Critical Reception of Sarah Green's fiction
There are no known critical reviews for either The Festival of St. Jago (1810) or The Carthusian Friar (1814). However, a few interesting references were made to Sarah Green in the early periodicals.
Green wrote nineteen novels during her 34 years of writing (nine of which are in the Corvey Collection), and seven received critical reviews. Her second text, Mental Improvement For A Young Lady On Her Entrance into the World (1793) received attention as it contained some quite controversial arguments relating to general social issues, and in particular, the constraints that were enforced upon females. Although there is no critical evidence of the reception of this particular book, reviews can be used of the subsequent novels that followed which had similar concerns, to gain an insight into the reception of these texts. Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind (1808) by Thomas Broadhurst had similar aims and concerns as Green’s and the reception of his book was positive. The Edinburgh Review was initially cautious in their tone about Broadhurst, ‘…. who has not written a very bad book upon a very important subject' (299), but latterly their review became much more flattering:
‘His object (a very laudable one) is to recommend a better system of female education than at present prevails in this country – to turn the attention of women from the trifling pursuits which they are now condemned – and to cultivate faculties which, under actual system of management, might almost as well not exist’ (299) (Edinburgh Review Vol. XV, No. 30)
Therefore, it is presumed that Green’s text would likely have been praised also for its outspoken and radical message. Her text was published fifteen years previously, so obviously the issues and concerns would have been more shocking and controversial when first published, but it seems that she may have been involved in the encouragement of female education and independence.
Green continued to write in this blunt and direct manner, and Summers said of The Private History of the Court of England (1808) that ‘This book was very sharply censured as a scandal novel. Published anonymously it was written by Mrs. Sarah Green’ (Summers 1964; 469).
Romance Readers and Romance Writers (1810) also sparked an interest. The preface to this novel is quite aggressive and outspoken as Green attacks her contemporaries, particularly Horsley Curties, and she satirises the romance genre. In a review of this novel an intriguing statement is made about Green:
‘Mrs. Green is a clever pseudonym concealing the pretended sex of this writer’ (The Monthly Review Vol. LXVIII; 109)
This proposal is made on several occasions, and created a great deal of uncertainty as to the authenticity of Green’s gender and identity. However, from reading her novels, it is evident that she has strong feminist beliefs and opinions that are reflected in the concerns and characterisations of her novels, which would be extremely unusual for a male writer.
The only comment that is made about The Carthusian Friar (1814), Green’s second Gothic novel, is by Montague Summers. He believes that ‘it seems that The Carthusian Friar (the obscurity of the title may be noted) is an original romance, and "posthumous" is probably fudge’ (Summers 1964; 262). This statement isn’t supported with any critical literature, but appears to be merely the opinion of Summers.
Fatherless Fanny (1819) is a unique novel, in that it is unclear as to who the real author is. ‘This famous book which was long extremely popular is anonymous, and curiously the authorship has been ascribed to two such different writers as Clara Reeve and T. P. Prest’ (Summers 1964; 320). Summers continued to say he believes that ‘It certainly belongs to neither’ (Summers 1964; 320). However, ‘Other editions claim Mrs. Sarah Green as author or editor’ (Summers 1964; 321).
Although there is a lack of critical material for the majority of Green’s novels, it has been presumed for the purpose of this work that Green was a successful and an admired novelist, who had the courage to pursue personal and social concerns in her texts. There is a degree of mystery surrounding her i.e. her real identity and the uncertainty of her writing Fatherless Fanny, but this contributes to the appeal of Green as a writer.