Perhaps the first extended non-fiction prose satire written by an English woman, Jane Collier’s An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting (1753) is a wickedly satirical send-up of eighteenth-century advice manuals and educational tracts. It takes the form of a mock advice manual in which the speaker instructs her readers in the arts of tormenting, offering advice on how to torment servants, humble companions and spouses, and on how to bring one’s children up to be a torment to others. The work’s satirical style, which focuses on the different kinds of power that individuals exercise over one another, follows in the footsteps of Jonathan Swift and paves the way for Jane Austen.
This Broadview edition uses the first edition, the only edition published during the author’s lifetime. The appendices include excerpts from texts that influenced the essay (by Sarah Fielding, Jonathan Swift, Francis Coventry); excerpts from later texts that were influenced by it (by Maria Edgeworth, Frances Burney, Jane Austen); and relevant writings on education and conduct (by John Locke, George Savile, Dr. John Gregory).
Jane Collier: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text
An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting
Appendix A: Advertisement to the 1757 Edition
Appendix B: Models for Collier’s Satire
- From Sarah Fielding, The Adventures of David Simple, 1744
- From Jonathan Swift, Directions to Servants, 1745
- From Francis Coventry, The History of Pompey the Little, 1751
Appendix C: On Education and Conduct
- From John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 1699
- From George Savile, Marquess of Halifax, The Lady’s New-Year’s Gift: or, Advice to a Daughter, 1692
- From John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters, 1774
Appendix D: Later Satires on the Art of Tormenting
- From Maria Edgeworth, An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification, 1795
- From Frances Burney, The Wanderer, 1814
- From Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814
Audrey Bilger is an Associate Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA. She is the author of Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen.
An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting
…it is from suffering, and not from inflicting torments, that the true idea of them is gained (130).
A satire in the manner of Swift’s Directions to Servants,1 Collier’s Essay is neither so light nor so sharp a piece of prose, though it possesses a certain sardonic weariness. I am reminded of Woolf’s criticism of Jane Eyre – one feels the author’s indignation and, more importantly, lack of control so much that the work itself is weakened. Such criticism is not quite appropriate in this case, not least because the sections dealing with Collier’s own experience as an unmarried dependent female or any of the common perversities of friendship are the most powerful in the work:
When a person so thoroughly loves his friend, that it is one his greatest pleasure, to serve, to please, or to amuse him; he cannot, it is true, want thanks for every thing he does; nay, he will be so far from it, that nothing could be more unpleasant to him, than to receive such perpetual acknowlegements for his kindness; yet there is a manner of overlooking such constant endeavours, which is not only mortifying, but very grating, and which I would have you, my good pupil, not fail to practise. But if ever it has been in your power to do the least service to your friend, you may puff and blow; you may magnify the trouble you have taken; and you may praise your own friendly disposition and good-nature, till you have forced from your friend thanks and acknowlegements enough to repay you for having conferred the greatest favour in the world (100).
Although it is possible to read the Essay looking for humor, as I did, I wonder now whether it wouldn’t be more appropriate to consider it as an anatomy of psychological abuse, an approach that might reconcile a reader the occasional broken and limping passages.
There is one mistake which people have often run into, in their choice of a dupe; namely, in thinking, that the principle qualification to be insisted on is, his having a soft place in his head; whereas the chief thing to seek after is, the man who has a soft place in his heart. Many a disappointment has arose, from fixing your choice on a fool; for frequently will you find such a want of affection, such a thorough selfishness, so much cunning and obstinacy, annexed to folly, that all your labour will be thrown away (94).
The 12th of June 2004, a Saturday, at 18.54.
Generally: criticism; more specifically to do with: abuse, dependency, feeling, friendship, hatred, jane collier, pleasure, power, tormenting, women.
Might be similar to: ‘‘could it be J— H— herself?’’ · ‘markedly’ · ‘Montaigne 1.28’ · ‘The Guermantes Way’ · ‘pleasant & agreeable’ ·