Barbara Edwards: Catherine Gore (1799-1861)
The novelist, poet and playwright Catherine Gore was born in Eat Retford, Nottingham in 1799, the daughter of a wine merchant by the name of Moody. She married Captain Charles Gore on 15th February 1823 at St. George's, Hanover Square. It was then that her writing for publication began in earnest. It is thought that she was able to enter the novel writing market because her husband knew of publishers who were willing to publish his travel writings. During the course of her lifetime, she published over sixty novels and articles for journals, wrote plays for the London stage plus lyrics for popular songs of the day. Her first play, (The School for Coquettes, 1831) was successful and ran for thirty nights at the Haymarket theatre. However, Lords and Commons and Quid pro Quo were disliked by the public, despite the latter having won a prize of 500l. from the Haymarket critics for best new comedy.
In 1837, she became known as a musical composer, putting melody to the words of Burns' 'Ye shall walk in silk attire', 'Welcome, welcome' and 'The three long years.' These were among the most popular songs of the day.
She is best known for her novels in the 'silver fork' genre dealing with fashionable society, which she varied with travel writing and historical romances. When she was criticised for the lack of serious subject matter in her 'silver fork' novels, she stated that she felt her travel writings were the strongest indication of her power as a writer. She published Polish Tales alongside her novel, The Sketchbook of Fashion when the previous novel, The Fair of Mayfair did not attract favourable reviews. However, it was the succession of 'silver fork' novels which ensured her fame and provided her with a considerable income.
She displayed a good business sense and knew her market well. She managed to recoup some of her 20.000l. losses to her corrupt bankers, Straham, Paul and Yates by reissuing her novel: The Bankers Wife, in 1855, with a dedication to the real life bankers on the frontispiece. When the Duchess de Praslin was murdered whilst reading her Mrs. Armitage, or Female Domination, Catherine Gore ordered a double reprint of the novel, anticipating correctly the renewed interest in the novel and counteracting the censure by pointing out the novel itself dealt with the 'injurious effects produced upon the female character by an extension of the rights and privileges of the sex'. During the height of 'silver fork' popularity, she published two novels anonymously in one week to encourage competition and stimulate sales.
The creative flow of novels from Mrs. Gore temporarily halted when she and her husband moved to Paris, where he took up a diplomatic post. It appears that at this point (in 1832), Catherine Gore was beginning to tire of writing in the 'silver fork' vein and was considering a change of course. It was on this subject that she wrote to the editor of the Athenaeum: 'I ought to add that general condemnation has rendered me somewhat ashamed of my sickly progeny of fashionable novels, and I have now given the press a series of stories founded on the history of Poland, which I hope will prove more worthy of attention'. But this was a woman who knew at what great speed she could dispatch the disparaged 'sickly', fashionable novel, and that she could make a good living doing so. She very wisely continued to produce her 'silver fork' novels.
Catherine Gore had ten children by her husband, who died in 1846. Only two children survived her. Life could be seen to imitate her silver fork novels, in the romantic adventures of her daughter Cecilia. In Paris, the Gore's were visited by her friend P.G. Patmore's son, Coventry, who became infatuated for a time with Cecilia. In the end she married a younger son of the Marquis of Bath, and became Mrs. Edward Thynne.
Catherine Gore wrote until she went completely blind in 1859, and died in Linwood, Hampshire in 1861. The sheer output from this woman writer, indicates the strength of mind and excellent organisational skills she must have possessed. As can be seen from the above biographical sketch, Gore wrote first and foremost to provide herself with an income and support her family. A spin off to her immense success and popularity meant that she could secure a place within the fashionable society she portrayed in her silver fork novels. It could be argued that Catherine Gore, like Jane Austen and other eighteenth and nineteenth century female writers, wrote to enlarge the boundaries of their lives, as their roles of 'proper ladies' and devoted mothers and maiden aunts condemned them to the ranks of the ignored. Public recognition may have been shunned by Jane Austen, but Catherine Gore appears to have delighted in her fashionable status as author, and could command large sums of money for her novels. By showing the public she was first and foremost a 'proper lady', who had valuable lessons to teach other women, she could easily reconcile herself to the idea that she was also a woman who earned an income as a writer. Her work and knowledge of the fashionable society she portrays in Mothers and Daughters, truly reflected the Manners of the Day.
BIBLIOGRAPHYPaul and June Schlueter, An Encyclopaedia of British Woman Writers, Garland, 1988.
Virginia Blaine, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy, The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, Batsford, 1990.
Alison Adburgham, Silver Fork Society, London, 1983.