Boston: Printed by James Walden, 1820. First edition. Contemporary quarter sheep over marbled boards, measuring 170 x 105mm and collating , 108: rear endpaper excised, else complete including the incredibly scarce folding frontis (this example hand-colored). Short closed tear to outer margin of frontis; internally toned and foxed. but otherwise unmarked. While the book provides a "Preface to the First American Edition," we've been unable to locate any example institutionally or in the auction record of a previous British imprint, suggesting that this may have been a tactic for promoting the narrative's authenticity, which Huntress has thrown into question (see Huntress 202c). Scarce institutionally and in trade, only two copies of the first edition have come to auction since 1930.
"It is now a critical commonplace that Early American women's captivity narratives offer scholars and students alike rich material for our investigations into subjectivity and identity. The texts' representations of gender, ethnicity, and race conveniently dovetail with theoretical work that seeks to reinterpret and expand the canon of Early American texts" (Carroll). And yet scholars of the period also note that these books are marked by "the persistent problem of authorial attribution...did a captive woman actually write the text herself or dictate it (with interpolated 'improvements') to another, usually male, hand?" (Carroll). Popular in their own time, captivity narratives like this provided authors and publishers with a profitable opportunity for promoting white supremacy, using the highly effective vehicle of white femininity that could rally white, Christian, English-speaking men against Indigenous, tribal, and non-Christian communities by casting their men in particular as threats. They were also a means for pressing against women's expanded mobility, casting travel as inherently dangerous and posing threats to women's cultural, sexual, and racial purity.
The present example participates in all of these trends. Voiced by the alleged captive Eliza Bradley, wife of the Captain James Bradley of the Sally, who having "expressed a wish to accompany him on a former voyage...insisted in my accompanying him on this." A shipwreck would result in her six months of captivity (five of which were spent separated from other survivors including her husband) and during which she "endured deprivation and hardship with incredible fortitude in a barbarous land." Her behavior in the face of this, the Preface asserts, "sets a shining example to her sex in her struggles" particularly given pressures to conform to cultural and religious practices not her own. Notably, though, "the lack of other imprints by this publisher and the appropriation of much of the Narrative from Captain Riley's Authentic Narrative militates against the account's veracity and even the existence of Mrs. Bradley," seeming instead to be "an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Riley" while adding the twist of a distressed woman (Huntress). In this sense, Mrs. Eliza Bradley operates as an example of the genre at its market peak: a captivity narrative wherein the victimized woman needn't be real, and whose profitable story can be narrated by men without the inconvenience of her real lived experience.
Huntress 202c. (Item #5175)