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.
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novel, Exilius, or, The Banish'd Roman: A New Romance: In Two Parts, Written after the Manner ofTelemachus, which would not be published until 1715.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.
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.
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."