Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Delarivier Manley: Playwright, Satirist, and Novelist

Delarivier Manley (died 11 July 1724)


As with her her contemporary, Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley's "life" is known to us mainly by her own fictionalized version of it. 

In her best-selling The New Atalantis (1709) and in The Adventures of Rivella; or, The History of the Author of the Atalantis (1714), she reveals that she was born (probably around 1670) in "Hampshire, in one of those islands which formerly belonged to France, where her father was governor."

Delarivier Manley was born on the island of Jersey, where her father, Sir Roger Manley, had been appointed lieutenant governor (by the actual governor, Sir Thomas Morgan) on 25 Oct. 1667. (The Isle of Wight was considered at one time part of the English county of Hampshire--perhaps that's why Manley named the island of her birth as Hampshire.)

In addition to serving as lieutenant governor, Sir Roger was a royalist soldier and the author of several histories, including a posthumously published History of the Rebellion (1691) about the English Civil War. 

Nothing is known about her mother, though she may have been named Mary Catherine. About her mother, Delarivier Manley would later write that she lost her when she was "very young."  In the persona of Delia, Manley claims that she was educated at home, that she developed a passion for a soldier she met in 1685, and that, as a result, she was sent to spend time with her brother in the home of a Huguenot minister, where she became fluent in French. She also claims that she had the opportunity of becoming a maid of honor to Mary of Modena, the wife of James II, in December of 1687. 

Perhaps she missed the opportunity because her father had died a few months earlier, and Manley was sent into the care of an "old out-of-fashion aunt" who promptly died. She was then transferred to the care of her cousin, the lawyer John Manley (he was the son of her father's brother, also named John Manley); he "married" Delarivier--bigamously, because he already had a wife, Anne Grosse, a Cornish heiress whom he had married in 1679.

In The New Atalantis, she would describe herself as not quite fourteen, "a prisoner" in a "guilty house." After he had squandered his new "wife's" fortune and their relationship produced a child, a boy named John, John Manley returned to his legal wife. 

By 1694, Manley had found her way into the household of Barbara Villiers, duchess of Cleveland, but whether she had run away from her "husband" or been deserted by him is not clear. (Delarivier may not be altogether--or even very--truthful about her relationship with John since there is some evidence she may later have reunited with him and given birth to a second child.)

About Delarivier's status in the Villiers household, Bernadette Andrea writes that she "may have been serving as a companion to one of Charles II's cast-off mistresses, perhaps becoming a mistress to wealthy men herself, maybe engaging in some dubious schemes at blackmail. . . ."

Whatever the situation, six months later she was "expelled" from the duchess's household for having "flirted" with the duchess's son. However unfortunate, this expulsion led to her career as a professional writer. By July she had completed her first play, The Lost Lover; or, The Jealous Husband, A Comedy, produced on stage and published two years later. Later that year, The Royal Mischief, a tragedy, was staged.

She contributed to The Nine Muses, a volume of poetry by women, in 1700, and a novel, Secret History of Queen Zarah and the Zarazians, was published in 1705 (though her authorship of this anonymously published work has been questioned, it is included in Ros Ballaster's 2009 entry on Manley in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).  

The tragedy Almyna, or the Arabian Vow was performed in 1706 and published the next year. In 1709, as we have noted, she published The Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality of Both Sexes, from the New Atalantis, an Island in the Mediterranean--a heady and scandalous mixture of fact and fiction, gossip, politics, and autobiography. Immensely popular, the novel went through seven editions by 1736. After a second volume was added, she was briefly imprisoned, but once discharged, she promptly published volumes three and four as Memoirs of Europe towards the Close of the Eighth Century (1710) and Court Intrigues (1711).

She also wrote political satire for the Tories, edited several numbers of Jonathan Swift's Examiner (1710 and 1711), and published a series of political pamphlets: A True Narrative of what Pass'd at the Examination of the Marquis of Guiscard (1711), A Learned Comment on Dr. Hare's Sermon (1711), and The Honour and Prerogative of the Queen's Majesty Vindicated (1713). 

She published The Adventures of Rivella, as noted, in 1714. One more play, Lucius: The First Christian King of Britain, was produced in 1717. In The Power of Love: In Seven Novels (1720), adapted French and Italian stories from a sixteenth-century English edition, she creates something fresh for her readers; as Ballaster notes, "Manley thoroughly transforms her sources to make them relevant to contemporary contexts and debates, delivers racy plotting, and panders to her readers' voyeurism,"

For the last years of her life, she lived with the printer John Barber. She died of a "cholic" at his printing house on 11 July 1724. Her will asks that all her unpublished work be destroyed so that "none Ghost-like may walk after my decease."

If you have access to the Dictionary of National Biography (online), Bassater's biographical essay is excellent, but if you don't, you can find an earlier DNB entry for Delarivier here, via Google Books. There are used copies of a Penguin edition of The New Atalantis (very expensive!), but also a very affordable new paperback edition of The Adventures of Rivella. Manly's The Royal Mischief is in Bernadette Andrea's English Women Staging Islam, 1696-1707.

And, by the way, along with Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood, Delarivier Manley was praised as "the fair triumvirate of wit."