Edmund White
Forgetting Elena
The Joy of Gay Sex
Nocturnes for the King of Naples
States of Desire: Travels in Gay America
A Boy's Own Story
The Beautiful Room is Empty
Caracole
The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis
The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction
Genet: A Biography
The Burning Library
Our Paris: Sketches from Memory
Skinned Alive
The Farewell Symphony
Marcel Proust
The Married Man
Loss Within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS
The Flâneur
Fanny, A Fiction
Arts and Letters
My Lives: An Autobiography
Terra Haute
Chaos
Hotel de Dream
Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel
City Boy
Sacred Monsters
Jack Holmes & His Friend
Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris

 

The Fanny, A Fiction (2003)

Edmund White, the award-winning biographer of French writer/playwright Jean Genet, acclaimed novelist, and cultural critic, undertakes a masterful, yet imaginary portrait of one of America’s earliest feminists, Fanny Wright, in Fanny, A Fiction.
 
A controversial figure in the early decades of the 1800s, Fanny Wright first generated gossip and headlines as mistress to the much older General Lafayette in the 1820s. She was later reviled as a fierce abolitionist during her sensational America lecture series in 1825, one of the first occasions a woman spoke in public about important social issues of the day. A fervent idealist, Wright subsequently became a founder of a utopian community (called Nashoba) in Ohio in 1832. And, as a strong feminist before the term was even coined, Fanny was also the founder and editor of two progressive newspapers, one at Robert Owen’s utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana, in the mid- 1830s, called the “New Harmony Gazette,” the other in New York City, later that decade, entitled “The Free Inquirer,” which promoted both women’s and workers’ rights.
 
Now, in a creative twist, Edmund White tells Wright’s story in an ingenious, mock-biographical approach. Inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the novelist employs the device of a “discovered” biography of Fanny Wright, which has been penned by Mrs. Frances Trollope, mother of Anthony, the famed British novelist. A noted author herself, Mrs. Trollope’s scorching account of American “primitive” fashions and mores, entitled the Domestic Manners of Americans, triggered a huge national outcry when it was first published in 1832. The two women first met on a transatlantic voyage, and it is their friendship, then rivalry that drives the author’s novel forward.
 
According to White, his interest in Fanny Wright was first aroused by reading an account of her life in the Dictionary of National Biography in the early 1960s. Not until he read Mrs. Trollope’s scathing dismissal of American manners 30 years later, in which Fanny Wright appears and is described, did he conceive of a way to tell Fanny’s life through the “mock-biography” of Mrs. Trollope. It was Mrs. Trollope’s witty, well-written anecdotes about Fanny Wright that proved to be White’s creative inspiration.
 
Plucky, ever-impoverished, and responsible for raising and providing for a large family, Mrs. Trollope’s unlikely amity, then antagonism with Fanny provides the drama to a rollicking tale set against the colorful landscape of mid-19th century America. At the dawn of our industrial age, important social issues of slavery, women’s rights, the competing claims of labor and capital were just beginning to be debated, and in these ensuing controversies, no one captured headlines more than the fiery, passionate Fanny Wright.
 
Full of comic scenes depicting America's rough, democratic impulses, the author offers humorous, yet sympathetic portraits of Wright, Trollope, Lafayette, and Jefferson. Other compelling characters depicted in White's ironic account are: Jupiter Higgins, the runaway slave lover of Mrs. Trollope; Auguste Hervieu, a French artist who falls in love with Henry, another of Mrs. Trollope's sons; and, last but not least, the curious figure of Joseph Dorfeuille. The latter is a "curator" of Cincinnati's first museum, a rotund showman who joins forces with Mrs. Trollope, Auguste Hervieu and Henry to mount a fantastic, circus-like display of the world's most famous historical figures all molded from wax, an enterprise that first brings success and later near total financial ruin for all involved.

 

 

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