[London:]: Printed in the year M DCC XXVII: And Sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster, .
18mo in sixes: 13 x 7.5 cm. vi, [ii], 196pp. Collation: A4, B-R6, S2. Pp. [vii]-[viii] are a leaf of publisher’s advertisements for “J. Stephens, at the Bible in Butcher-Row, without Temple-Bar,” including advertisements for two other works by Mary Davys.
Contemporary gilt-ruled calf, unlettered. One or two very minor spots, but an excellent copy; short splits in the joints at head of spine with a couple of pieces of paper reinforcement sometime added and now failed, other signs of wear, but sound; small marginal tear and mild soiling to final leaf. On a flyleaf is an unidentified eighteenth century note “New Cat. no. 1555” and below “Old Cat. No. 2331”, and at the extreme foot of the title verso and p. 51 the tiny circular ink stamp of the Hugh Selbourne library. (now dispersed.).
First edition of Mary Davys’s last novel and arguably her finest, its complex plot and psychological depth considered by modern critics a significant advance in novelistic technique. Given the novel’s recent critical acclaim, it is startling to see just how modest (not to mention rare) its original production was, an undistinguished little book without even an individual bookseller’s imprint, testimony to the difficulties Mrs. Davys had in making a living by her pen.
The ‘Accomplish’d Rake’ offers an unvarnished look at libertines of the period. As Paula R. Backscheider puts it in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, The novel has a number of unpleasant, debauched characters of both sexes and is blunt about consequences; at one point the narrator says of the protagonist, Sir John Galliard, ‘His Drinking made him sick, his Gaming made him poor, his Mistresses made him unsound; and his other Faults gave him sometimes, Remorse.’ He seduces his best friend’s sister, but the brother replaces her for the assignation with a woman who has venereal disease.
Real characters also appear, including the notorious London madam Mother Needham, who imprisons a young virgin and offers her to any spark who will pay for the privilege of deflowering her. And Mary Davys’s comic inventions include such things as the scene where Sir John Galliard climbs the stairs for an assignation with a married woman, only to find her husband has placed firecrackers along the treads, one of which sets his wig on fire, leaving him looking like “a smoked Flitch of Bacon.”
The novel’s conclusion, which could have been a kind of happy ending, is instead a calculated negotiation in which the young gentlewoman whom Sir John has raped and made pregnant, agrees to marriage in spite of her desire of a “firm Resolution of seeing your Face no more. . . but because I have a Child which is very dear to me, and in pity to him I will close with your Proposals, provided you will order Matters so, that he may be the undoubted Heir to your Estate.”
Mary Davys was born and raised in Dublin, where she married Swift’s friend Peter Davys (he chose “indiscreetly,” according to Swift). Peter died young, and Mary moved to England, living by her writing and on the charity of friends; Swift sent her money on several occasions. Her Amours of Alcippus and Lucippe, published in 1704, may be the first original novel by an Irishwoman. A successfully-staged play in 1716 allowed her to move to Cambridge and set up a coffee-house, and some of her later works were supported by Cambridge and other subscribers: those to the 1724 first edition of her novel The Reform’d Coquett included Pope, Gay, and Martha Blount.
Paula Backscheider (see citation above) sums Davys up as one of a group of novelists that included Daniel Defoe, Eliza Haywood, and Penelope Aubin, who set the direction of the development of the English novel; her ability to construct skillful plots may be the strongest of all. Loeber and Loeber, Guide to Irish Fiction, D35: “her novels are notable for their humour, colloquial dialogue and for their portrayals of upper- and middle-class life and helped shape the course of novel-writing in English.”.
McBurney, Check List of English Prose Fiction 1700-1739, 207. ESTC records three copies, at Bodleian, Harvard, and Washington University in St. Louis. OCLC and JISC/COPAC add what at first glance look like additional copies at Illinois, Manchester, and National Library of Scotland; all but the first seem to be reproductions.