New York: 20 October 1824 - 28 November 1825. Quarter red roan over marbled boards measuring 8 x 6.25 inches with blue endpapers and the bookseller's ticket of John C. Totten to the front pastedown. Comprised of 100 handwritten manuscript pages including the hand-illustrated title. A collaborative translation conducted by two educated women, bringing the 1788 French romance into English nearly two decades before the first published English language edition of 1841. Part love story, part critique of political and economic inequality on the eve of the French Revolution, Pierre's novel was praised by Thomas Carlyle as a work "in which there rises melodiously the wail of a moribund world" and as a shining example of French Enlightenment fiction. While census records were indeterminate, preventing us from gathering details about the translators, what becomes clear is that they were educated, had leisure time, and were remaining up to date on the literature of their time (a French sequel to Paul et Virginie came out while this project was in process, as they note in a post-script).
The present manuscript is a fair copy, representing the final product of Sarah Hitchcock and Gaunnetta Grigg's work. While Sarah's name alone appears on the title page, a note at the end marks "From the word 'flow,' page 82, the translation was finished by Gaunnetta Grigg." It is unclear why Hitchcock ceded the work to Gaunnetta at that point, or which of the two women neatly copied out the present manuscript from their notes. Yet it is clear that this was a long-term commitment, with the translation and clean transcription lasting over a year between 1824-1825 and requiring sufficient leisure time for its undertaking. The ability to read and translate French; the familiarity with an Enlightenment writer and text; the calligraphic title page and the refined cursive hand throughout all reveal that Sarah and Gaunnetta were educated middle to upper class women.
Their choice of text is also revealing. For while Pierre infused Enlightenment ideas of social and economic equality, honesty, and truth into his work, it was recommended to young women of the period for its positive depiction of virginity and modesty (Virginia dies in a shipwreck off the coast as Paul watches, because she is unwilling to remove her dress and corsetry in front of him and the sailors seeking to rescue her). "This pastorale was an unprecedented success...Translated into several languages, parodied, and frequently adapted, during the 19th century the book was regarded as a classic...it retains an important place in the history of French literature, as the violence of the characters' emotions foreshadows the arrival of romanticism and exoticism" (LOC). In this sense, Sarah and Gaunnetta engage with a text that is both conservative and subversive, spending hours across a year contemplating the social value of modesty as well as its costs to women (in Virginia's case, her life), the hypocrisy of older generations (the couple's mothers want to raise them as social equals, but Virginia gets sent away to Europe the moment her mother detects their attraction), and the tension between artifice and genuineness in prose fiction.
A research rich text with possibilities including but not limited to paleography, translation methods, the transmission of literature across languages, gender studies, the history of women's education, female friendships and communities, and genealogy. (Item #3388)