Biography of Mrs. Martin by Laura Martin
Mrs Martin, writing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, was the author of five Minerva novels. Like most Minerva authors, she wrote anonymously, except for Deloranie, which she wrote under the pseudonym, ‘Helen of Herefordshire’. She received the worst reviews for this novel. Her books were published over four years, from 1798 to 1801. In 1798, she published two novels, Melbourne and Deloranie. In 1799, she published Reginald or The House of Mirandola; in 1800, Jeanette; and, in 1801 The Enchantress or Where Shall I find her. These novels were attributed from a Minerva Library Catalogue of 1814, to Mrs Martin (Blakey 1939).
Deloranie, Mrs Martin’s first novel, includes a preface. Within this she boasts that she cannot plead an excuse for publishing her novels due to ‘ the powerful solicitations of my friends; or their unanimous opinion that it would be highly blameable to conceal so admirable a work in my own bureau’. Instead, she pleads melancholy as an excuse, stating that she writes to ‘while away a solitary evening. And not infrequently has the employment stolen my mind away from the contemplation of my own misfortunes’. From this preface, we can assume that Mrs Martin lived alone, having encountered some sort of ‘misfortune’. Perhaps this was the death of a husband, and/or possibly children. Although she pleads that she wrote to reconcile herself from her ‘real sorrow’, it is most probable that, like most Minerva authors, she wrote for financial gain to support herself.
The tone of this preface is fairly unique in Mrs Martin’s novels. She does not allude to any misfortunes in her later texts, or plead an excuse for writing. In fact, in Melbourne she actually states that ‘there can need no excuse for writing a book’ (Martin 1798:III, 5). This indicates a progression in her addresses to the reader, maybe influenced by the fact that she received negative reviews for Deloranie.
However, little else is known about Mrs Martin’s life or personal characteristics. In a review of The Enchantress, a critic speculated on the type of character he thought she might be: ‘an amiable and unassuming female, whose life was passed in the tranquil pleasures of retirement, and, the gentle exertion of intellectual ability’ (The British Critic April, 1801). This review also states that Mrs Martin’s character may be comparable to that of the author of Hermsprong (Robert Bage), Madame La Fayette and Ann Radcliffe.
A reference to Mrs Martin can be found in The British Library Catalogue, in the anonymous section. It suggests that the ‘the author of Melbourne’ may also be the editor of Samuel Martin’s (a senior Vicar) Family Sermons 1838. Although this is a possibility, it is unlikely, as there is such a large gap between the dates that Mrs Martin wrote her novels and the date these Sermons were published.
It is apparent from her literary style that Mrs Martin was an intelligent and well-read woman. She quotes various philosophers, prolific authors and dramatists, such as Shakespeare and Coleridge, within her novels. It is also likely that she was quite out-spoken for the period in which she was living, judging by the tone of her discussions in both Melbourne and The Enchantress. Except for Deloranie, her novels were well received by contemporary critics and as Virginia Blain describes, she was the author of ‘intelligent, stylish, Minerva novels’ (Blain, 1990:721).
Blain, Virginia et al.1990, The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, Batsford.
Blakey, Dorothy, 1939, The Minerva Press 1790-1820, (Appendix: List of Publications), Oxford University Press
The British Library General Catalogue of Printed Books to 1975, Staples Printing GP at Unwin, Woking and Rochester
Martin, Mrs,1798, Deloranie: Preface, The Minerva Press
Martin, Mrs., 1798, Melbourne, The Minerva Press
The British Critic, April 1801, p436 (The Enchantress)