Statira: Or, The Mother; A Novel
Author: [Mrs. Showes]
Publisher: Minerva Press
Publication Year: 1798
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 18cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .S53 S 1798
This 1798 novel written by Mrs. Showes examines the strength of marital versus motherly love in the face of jealousy and deception.
A copy of Statira; Or, the Mother. A Novel by the “Author of Interesting Tales” is found in the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the University of Virginia. The title and author of the novel appear as stated above on the title page. However, the University of Virginia library catalog has listed the author as Mrs. Showes. There is no indication on the book itself that the author of Statira; Or, the Mother is a woman.
The cover of Statira holds no markings other than this shortened title stated on the spine in gold lettering. The cover is merely an abstract pattern made of marbled paper, a decorative technique that dates back to 118 CE and was commonly used for book binding in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries due to its simple and inexpensive method of production involving only water, ink, and paper. The book is held together sturdily by quarter sheep binding that can be identified by the grain patterns on the leather. However, a descriptive insert in this copy, likely placed by Michael Sadleir himself, states that the book is bound by quarter calf leather. To have “quarter” binding is to have leather that extends across the spine as well as a small portion of the front and back covers. The descriptive insert is comprised of an index card and handwriting in pen, including all of the information stated on the title page such as the official title, the author’s pseudonym, the publisher “Minerva Press,” and the dedication “for William Lane, 1789.” The official dedication on the title page reads, “For William Lane Leadenhall-Street.”
This copy of Statira is evidentially aged, but remains in good condition. Vertical seams along the leather binding indicate that it has been read more than once. The pages between the front and back covers are thin, brittle, and yellowed, but all pages are present and untorn.
The print of the text appears to be an average size and font, corresponding to the text one would find in a twenty-first century printed book. However, this copy utilizes the “long s” form of the lowercase letter S. This is not uncommon to find in books printed in the eighteenth century. A “long s” resembles an f without the midline. It was derived from the appearance of written text, in which cursive writing sometimes altered the appearance of the s depending on its location in a word and the surrounding letters to which it would be connected. Therefore, an s at the beginning of a word almost always appears normally, while some appear in the form of a long s in the middle of a word. This copy of Statira includes no illustrations of any kind. Both the fourth and fifth chapters in this edition of are labeled “CHAP. IV.,” though this is the only indication of a printing error. The tops and bottoms of the pages also include notations that are not found in contemporary books. These notations involve a lettering and numbering system that may appear as “B2”, “B3”, “C1”, etc. The purpose of this system is to serve as a map that informs the printer of how the pages should be arranged in the physical production of the book.
Statira: Or, The Mother was written by Mrs. Showes and published in 1798 by the Minerva Press. Mrs. Showes previously released a collection titled Interesting Tales that was translated from German and published anonymously in 1797 by Minerva Press. This volumecontained multiple short stories including “Biography of a Spaniel,” “The Mask,” “The Florist,” “The Robber,” “The April Fool,” and “The Idiot.” Statira lists the authorship as “by the author of Interesting Tales.”
It was not uncommon for fictional works by female authors to be published anonymously in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Minerva Press, founded by William Lane in 1780, was the largest fiction publishing company from the time of its founding until the early 1800s. The company is well known for its role in giving a voice to women by routinely publishing their work. The Minerva Press published more literature written by female authors than any other publisher at this time (Peiser). The attention given to female authors by this company likely explains the vast amount of anonymously published work that they released. Each novel printed by The Minerva Press in the year 1785 was published anonymously, as were half of the novels in the year 1800 (Engar).
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, gothic fiction grew increasingly popular among the public. These novels would commonly include a female protagonist, castles, romance, a villain, and supernatural elements. Recognizing the popularity of such stories, Minerva Press primarily printed gothic literature. However, the repetitive nature of the works released by the company was received with some criticism, along with the quality of the printed stories. One review of a Minerva production posted in the August 1797 edition of Monthly Mirror states “If we merely apprize our readers that there exists a novel bearing the title above mentioned, we think we shall do sufficient honour to the Wanderer of the Alps , and the author ought to thank us for not proceeding any further” (Engar).
Statira falls within the classic pattern described above that some deemed monotonous. The novel features a female protagonist, a castle setting, romance, and a villain. Even so, the book seems to have received respectable reviews. The London periodical The Critical Review, or, Annals of Literature, published in April of 1799, included a review of Statira. The review stated, “This volume contains two novelettes, nearly of the same length, founded on the passion of jealousy. That which is entitled Statira is the more instructive; the other is extravagant and feeble. They seem to have been translated from German” (473). The archival digital copy of Statira on Eighteenth Century Collections Online appears to be the same edition that is found in the University of Virginia Sadleir-Black collection. This review is the only indication that there may be an alternative edition of Statira which was originally printed in German.
Narrative Point of View
Statira is told from the third-person point of view by an omniscient narrator who is not characterized in the novel. The narrator communicates the thoughts and feelings of every character in the story, and uses these elements to both enrich and advance the plot. The language used by the narrator is eloquent yet straightforward, often utilizing compound sentences in which many ideas are connected by colons, semicolons, or commas. The narrator also utilizes an active voice, seemingly guiding the reader’s interpretation of the events in the novel.
Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:
But let no one censure the Count of Countess with precipitation or asperity; for the former was not a barbarian, although he may appear so at first sight—he was an unhappy misguided man, a tool in the hands of a villain that used the power he has over him for the basest purposes; and let those that are inclined to blame in credulity, remember, that a sickly constitution often occasions a debility of understanding, and that apathy and peevishness, the usual attendants of illness, naturally render the weakened mind susceptible and suspicious, open to fraud, and inclined to jealousy; and that the fawning sycophant who makes a proper use of such opportunities, seldom fails gaining his purpose. This may be offered as some excuse for the Count’s conduct, but surely much more may be said in the Countess’s favour. A patient endurance of unmerited injuries, although it may be suffered long, will weary at last, and is always limited to a certain point; but tried beyond that, the weaker sex often exceeds the stronger in stability and resolution. (59)
While dialogue and verbal expression are often used as tools to understand characters, this passage demonstrates the role of the narrator to convey the characters’ perspectives in the absence of conversation. However, the limited dialogue in Statira does not prevent the reader from understanding the characters’ thoughts and feelings due to the role of the third person omniscient narrator. The narrator conveys the characters’ thoughts and feelings in a manner that provides the reader with a complete picture of the events taking place by offering multiple perspectives. For example, this excerpt offers a possible justification for each of the characters’ actions in light of their impending separation.
This novel also includes an interpolated found in chapter eight, when the third person omniscient narrator is replaced by Clara as she is asked to recount the story of a beautiful woman in a painting.
Sample Passage from Interpolated Tale:
“If you know her story Clara, I wish you would relate it to us; —by doing so you will oblige my friend and me.” “I will do so with pleasure; but it is long, and I fear will tire your patience. However if you are disposed to listen to me, I will satisfy your curiosity.” They seated themselves near the gate, and Clara related as follows.
“That beautiful woman was daughter to Baron Kirchberg, who lived some centuries ago, in the unfortunate times of the feuds that subsisted amongst the Nobles of Switzerland.” (81–82)
Clara’s narrative continues for the duration of the chapter, describing the story of a young man and woman who ultimately separate due to jealousy and misunderstanding despite being very much in love. In Statira, the Count and the Countess experience very similar issues that result in their separation. One effect, then, of the interpolated tale in this chapter is that it invites parallels between the two stories. Additionally, the fact that this story is shared between characters allows the Count to hear and interpret this story in the context of his own life.
Statira: Or, The Mother recounts the story of a dedicated wife and mother in the face of jealousy and deception. The novel introduces the female protagonist, Statira, as a beautiful young woman who is sought after by many esteemed men. She respectfully denies their affection because she is in love with Count Harton. When the couple turns thirty the two marry, eventually having two daughters and a son. They are exceptionally happy in their domestic life for many years, until a deep sadness overcomes Statira upon the death of her parents. Just as she starts to recover from her depression a year later, the Count falls gravely ill. While his physical health ultimately improves, his mental health remains deteriorated. The Countess spends her days accompanying him in his gloom, trying relentlessly to lift his spirits.
Here, the narrator introduces the novel’s primary antagonist: Count Harton’s servant and presumed friend, a man by the name of Murden who aims to undermine Statira’s efforts. Murden has long dreamed of gaining control of the Count’s property and wealth. The servant has always envied Statira and viewed her as a threat to his agenda. He seizes the opportunity presented by Count Harton’s reduced state to eliminate Statira as a threat and establish himself as Harton’s primary companion. Murden’s plan is to convince the Count of Statira’s infidelity and encourage the Count to indulge in an extended trip to Italy. Murden successfully plants suspicion in Harton’s mind regarding his wife’s loyalty by insinuating that she is having relations with another servant, a man she does indeed respect as he is a close family friend who once saved her parents from a carriage crash. This jealousy builds until the Count publicly and aggressively accuses his wife of her nonexistent crime.
A ruined reputation, along with a now dysfunctional domestic life, puts Statira in a state of misery and total isolation. Despite her attempts to convince her husband of the truth, he remains resentful and cold towards her. Resigned and distraught, she flees the estate with her eldest daughter. Her abandonment is received poorly, seemingly confirming her guilt, and Harton demands a divorce. Recognizing that there is no chance of finding love between her and her husband again, the divorce is finalized. Devastatingly, she loses custody of her children and is left entirely alone. The Countess initially returns to her hometown, but later decides to explore Europe. She never returns, and few people receive letters from her. The Count promptly departs for his planned trip to Italy, leaving his children with a distant relative.
On his way to Italy, the Count visits his friend’s sister, who is a nun at a convent in Switzerland. During his visit, he inquires about a painting of a woman hanging on the wall. The nun tells him the woman’s unfortunate story in its entirety. Idela was the daughter of a Baron by the name Kilchberg, and deeply in love with her husband Henry Toggenburg. In a battle with Kilchberg and Toggenburg’s enemy, Henry was captured and arranged to be executed. Idela resolved to find her husband, determined to either rescue him, die with him, or die for him. With elaborate disguise and deception, she took his place as prisoner accepting that she would either die in his place or be granted mercy. Fortunately, she was shown grace and convinced her husband’s executioner to show him forgiveness. Despite this demonstration of love and sacrifice, a simple misunderstanding one year later caused Henry to question Idela’s faithfulness. In a fit of rage and jealousy, he attempted to murder her. Upon realizing his error, he begged her for forgiveness, but Idela declared that she was no longer his. She spends the remainder of her life in the convent where Harton now sits, considering for the first time the possibility of his wife’s innocence.
The Count returns from his trip to find his estate in shambles and that he is in great debt. Murden has since passed away, but the Count deduces that Murden was in fact deceitful as his wife suggested. He also receives a letter from his relative reporting that his children have smallpox and are close to death. Harton rushes to his children’s side, and joyfully finds them in better health thanks to the unremitting care of their new governess, Madame Laborde. The Count, wishing to thank Madame Laborde, learns that she has since contracted smallpox and is near death according to the physicians. The Count enters her room regardless and finds none other than Statira, who composed a new identity in the hopes of filling out her role as a mother to her children. She dies of her illness later that evening, joyful that she gets to claim her children in front of her husband in her final moments. Count Harton spends his days lamenting her loss and coping with the severity of his transgression.
Engar, Ann W. “The Minerva Press; William Lane.” The British Literary Book Trade, 1700–1820, edited by James K. Bracken and Joel Silver, Gale, 1995. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 154. Literature Resource Center.
Peiser, Megan. “Review Periodicals and the Visibility of William Lane’s Minerva Press.” Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, 26 Sept. 2016. http://rs4vp.org/review-periodicals-visibility-william-lanes-minerva-press-megan-peiser-university-missouri/
Showes, Mrs. Interesting Tales. London, Minerva Press, 1797.
Showes, Mrs. Statira; Or, The Mother. A Novel. London, Minerva press, 1798.
“Statira, or the mother. A novel, by the author of interesting tales.” 1799. The Critical review, or, Annals of literature Vol. 25, 1799: 473.
Researcher: Janie Edwards