London: Printed for G. Woodfall at Charing Cross, 1754. First edition. Rebound to style in modern full calf with original spine laid down. Morocco spine label, boards embossed in blind. A pleasing, square copy with just a bit of rubbing along joints. New endpapers. Collating vi, 293, [1, blank]: complete. A scarce and important early work reported by ESTC at only 18 institutions; it has appeared only twice at auction, the most recent being 15 years ago.
"On the first day of January 1753, maidservant Elizabeth Canning disappeared. She returned to her mother's house some twenty-eight days later, emaciated and bedraggled, claiming that she had been held in a room against her will. As the case went to court and her captors were arrested, many came to disbelieve Elizabeth Canning's tale, resulting in Canning herself going on trial for perjury" (The BNA). The reasons behind the shifting tide of opinion surrounding Canning's victimization is striking in the current #MeToo era: Canning's amnesia and occasional inability to remember details, her presentation of thirty witnesses compared to the forty witnesses of her captors, and the medical community's inability to clearly interpret the signs of violence against her body cast doubt upon her. The end result was that while those accused of kidnapping and assaulting Canning were found guilty, Canning herself also faced conviction and relocation to North America. Throughout the trial, pamphlet wars raged, and even author Henry Fielding published a piece that year in her support. Twenty years later, The Malefactor's Register would declare "there is so much mystery in the following case that it seems beyond the bounds of human sagacity to determine on which side merit lies."
Among those publications, the present work is one of the scarcest. Written in epistolary form, the book blurs the lines of fiction and non-fiction. Drawing on the sentimental form initiated and popularized by novels such as Defoe's Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722) and Richardson's Pamela (1740), the Memoirs draws readers in with a tale of endangered feminine virtue. Yet it is also a story of true-crime, linked to what would remain one of the most notorious legal mysteries of the century. By taking its tale from the headlines and engaging the reader in the question of Canning's guilt or innocence, it anticipated the kind of domestic mystery novel that would be initiated by Seeley Regester with The Dead Letter (1866) and Anna Katherine Green with The Leavenworth Case (1878).
ESTC T144508. (Item #4029)