Pen Tamar; or, The History of an Old Maid (Presentation Copy)
London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1830.
London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1830. First edition. Contemporary straight grain morocco with griffin embossed in gilt to boards; rebacked to style with gilt to spine. All edges marbled. Some light scuffing near joints. Signed by the author on a bound-in presentation page and addressed to Mrs. Ed. Hawkins. Measures 127 x 203mm and collates complete: ix, [1, blank], 244, including both half and full title, frontis, and three plates. Light scattered foxing throughout, largely confined to the margins; else a clean and neat text. Fairly scarce at institutions, this is presently the only first edition on the market.
An infamous Bluestocking and companion to writers Hannah More and Maria Edgeworth, Henrietta Maria Bowdler was invested in women's education at the same time that she was influenced by her family's more conservative religious views. This tension is apparent in Pen Tamar, which "gives a mixed message: ostensibly defending both virtue and single women [while] it excuses the hero's prejudice" (Blain). Yet its posthumous publication -- a purposeful decision by Bowdler, who "decided on deferring it during her life, expressing a wish that it should finally be offered to the public -- suggests that the author saw it as more progressive in its views than we might consider it today. It is after all a defense of single women, presented in novel form by a notoriously intellectual single woman who had the ear and the admiration of Church authorities and promoted the work of other female authors. Though her later reputation has become wrapped up in her work censoring Shakespeare's plays -- a project undertaken with her brother Thomas, and the origin of the term Bowdlerisation -- Pen Tamar is a striking reminder of a woman's desire to let herself be seen in her society, and of the ability of publication to make that happen and have an impact for others like her.
Feminist Companion 120. Near Fine (Item #3244)