London: Printed for the translator, 1798. First Thus. Contemporary full polished calf with gilt to spine and boards; morocco spine label replaced. Measuring 160 x 95mm. All edges speckled red. Marbled endpapers. Some chipping and loss to spine extremities; joints rubbed and tender, but holding well. Small chip to rear board. Externally pleasing. Armorial bookplate of Charles Henry Rich to front pastedown. Internally fresh and unmarked, without the foxing typical of the era. Collating complete including half title: xii, 147, [1, blank]; , 127, [1, blank], 44. The first edition of Cummyng's translation, which was the second edition in English and the second edition translated by a woman (the first being the 1791 translation by Elizabeth Morgan). Both translations are scarce institutionally and in trade, with ESTC recording Morgan's at only 5 libraries and Cummyng's at only 7 libraries. While Morgan's translation has not come to auction, Cummyng's translation has appeared once, over a decade ago. The present is the only copy of either edition on the market.
The first, and apparently the only, translation published by Susanna Cummyng, who released Estelle when she was 18 years old. The book's frontmatter give us clues into who the young woman was, as well as her possible motivations for the project. Likely conducted as a result of her education, Estelle is dedicated to Berkhamsted School headmaster Rev. John Dupre, whom Cummyng thanks for his "disposition to encourage those literary pursuits which have a tendency to promote virtue." And in the preface, Cummyng herself is described as "only eighteen years of age," drawn to translation because the "style and beauty of the following work induced her to engage in it for her own improvement." Certainly Louis Pierre Claris de Florian's Estelle was praised at its 1788 release and quickly gained a reputation as one of the most important pastoral novels in French literature. Drawing on Roman mythology, Estelle is a narrative of female desire, duty, and sacrifice -- one in which the heroine's life path is dictated not by following her own heart, but by giving up her love in order to fulfill a bond of honor between her father and a man who saved him. The novel has all of the qualities the English so often marked as detrimental to young female minds. So it is notable that Cummyng not only chooses it, but works in her paratexts to establish both the story and her efforts to translate it as virtuous and self-improving. Such a justification could protect her reputation, as could Dupre's patronism and the support of all the local subscribers in the list who were likely her neighbors and friends.
An opportunity to see how a young woman strategically situates herself in the literary sphere, as well as to study how her translation centers powerful themes about women's social positions historically and in her own time.
ESTC T114945. (Item #4752)