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Corvey ‘Adopt an Author’ |
Emily Clark
The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University


Kirsty Ellerker

There are few contemporary critical reviews of Emily Clark's novels. Extensive research has revealed only one review of The Banks of the Douro, this was published in 1805. By the time Emily Clark wrote The Esquinaux it would seem that her novels did not attract any critical interest. Clark first wrote to the Royal Literary fund in 1811, that her writing career was probably not as successful as she had hoped. In an application of 1819 she claims a bookseller offered her 'a mere trifle, which it would injurious for me to accept' (RLF, 18).

The majority of available reviews are of Emily Clark's earlier novels, Ianthe or The Flower of Caernarvan and Ermina Montrose or The Cottage of the Vale. The first novel Ianthe was published in 1798 and attracted the most attention in the periodical press. Clark used her family connection to the late king of Corsica to attract publicity for her novels. This is perhaps why by her third novel, The Banks of the Douro her skill as a novelist outweighed any connection to a usurper long since buried.

It is noted in one review that Clark's first novel, Ianthe 'had its birth not in any vain hope of literary distinction, but in the more powerful and more laudable motive of procuring support for a parent and for sisters' (Monthly Review, May- Aug 1798, 458). This critic believes that 'we cannot think of scrutinising too narrowly a performance written with such a view and under such circumstances. . . though it cannot be placed in the first rank of English novels, neither does it deserve the lowest place among publications of that class' (Monthly Review, May-Aug 1798, 458-459). The Critical Review echoes the above sentiments with such precision that it appears that the critic has simply read the review published in the Monthly Review rather than reading Ianthe (Critical Review, Sept 1798, 237).

Although acknowledging faults in composition, the Monthly Magazine and British Register placed Ianthe 'above…(rather) than below the ordinary run of novels' because it displays ''the amiable incorrupted mind of its young author' (Monthly Magazine and British Register for 1797,Jan 1797 - Jul 1799, 517). A reviewer for the British Critic thinks the story is simple, but that Clark shows potential because 'the plot is skilfully developed; the characters of it are justly conceived, and well supported; and the pieces of poetry interspersed are far from contemptible' (The British Critic, Jul-Dec 1798, 305-306).

The Analytical Review is more damning in its criticism of Clarke's first novel. The critic warns that Clark's introduction 'disarms the severity of criticism and calls Ianthe 'wild, romantic and ill concepted' (The Analytical Review, Jul-Dec 1798, 297-298).

The publication of Ermina Montrose attracted criticism in a similar vein. The critic in the Critical Review reminds readers of the unfortunate end of Theodore, King of Corsica and the melancholy event of the suicide of Frederic, Clarks's grandfather. The reviewer claims 'independently of the good wishes we entertain for her welfare, as the descendant of the Baron Neuhoff, we are happy to discover in her novel some traces of abilities, much above mediocrity' (Critical Review, 1801, 355-356).

In the final review the critic rather cruelly recommends that Clark 'study our best novels with attention, if she means to give the world any more of her writings'. The fact that her grandfather was Colonel Frederick does not make this reviewer's estimation of Clark any better. He derides the Banks of the Douro for being a 'parcel of puppets' who 'vanish out of sight' (The Literary Journal, 1805, 644). Clark obviously did not write any novels that were thought of as more worthy by the critics because there are no more reviews available of her work. She started writing to Royal Literary Fund in 1811 and this shows that she was not earning enough from her writing.

These reviews indicate that Clark lived off the fame of her great grandfather and by the time The Esquinaux and The Banks of the Douro were published public sympathy for Clark was no longer enough to sell her novels.



Ianthe, or the flower of Caernarvon

The Analytical Review or History of Literature, domestic and foreign, 28, (1798, July-December) 297-298 The British Critic, 12, (1798, July December) 305-306 The Critical Review, 24, (1798, September) 237 The Monthly Magazine and British Register, 3, (1797, January-June) 517 The Monthly Review, 26, (1798, May-August) 458-459

Ermina Montrose; or, the cottage of the vale.

The Critical Review, 31, (1801) 355-356

The Banks of the Douro, or, the maid of Portugal

Literary Journal, 5 (June 1805) 643-644