London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, Pater-Noster Row, 1791. First edition. Bound in modern quarter calf over marbled boards with gilt and morocco label to spine. Marbled endpapers. Binder's ticket to rear pastedown. A wide-margined copy measuring 210 x 260 mm. A beautiful, fresh and unmarked example overall, with just a bit of faint dampstaining to the outer margins of a1-b2 and M4-N2 not affecting text. Collates , 89, : complete. A scarce activist play by a woman who shook the 18th century status quo, Earl Goodwin is held at 13 libraries worldwide (9 of those in the U.S.), its one appearance at auction was over a century ago in 1910. The present is the only copy on the market.
"Ann Yearsley introduced a different social reality into 18th century British literature: that of a laboring class woman who fought for artistic recognition and economic independence; who supported the French Revolution and the rights of British peasants, who allied with, fought on behalf of, and showed compassion for abused men and women around the world, with a message, always, to fight back. Thus she was the first writer in English not only to use gender, the rural proletarian class, and slavery as social categories in her writing, but, even more remarkably, she regarded them as issues of comparable priority" (Ferguson). Better known for her activist poetry, including A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade, it is no surprise that Yearsley would be equally progressive as a playwright. And Earl Goodwin, her only drama, does not disappoint. For though Earl Goodwin is set in 11th century Britain, following the effects on the populace of the nation's brutal monarchy, she clearly used the play to comment on the unfolding French Revolution, its causes, and its relation to the problematic English systems around her. Yearsley's onstage address of inequity was both political and highly personal. After all, Yearsley herself had experienced the loss of her family through poverty, had been lifted up initially through her mentorship with Bluestocking Hannah More, and had ultimately been cast out of this literary circle following a monetary dispute with the more privileged woman. And her personal life fueled her literary output throughout her career. "While a few scholars have helpfully illuminated Earl Goodwin's representation of the plight of women and the poor during Anglo-Saxon times, as well as its applications to the contemporary predicaments in Romantic-era England and France, they have tended to leave unexplored the ways in which Yearsley simultaneously is clarifying and extending her anger and frustration with the class and gender-based discrimination she experienced firsthand in the fallout with Hannah More over the profits from her first book....Earl Goodwin offers readers a positive example of how to respond to abuses of power without resorting to revenge. And it encourages actively resisting and always refusing to airbrush the inequities she and others like her (women, the poor, and especially working-class women) continue to face" (Foss). It is ultimately an example of Yearsley's undaunting commitment to produce literature for beneficial social change.
ESTC T145336. Near Fine (Item #3980)