Political secret histories were long misunderstood as poorly organized romance novels. By digging deeper into these works, Dr. Rachel Carnell has found they actually represent a serious literary genre of opposition politics.
“The political secret history recounts gossip – some of it salacious – about important figures at court or in Parliament, in order to tarnish those in power,” said Dr. Carnell, a professor of English at Cleveland State University who specializes in the political history of the British novel.
Delarivier Manley was one of the most important writers of political secret history in the early 18th century. Dr. Carnell is the co-editor of a five-volume edition of Manley’s works and the author of a political biography about Manley.
“Some of the most interesting features of narrative perspective in the later novel, including free indirect discourse, may stem from the playful narrative structure of political secret histories,” Dr. Carnell said. “They were often ingeniously organized — with different embedded narrators — so the authors could better defend themselves against libel.”