Jane Barker Critical Essays


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Jane Barker 1652-1732

British novelist and poet.

Barker's chief contribution to literature is her "Galesia Trilogy," consisting of Love Intrigues; or, The History of the Amours of Bosvil and Galesia (1713); A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies; or, Love and Virtue Recommended (1723); and The Lining of the Patch-Work Screen: Design'd for the Farther Entertainment of the Ladies (1726). Although Love Intrigues was originally credited as being authored only by "A Young Lady," by the time of A Patch-Work Screen, Barker had decided to take credit for the work using her own name; historians of women's literature take interest in Barker's unabashed authorship. Barker wrote during a period of transition spanning the time when literature was written for the elite few and circulated privately to the time when novels were written expressly with the buying public's taste in mind. During this time of change, histories, romances, and novels overlapped and commingled, with no clear lines separating and defining the genres. Literature historians give credit to Barker for her influence on making the novel more socially acceptable by making it morally instructive, particularly on sexual matters. Additionally, Barker is praised for her realism, subtlety, irony, experimentation in form, and modernistic conclusions in which not all problems are neatly resolved.

Biographical Information

Barker was born in Northamptonshire in 1652 to Thomas Barker, a Royalist who served in the court of Charles I, and to Anne Connock, whose prestigious family supported the Stuart monarchs. Sometime in the 1660s Barker attended a girls school near London and also learned farm management—unusual for a female—firsthand at her family's extensive agricultural property in Lincolnshire. This rural life and activity became the subject of many of Barker's poems. Barker shared her poetry with family and educated friends, many of whom were male. It is also believed that at this time—under the working title "Scipiana"—she began her first novel, Exilius, or, The Banish'd Roman: A New Romance: In Two Parts, Written after the Manner ofTelemachus, which would not be published until 1715. Barker's association with students of Cambridge eventually yielded a two-volume collection entitled Poetical Recreations: Consisting of Original Poems, Songs, Odes &c. With Several New Translations. In Two Parts, Part I. Occasionally Written by Mrs. Jane Barker. Part II. By Several Gentlemen of the Universities, and Others, published in 1688. In approximately 1685 Barker moved to London. James II succeeded Charles II to the throne upon the latter's death, and granted Catholics rights previously denied to them; Barker is believed to have converted to Roman Catholicism during this time. Many powerful Protestants opposed James and in 1688 he fled to France, yielding to William of Orange. Tens of thousands of James's supporters left England for France, and their number included Barker. As a Connock and royalist, Barker enjoyed respect in her new setting, and continued to write poetry, much of it in praise of James. In 1704 Barker returned to England. It was here that Love Intrigues was published by the notorious bookseller Edmund Curll. Curll, who advertised heavily his publications, found that the public was fond of Barker's writings, encouraged Barker to satisfy her readers, and continued to publish her books. Critics note that Barker first saw her writing in print at a relatively late age and that she continued working into her seventies. She persevered even after becoming blind in her last years by hiring someone to take down her dictated words. Barker died in France in 1732.

Major Works

Poetical Recreations saw the first appearance of Barker's Galesia, a poet character considered by critics to be the alter-ego of the author. The poetry that constitutes this volume reflects Barker's rural upbringing, explores female-female relationships, and stresses the importance of keeping control of one's emotions and maintaining faith. In certain poems Barker, never married, celebrates life as a spinster. Love Intrigues was originally released with the author credit of "A Young Lady," although in reality Barker was already over sixty years old. Love Intrigues was very successful and went through four editions by the middle of the century. The two-volume set The Entertaining Novels of Mrs. Jane Barker (1719) includes revised versions of Love Intrigues and Exilius several previously unpublished short stories. Exilius mixes various romances in an ambiguous moral fable centering on the heroine Scipiana. In Exilius, Scipiana extolls the value of learning for women. Love Intrigues was Barker's first semi-autobiographical novel. In it, Galesia recalls her younger days when she was romantically pursued by Bosvil, her cousin. This tale of an on-and-off, on-and-off, unrequired-love relationship has a deliberately inconclusive ending. The sequel, A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies, finds Galesia embittered toward the idea of marriage after having suffered from Bosvil's baseness. The title refers both to the experimental nature of having the story seen through various characters, with their narratives of differing tones, and the nature of the stories themselves, which range from love stories to murder tales. Murders are even more prominent in the last work of the Galesia trilogy: The Lining of the Patch-Work Screen. Galesia, now older, reflects on the follies she has witnessed in the world. The tone is grim as Galesia details the difficulties women face in society.

Critical Reception

Feminist critics find Barker's work an excellent source for the history of women's roles in society and personal relationships. Kathryn R. King (1994) finds note-worthy the fact that Barker freely associated with educated men, a practice that runs counter to some commonly-held conceptions about early women writers. Critics agree that Barker did not simply cater to the public's demand and write whatever she thought they would buy; on the contrary, critics find her work to be of considerable depth, with psychological insights that would not be out of place in twentieth-century novels. Margaret Anne Doody writers: "In her mingling of tones and impressions, in her representation of fancy, memory, and desire, Barker was an influence upon the Richardsonian novel. She also announces themes and techniques found in twentieth-century novelists, particularly women writers such as Dorothy Richardson, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, and Barbara Pym. Like these writers, she draws upon and fictionalizes her own experience, often with considerable humor."

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Poetical Recreations: Consisting of Original Poems, Songs, Odes &c. With Several New Translations. In Two Parts, Part I. Occasionally Written by Mrs. Jane Barker. Part II. By Several Gentlemen of the Universities, and Others, [editor and contributor] (poetry) 1688

Love Intrigues; or, The History of the Amours of Bosvil and Galesia, As Related to Lucasia, in St. Germains Garden [as A Young Lady] (novel) 1713

Exilius, or, The Banish'd Roman: A New Romance: In Two Parts, Written after the Manner of Telemachus (novel) 1715

*The Entertaining Novels of Mrs. Jane Barker. 2 vols, (novels) 1719

A Patch-Work Screen for the...

(The entire section is 178 words.)

Myra Reynolds (essay date 1920)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "General Learning and Literary Work," in The Learned Lady in England, 1650-1760, Peter Smith, 1964, pp. 137-257.

[In the following excerpt, first published in 1920 and reprinted in 1964, Reynolds contends that Barker's novels explore the same material covered earlier in her verse. Reynolds also considers some of the circumstances of Barker's life that are revealed through her character Galesia.]

… Miss Jane Barker is a literary lady whose productions belong in two epochs. Her collected poems appeared in 1688 under the title Poetical Recreations: Consisting of Original Poems, Songs, Odes, etc. With Several New Translations. In Two Parts, Part I....

(The entire section is 1683 words.)

William H. McBurney (essay date 1958)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Edmund Curll, Mrs. Jane Barker, and the English Novel," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4, October, 1958, pp. 385-99.

[Below, McBurney discusses the effect the infamous publisher Edmund Curll had upon the popularity of Barker's romance novels.]

In his Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, published in 1711, the Earl of Shaftesbury declared that "our modern authors … are turned and modelled (as themselves confess) by the publick relish and current humour of the times…. In our day the audience makes the poet, and the bookseller the author."1 Of no literary or sub-literary field was this statement more true than of the...

(The entire section is 6114 words.)

Josephine Grieder (essay date 1973)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to Exilius, or the Banish'd Roman, by Jane Barker, Garland Publishing, 1973, p. 142.

[In the following essay, Grieder divides early-eighteenth-century women's writings into two categories: one type salacious and gossipy, the other moralistic and didactic. The critic contends that Exilius, which fits into the latter group, stresses that conforming to societal expectations must supersede one's personal passion.]

Female writers of fiction during the early eighteenth century may generally be divided into two groups, according to their conception of the novel's intent and function. On one hand are Mrs. Manley and Mrs. Haywood, whose scandal...

(The entire section is 1349 words.)

Josephine Grieder (essay date 1973)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to The Prude: A Novel by a Young Lady, by Ma A., and A Patch-Work Screen for Ladies, by Jane Barker, Garland Publishing, 1973, p. 143.

[In the excerpt below, Grieder praises A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies for the historical importance of its authentic descriptions of ordinary life; its atypical heroine, Galesia; and its modernistic conclusion, which leaves some narrative conflicts unresolved.]

… [A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies] hangs together by that most fragile of threads, a central narrator who discusses her observations and recounts her own and others' adventures. The numerous poetic epistles, though composed by...

(The entire section is 1328 words.)

Margaret Anne Doody (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Deserts, Ruins, and Troubled Waters: Female Dreams in Fiction and the Development of the Gothic Novel," in Genre, Vol. X, No. 4, Winter, 1977, pp. 529-72.

[In the following excerpt, Doody elaborates on ways that Barker's descriptions of the dreams of her female characters emphasize the women's unheroic and subjective lives.]

My Harriet has been telling me how much she suffered lately from a dream, which she permitted to give strength and terror to her apprehensions from Mr. Greville. Guard, my dear Ladies, against these imbecillities of tender minds. In these instances, if no other, will you give a superiority to our Sex….1


(The entire section is 2620 words.)

Marilyn L. Williamson (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Jane Barker (1652-1727)," in Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650-1750, Wayne State University Press, 1990, pp. 102-6.

[In the following excerpt, Williamson examines some of the ironies of Barker's poetry, as well as the patterns found in Barker's novels which give advice for women regarding courting.]

Jane Barker was one of the most self-conscious daughters of Orinda, and her career began in a way that would have made the identification logical. Early in her career, Barker enjoyed the encouragement of men: Poetical Recreations: Consisting of Original Poems, Songs, Odes (1688) was jointly created by Barker with "several gentlemen of the...

(The entire section is 5623 words.)

Kathryn R. King (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Galesia, Jane Barker, and a Coming to Authorship," in Anxious Power: Reading, Writing, and Ambivalence in Narrative by Women, edited by Carol J. Singley and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, State University of New York Press, 1993, pp. 91-106.

[In the following essay, King examines what A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies reveals concerning Barker's anxieties about the public's reception of her writing.]


The story told by the poet and novelist Jane Barker, in three autobiographical narratives about her struggle to fashion an identity as a writing woman, is inevitably a study in ambivalence. It is impossible that a woman coming to...

(The entire section is 4637 words.)

Kathryn R. King (essay date 1994)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Unaccountable Wife and Other Tales of Female Desire in Jane Barker's A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies" in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Vol. 35, No. 2, Summer, 1994, pp. 155–72.

[In the following essay, King discusses female-female relationships depicted in A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies. She notes that what may have been intended by Barker as a warning to women who experience same-sex desires can instead be interpreted as criticism of a patriarchal society.]

—and she said, We all join'd with her Husband to make her miserable, by removing from her, the only Friend she had in the World; and...

(The entire section is 8186 words.)

Kathryn R. King (essay date 1994)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Jane Barker, Political Recreations, and the Sociable Text," in ELH, Vol. 61, No. 3, Fall, 1994, pp. 551-70.

[In the essay that follows, King explores Barker's participation in a complex literary community that also included men.]

In Writing Women's Literary History (1993), Margaret Ezell argues forcefully for a rethinking of the assumptions that govern feminist literary history.1 Feminist historiography, she contends, derives its models of female authorship from nineteenth-century practices; these models distort our understanding of the circumstances and modes of production of women writers of earlier eras. In the narratives generated...

(The entire section is 8634 words.)