Authors: Katherine Sturtevant
“Who will publish it?” my father asked.
“Why, no one, yet. A friend of mine has written it. It is a play, or a part of a play, and as good as some things I have seen the King's Company perform.”
“Why does your friend not finish it?”
“Oh, she will, or she will write something else as good. She will write when she is ready. She is young yet, and has things to learn, but she will have us all laughing at her plays someday if she chooses.”
“Another she-poet! One Aphra Behn is enough, I think,” my father said.
“All women may write plays as far as I am concerned, if they write as well as Aphra Behn,” Mr. Winter answered him. Then he turned to smile at me. My face was scarlet. I knew he spoke of my work, yet I could hardly believe he meant the things he said, and I was glad he left without a private word.
But the rest of the day the air was changed. It was light and fresh, and my thoughts were light and fresh. Each printed page smelt of promise and possibility. And I thought about my future and for the first time I believed it to be yet unwritten.
Perhaps I will marry a bookseller.
Perhaps I will be a cherished member of my brother Toby's household.
Perhaps Toby will yet die (though I do not wish it) and I will be an heiress once more.
Perhaps I will make my fortune writing plays, like Aphra Behn. Perhaps.
We do not know our futures, though we sometimes think we do. The world is full of strange things and strange chances. There is no safety, but neither can we be certain that any given sorrow will be ours, not until it comes upon us.
We do not know what every comet means.
What is there to do in this life, then, but to choose as Mr. Barker has chosen? To be open to all, to go on learning, to steer one's boat into the wind?
And this is what I mean to do from this day, one day after another, at the sign of the Star.
The major characters in this bookâthe ones you hear talking, quarreling, and laughingâare fictional. I invented Meg and her entire family, including Miles Moore, bookseller. I also made up Anne Gosse and her family, Meg's neighbors, customers such as Paul Winter, and publishers such as Mr. Fletcher. I created Mr. Barker, the astrologer, and his almanac; I also created Mr. Pennyman and
A Wife's Misdeeds.
But most of the authors mentioned really existed during the years in which my story is set. Each book that serves as a chapter title was a real book written by a real author of the time. The astrological prognostications from
News from the Stars
really were taken from that book, which I read on microfilm, and Hannah Woolley's recipes really were used during the seventeenth century. The only liberty I took was with the book
An Antidote Against Melancholy.
Although copies of this book still exist, none was accessible to me when I was doing my research. I liked the title so much that I used it anyway, and took the verses Meg refers to from a book called
Samuel Pepys' Penny Merriments,
edited by Roger Thompson. According to this source, the song between Nanny and Jenny, called “New London Drollery,” was printed in 1687, and the riddle Meg tells Paul Winter is from “Merry Riddles,” which was published in 1685.
Of the authors whose books serve as chapter titles, Aphra Behn (1640â1688) deserves special mention, because it surprises many today to learn that a successful female playwright lived more than three hundred years ago. And Aphra Behn was indeed successful. Between 1670 and 1688 over a dozen of her plays were staged in London, and only John Dryden had more plays produced at court for the royal family. Behn's success presumably encouraged other women to try their hands at playwriting. In the 1690s (when Meg would have been in her thirties) Catherine Trotter, Mary de la RiviÃ¨re Manley, and Mary Pix all had their works produced in London's playhouses.
Those interested in learning more about these women playwrights, or in reading the plays they wrote, should consult
The Female Wits,
by Fidelis Morgan.
Readers who want to find out more about the period might enjoy Liza Picard's
and those who share my special interest in how women fared at the time may wish to read Antonia Fraser's
The Weaker Vessel,
which deals with the varied roles of English women throughout the seventeenth century.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Many people helped this book come into being, sometimes without even knowing it (such as the countless librarians who helped me find my way to sources). I would like especially to thank Carol Dorf, Larry Holben, Marian Michener, Lee Sturtevant, and Peter Szego for reading the work in manuscript; the women in my writing group for their suggestions and support; Wesley Adams, my editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux; and the people who keep me going: Andrea Goodman, Larry Holben, and Ron.
is also author of
A Mistress Moderately Fair,
a historical novel for adults, and
Our Sister's London: Feminist Walking Tours.
She lives in Berkeley, California. You can sign up for email update
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Copyright Â© 2000 by Katherine Sturtevant
All rights reserved
First edition, 2000
Sunburst edition, 2002
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First eBook edition: October 2015