The Amazing Mrs Charke

David Nokes

  • The Well-Known Troublemaker: A Life of Charlotte Charke by Fidelis Morgan
    Faber, 231 pp, £19.95, November 1988, ISBN 0 571 14743 7
  • The Ladies: Female Patronage of Restoration Drama by David Roberts
    Oxford, 188 pp, £22.50, February 1989, ISBN 0 19 811743 4
  • The Complete Lover: Eros, Nature and Artifice in the 18th-Century French Novel by Angelica Goodden
    Oxford, 329 pp, £32.50, January 1989, ISBN 0 19 815820 3

In her ingenious ‘autobiography’ of Delariviere Manley, A Woman of No Character (1987), Fidelis Morgan contrived an effect of literary trompe l’oeil. Artfully interweaving extracts from Manley’s ‘secret histories’, The Adventures of Rivella (1714) and The New Atalantis (1709), with passages of factual commentary, she offered a counterfeit self-portrait of a woman whose true identity might best be represented as a series of fictional impostures. Irene von Treskow’s cover illustration confirmed the sense of life as performance: ‘Manley’, disguised in the black robes of a duenna, peeps, half-veiled and half-barefaced, from behind her fan. In her autobiographical Narrative (1755) Charlotte Charke similarly describes herself as ‘playing at bo-peep with the world’, but Morgan’s role in this new co-production, The Well-Known Troublemaker, has switched from impersonator to impresario. In her commentary she confines herself to acting as prologue, epilogue and cheer-leader to Charke’s theatrical memoirs. The book’s cover illustration, depicting the infant Charke dressed in the borrowed robes of her father, Colley Cibber, introduces the twin themes of performance and disguise. Like Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians, the diminutive Charke in knee-length wig, cocked hat, dragging a giant broadsword, affects an absurd kind of strutting dignity, while behind her the local peasants hold up their hands in amazement at this lusus naturae.

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[*] See Julie Wheelwright’s Amazons and Military Maids (Pandora, 1989).