London: James Asperne, 1806. First edition. Half calf over contemporary marbled boards cornered in vellum; rebacked to style with. gilt and morocco labels to spines. All edges speckled green. Measuring 160 x 98mm and collating complete including frontis to volume I: , 284; , 328. A lovely, square, fresh copy, with minor foxing to pastedowns and offsetting to the title page from the frontis; internally unmarked otherwise. OCLC reports 17 copies in the U.S. Its most recent appearance in the modern auction record is in 1975, and the present is the only complete first edition in trade.
Most frequently noted as an eighteenth century poet, Mary Julia Young entered into the genre of women's life writing when she released her biography of Mrs. Anna Maria Crouch. Crouch was infamous not only for her on-stage talent as a singer and actress, but also as one member of a polyamorous trio with her husband Lt. Crouch and her acting partner Michael Kelly before becoming monogamous as the courtesan to the Prince of Wales. And in her friendship with Young, according to the preface, she "expressed a wish to have her memoirs regularly written and published during her existence." Though she did not accomplish this in her lifetime, Young ensured it posthumously, providing a memorial to Crouch as one of the "dramatists and performers whose combined talents enrich and adorn the stage of the present period." The book serves as a "valuable contribution to the historical record in exploring the legacies...and the intersections between personal and collective memory" (Culley). It is, after all, drawn from conversations with and about Crouch, rather than from her own hand.
While Crouch's biography shares some qualities with the Scandalous Memoirs of the period -- courtesan memoirs that provided origin stories on women's entrance to the sex trade, and their unapologetic embrace of wealth, independence and notoriety outside of traditional family structures -- it does not fit neatly within the genre. Its opening, notably, includes both her love and admiration for her father Peregrine Phillips (who encouraged her artistic talents) as well as failed elopement with an Irish peer (the loss of her innocence). It is a double origin that suggests her roles in the theatrical and sex trades did not share the causal relationship that some women experienced; each began separately and through very different men. It also reveals that even as she rejected some components of the traditional family (that of monogamous wife, for example) she proudly embraced others (that of dutiful daughter). Crouch's biography in this way participated with Scandalous Memoir by "challenging the connection between virtue and chastity, seeking to expand the concept of morality beyond a strictly sexual definition" (Culley).
Memoirs of Mrs. Crouch remains the richest resource on her life story, and on her relationships within the theatrical and sex trade communities. (Item #4748)