Madeleine-Angélique de Gomez (1684–1770) was a highly successful playwright and novelist, whose popularity transcended borders. This is volume two of the third edition of a translation of her work that is especially interesting because it was done by the author Eliza Haywood (c. 1693–1756); it has recently come to receive attention for its depiction not only of polite society and romance, but also of empire and slavery (Persons).
This particular copy is exciting because it has a female signature in it, and one that possibly belongs to a female owner we featured earlier on this blog, here. In that post, on a copy of George Savile’s The Lady’s New Year’s Gift (1688), I discussed how the dating of the signature and the various other inscriptions in the book allowed us with fair degree of certainty to identify the owner as Mary Brooke (1723-1782), who married Richard Supple (1720-1797) and whose son, Richard Brooke Supple (1758-1829) became a Baronet. The signature looks somewhat similar to the one in this translation of Madame de Gomez’s work, though the capital letters M and B and the letter e look different.
Of course someone’s handwriting can change over time, and the date tells us that the inscription in Savile’s book was most likely made when Brooke was still young. It may remain a bit of a mystery whether this is indeed the same owner as the Mary Brooke who inscribed Haywood’s translation. On a back flyleaf of La belle assemblée there is more handwriting to look at, potentially providing more clues.
The writing on these page looks to be in the hand of the Mary Brooke who signed the title page. The passage is copied, as is noted at the top, from Racine’s Athalie, a tragedy published in 1691. It is a speech by Joad, the Jewish high priest, who helps Joash, the rightful heir, regain his throne from the tyranous Athalie. It contains advice to Joash on how to avoid becoming a tyrant, warning against flattery.
The combination of La belle assemblée and Racine’s play show a fascination with French culture and possibly a facility with or an interest in mastering the French language (even though the novella itself is in translation). An ownership inscription and the copied passage are ways of positioning oneself culturally and aligning oneself with particular social groups. Given the choice of passage, it also suggests a political interest that may have affected how Mary Brooke read La belle assemblée.
Our thanks to Dr. Kurtis Kitagawa for photos and descriptions and preliminary research on the female owners of books in his library.
Source: book in private ownership. Photos published with permission.
Annie Persons, “Translation and Empire in Haywood’s La belle assemblée.” In A Spy on Eliza Haywood: Addresses to a Multifarious Writer, edited by Aleksondra Hultquist and Chris Mounsy. New York: Routledge, 2021.