Guardian can.
Beware of all, but most beware of Man!CHAPTER 3
In which I meet my first Great Man, and learn the Truth of that Maxim: "'Tis easier to be a Great Man in one's Work than in one's Life."
That lesson was to be tested soon enough. Thro'out the Peace and Plenty of my Country Childhood, I was told I was growing into a Beauty. I say this out of no Immodesty; i'faith, I scarce believ'd it myself. Like most Young Girls, when I lookt at myself in the Glass, I saw nought but my own grievous Faults; yet was I call'd a Beauty so oft' that I came to understand the World regarded me thus. 'Twas merely the Condition of my Life that I should set Swains to sighing and Footmen to fondling my Hand longer than need be whilst helping me down from Chariots.
Just as my Step-Sister, Mary, was stubby and stout, had a Face like a Suet Pudding, and Hair of Mouse Colour, I was, by the perilous Age of Seventeen, straight and tall (too tall, I thought), with flaming Hair (too russet for my Taste), the brownest of Eyes (would that they were green!), a Bosom blue-white as skimm'd Milk (I minded not the Colour but the Size!), long taper'd Fingers (O my Hands were pretty—I would grant that!), and slender Legs (but who should see 'em 'neath my Petticoats?) ending in clever Feet that could do any complicated Dance whatsoe'er (for all the Good 'twould do me here in the dull Country!). In fact, I was greatly devoted to a Book call'd The Dancing Master, which listed no less than 358 diff'rent Figures and Tunes for Country Dances; and I knew as well how to twirl, flip and flirt a Fan, how to behave most fetchingly at Tea-Table, and how to place Patches to the best advantage upon my oval Cheaks. For all these Things, I was teaz'd and tormented by Daniel and silently hated by Mary, whilst my poor distracted Step-Mother tended to her Animals and seem'd wholly oblivious of the Fact that her three tender Human Charges were no longer little Babes, but were growing to an Age when all the Envies, Vices, and Temptations of the World might snare 'em.
'Twas about that Season in our Lives when Lord Bellars, who had been chiefly in London o'er the last three Years (with only brief Visits Home), came into the Country for a Stay of sev'ral Months.
When the News reach'd me that he was bringing down from London with him no less a Personage than the Great Poet Mr. Alexander Pope, I could hardly believe my Ears. Mr. Pope—whose "Rape of the Lock" I had got almost by Heart! Mr. Pope, whose Divine Quill had written the Lines:
Then cease, bright Nymph! to mourn thy ravish'd Hair
Which adds new Glory to the shining Sphere!
Not all the Tresses that fair Head can boast
Shall draw such Envy as the Lock you lost.
For, after all the Murders of your Eye,
When, after Millions slain, your Self shall die;
When those fair Suns shall set, as set they must,
And all those Tresses shall be laid in Dust;
This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to Fame,
And mid'st the Stars inscribe Belinda's Name.
Mr. Pope, whose tender Heart had bled for an unknown Lady buried in a foreign Land....
By foreign Hands thy dying Eyes were clos'd,
By foreign Hands thy decent Limbs compos'd,
By foreign Hands thy humble Grave adorn'd,
By Strangers honour'd, and by Strangers mourn'd!
A Man who could write like that must be the most sensitive Soul that e'er liv'd! He must have Eyes that see ev'rything and a Heart that beats out the Suff'rings of the smallest Creature alive. Here, perchance, was a Man who could understand me, a Man with a great enough Heart, a great enough Mind—not like the foolish Country Boys who gap'd at me in the Village, not like Daniel, who could think of nothing but Excuses for jostling me upon the Stair or thrusting his greasy Hands into my Bosom.
For a Week, the whole Household was engaged in Preparations. Pigeons and Partridges were shot and pluckt. Oysters were brought from Market and boil'd in their own Juices, and extravagant Receipts were taken from Cookery Books. Upon the Day after the Poet's Arrival with Lord Bellars we were to have all the local Gentry in to meet our distinguished Visitor and to feast upon Spinach Tarts made with Nutmeg, Cloves, and Lemon Peel, Patty of Calves' Brains with Asparagus, stew'd Oysters, roast Pigeons, roast Partridges, three sorts of Pudding, and a royal Dish called "Fruits with Preserv'd Flow'rs," which took two Days to prepare, being a Concoction of Paste of Almonds, inlaid with red, white, blue, and green Marmalade in the Figures of Flow'rs and Banks, with upright Branches of candied Flow'rs made from glaz'd Cherryes, Apples, Gooseberries, Currants, and Plums.
But I would hardly be in any Mood to eat.
All Day I linger'd at the Windows of my Bedchamber, dreaming o'er a Book of Mr. Pope's Poetry, fancying myself invited to London to mingle with Wits in a Coffee-House, to stroll thro' Pall Mall or Covent Garden, to go by Wherry to Twickenham with Mr. Pope and be invited to view his fam'd Faery Grotto.
I must have changed my Gown three Times that Day, throwing off Dresses and putting 'em on as if I were a Strolling Actress in a Barn! First, I wore the Dove-grey Saque-backt Silk with the yellow Stomacher and Apron; then I changed into a blue Gown with my prettiest embroider'd Apron and a Tucker of white Lace; but at last, I chose a Cherry-colour'd Damask with no Tucker at all, because I had heard that Ladies in London wore their Bosoms almost bare and I did not wish to be thought a plain Country Wench!
'Twas almost Twilight when the Chariot with six Horses clatter'd into view, greeted by the Barking of all our Dogs. Yet still I linger'd at my Window, dabbing my Bosom out of a Vial of Tuberose Scent, biting my Lips to make 'em redder.
Excerpted from Fanny by Erica Jong. Copyright © 2003 Erica Mann Jong. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted September 27, 2014