Not Speaking

By Norma Clarke

Not Speaking is a lively and unusual family memoir, and a slice of social history.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

More on subscription publishing, 18thC style

Laetitia Pilkington gave her own twist to subscription publishing. She was a sometime friend of Mary Barber, but circumstances proved too hard on that friendship. Laetitia Pilkington’s marriage failed; she looked to her wit to support herself. She managed to raise the funds to publish her poems and memoirs together, in a single three-volume work, between 1748 and 1754, but no subscribers names were listed. This is because few respectable readers wanted to be associated with her, and some had paid money in order, specifically, not to be mentioned in her text.


Literary history dubs Laetitia Pilkington a ‘scandalous memoirist’. The real scandal, as she protested, was in society’s treatment of women, including those who, like her, fell out of respectability. How was she supposed to live? Without other funds, she lived on her subscriptions. It wasn’t the way it was meant to be; but then, nor was her life. Women’s lives didn’t fit the script that literary practice and literary history laid down. If you’d like to know more about Laetitia Pilkington you can read her Memoirs, brilliantly edited by A. C. Elias, or my biography, Queen of the Wits (Faber, 2008).

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