Adopt an Author

Secondary Reading List on

Anna Maria Bennett

By Helen Plimmer, May 1998

Biographical Dictionaries

Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy. 1990. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Batsford. 809.89287 Bl.

This helped me to decide which female author I wanted to research. The little information it provided about Anna Maria Bennett described her as being predictable in social attitudes with mockery of female gothic novelists. It states that she is a Minerva best-seller and that her work contains verbal irony, robust satire and a free range of low life. From this small extract of information, I was already able to identify Bennett as being different in some ways from the genteel novelist.

Shattock, Joanne. 1993. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. REF 820.3

This gave quite general details about her origins, dates of her novels and a description of the style of her work. It emphasised some of the uncertainty surrounding her details. It states that her name is Anna Maria Bennett but at times she is mistakenly called Agnes Bennett. Her father has been variously described as a grocer or a customs officer, her brother as a city attorney and her husband as a tanner. She herself was also involved in employment, working in a Chandlers shop and then, after leaving her husband, as a housekeeper to Sir Thomas Pye who was the father to her children. She had two children, one of whom went on to be an actress, fully supported by her mother. Her work is described here as 'characterised by low born heroines whose virtues contrasted with those in higher stations, plots which contained financial reversals and sexual comedy which later proved her undoing'. This, combined with the fact that both Scott and Coleridge expressed enthusiasm for her work, would suggest that she was substantially successful. This brief information about her life, therefore gave me an insight into the background behind her work. The following works and dates were also listed;

1. Anna; or Memoirs of a Welch Heiress. (1785)

The entire print of this first novel sold out on the first day of publication.

2. Juvenile Indiscretions. (1786)

This was attributed to Fanny Burney.

3. Agnes De-Courci. (1789)

This was modelled on Richardson's Clarissa.

4. Ellen; or The Countess of Castle Howel. (1794)

5. The Beggar Girl and her Benefactors (1797)

This was her most popular novel and was described as a satire on female gothic novelists. This made her a Minerva Press best-seller.

6. Vicissitudes Abroad; or The Ghost of my Father. (1806)

Her last completed work and it reportedly sold 2,000 copies on the first day of publication.

It is evident therefore that her work, whether or not highly acclaimed by critics, provided something which proved popular among readers.


Alston, R. C. 1990. A Checklist of Women Writers, 1801-1900, Fiction, Verse, Drama. London, British Library. BIB 820.01

This basically provided me with a list of the works of Anna Bennett and their dates:

1. Ellen, Countess of Castle Howel. A Novel. London, 1805.

2. Emily, or The Wife's first Error; and Beauty and Ugliness. London, 1819.

3. Faith and Fiction, or Shining Lights in a Dark Generation. London, 1816.

4. Juvenile Indiscretions. A Novel. London, 1805.

5. Vicissitudes Abroad; or The Ghost of my Father. London, 1806.

This was a source of interest as it brought to light the difference in dates to those in The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. The novels Emily, Countess of Castle Howel and Faith and Fiction seem to be published after Bennett's death in 1808. The dates of the other works, however, could be second or third editions of the novels. It still however reflects some uncertainty around why these two authors are associated with each other.

Beasley, Jerry. C. 1978. English Fiction, 1660-1800: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research. BIB 823.001

This did not lead me to any direct sources on Bennett, but it did however lead to the following sources, which given more time may have given more detail:

1. Altick, Richard. D, and Andrew Wright. 1975. Selective Bibliography for the Study of English and American Literature. 5th ed. New York: Macmillan.

2. 1917-71. Dictionary of National Biography. 21 Vols with Supplements. London: Oxford Univ. Press.

An invaluable source of information about major and minor literary figures of all periods; the 1951-60 supplement contains an index to the entire series

3. Harvey, Paul. Ed. 1967. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed, rev by Dorothy Eagle, Oxford: Clarendon.

Ward, William. S. 1972. Vol. I of Literary Reviews in British Periodicals 1798-1820 New York: Garland BIB 820.96., pg 152.

This listed all the periodicals that contain reviews about Agnes Bennett's novel The Beggar Girl. These are:

1. British Critic, AS nos 11 ( Jan 1798 ), 76-77.

This provided me with the following information on The Beggar Girl:

Art 24: The Beggar Girl and her Benefactors in Seven Volumes by Mrs Bennett, author of Welch Heiress, etc, etc. 12 mo. 1l.4s.6d, Lane 1797.

The Beggar Girl has excited a considerable flare of attention among the readers of a certain class but to us it appears a work distinguished by no great force of invention, or novelty, or incident. The first three volumes are best written, and most interesting, but the heroine like other heroines, is exposed to various 'hair-breadth escapes,' difficulties, and dangers, from all which she is delivered in the usual way. The catastrophe [is?] also much like other catastrophe'. The Beggar Girl is ultimately discovered to her parents, by a mark on some part of her person, and proves to be the daughter of the gentleman who first discovered and protected her. What the author should be induced to protract the [novel?] to so outrageous a length, we cannot imagine, unless of popularity of Mad. D'Arblay's work might operate as an incentive to peruse a familiar plan. The book is dedicated to the Duchess of York, in a strain of eulogium no less animated than just; and we doubt not that it will be sufficiently encouraged by the public to justify the author's perseverance in a branch of literature to which her talents are certainly well suited.

This indicates that the work of Bennett was written for a certain class probably lower rather than upper. This emphasises to me the importance of considering the class she is aiming at when discussing her style and content and how it may differ to that of a novel for the genteel class.

2. Critical Review, ns, 22 (Mar 1798): 356-57.

3. Literary Journal, A Review ns, 1 (Apr 1806): 445-47.

4. Monthly Magazine, Suppl 5 (July 15, 1798): 509.

5. Monthly Mirror, 21 (May 1806): 331.

I was unable to find these in the source I had access to. Given more time to find them, they would probably prove very useful.

6. Monthly Review, RBA 050, nos 73/1785

This provided a little information on Anna; or Memoirs of a Welch Heiress. It gave a small review of this novel:

Art 36. Anna; or Memoirs of a Welch Heiress:

interspersed with Anecdotes of a Nabob. 12mo. 4 Vols. 10s, Fewed lane. These volumes, though by no means written with the elegance or spirit of Cecilia, of which they appear to be an imitation, have a sufficient variety of character and incident to keep up the reader's attention and make them in some degree interesting. (153)

Once again this stresses that perhaps the work of Bennett did not promote the style of the genteel novel, but the emphasis upon her popularity would suggest that she was very capable of writing for another class.

General Reading

Armstrong, Nancy. 1987. Desire and Domestic Fiction. A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

This did not give any specific details on Bennett but it helped me establish an idea of the conditions women were writing within. It gave me a definition of what was expected of a female author in the eighteenth century.

Copeland, Edward. 1995. Women Writing About Money: Women's Fiction in England 1790-1820. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 823.7 Co

This proved extremely useful as a background information source but also gave specific references to Agnes Bennett in terms of her novels and her origins. This is also interesting because there seems to be some confusion concerning the authors Anna Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett. There seems to be little distinction between the two, Elizabeth Bennett being the author of Faith and Fiction and Emily, or the wife's first Error; and Beauty and Ugliness. In some instances, however, these works are listed as the work of Anna Bennett. This book was very useful in terms of giving me an insight into the way in which Bennett handles women and money and employment, giving me the chance to place her within her contemporaries. It also provided a lot of information on the Minerva Press novelists and the way they were perceived by their contemporaries.

MacCarthy, Bridget G. 1947. The Female Pen, Vol 2: The Later Women Novelists, 1744-1818. Oxford, Cork Univ. Press. 823.09.

Information concerning the background and expectations of the woman author.

Moers, Ellen, Literary Women: The Great Writers. New York: Doubleday.

This provided me with some useful information concerning female characters and money. She relates it to the style of Jane Austen which helped me when placing Bennett within her contemporaries.

Poovey, Mary. 1984. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer. Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

This gave me information upon the style the female writer must conform to , in order to remain within the boundaries of the proper lady. It provided me with a definition of what this should be and enabled me to begin determining what sort of a writer Bennett was in terms of her contemporaries It makes specific references to Austen and Burney who are the two genteel novelists I am comparing Bennett to. It also provided information about the Minerva Press, which is the type of style Bennett was categorised as.

Tompkins, J. M. S. 1965. The Popular Novel in England, 1779-1800. London: Methuen. 823.6 To.

This describes Bennett as a 'popular novelist who wrote versions of the Cinderella and Griselda stories', in reference to Anna; or Memoirs of a Welch Heiress and Ellen, Countess of Castle Howel. It also states that these do not affront the readers intelligence, but that her 'Juvenile Indiscretions, with its crowd of minor characters and its studied scenes of London middle class life, has a solidity of conception that points towards the broad-based, well-stocked novel of the nineteenth century'.

Turner, Cheryl. 1992. Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century. London: Routledge. 823.5.

This briefly mentions Agnes Bennett and gives a list of her works and dates, and says that 'Once authors like Haywood, Smith, Reeve, Radcliffe, Bennett, Roche, Meeke, Charlton, Parson, Bonhote and More had established a reputation with the reading public, they could approach the trade with the confidence of popular, even bestselling writers'.

Contemporary Authors

Austen, Jane. 1816. Emma. 1985. London: Penguin.

Austen, Jane. 1818. Northanger Abbey. 1972. London: Penguin.

Burney, Frances. 1778. Evelina; or History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World. 1994. London: Penguin.

These novels were useful for me as a source of contemporary comparison and gave an idea of what was classed as an acceptable female work. Northanger Abbey, despite being published later than Bennett was writing, offered a reflection of the gothic satire of the time and therefore allowed me to judge the extent to which Bennett conformed to this style.

Other Sources of Information

Database, Address: http:/

This proved particularly useful in terms of The Beggar Girl. It helped me to discover the origins of some of the quotations she borrows in this novel. It emphasised that many of the quotations she makes come from the works of Shakespeare. This however is often in conjunction with the character of John who is very interested in the stage and acting. She also often misspells some of the quotations. At first I considered that this could be a deliberate device to create ironic situations. I concluded however that this was not the case and that she was simply quoting off the top of her head.

Lecture notes for Evelina