At the Margins of Menippean Dialogue: Sarah Fielding’s “History of Anna Boleyn” and the Muted Female Figures of Lucian’s Satiric Underworld

Elizabeth Goodhue, University of California, Los Angeles
Vol. 29, No. 2 (Fall 2010), 263-289

Scholarship on ancient and modern dialogues of the dead has had surprisingly little to say about the genre’s persistent antifeminism—and no more to offer about the women writers of Britain’s long eighteenth century who called attention to that hostile undercurrent by authoring scenes of posthumous speech that stretched the gendered limits of the form. This article redresses both oversights by reading the posthumous speech of Sarah Fielding’s Anna Boleyn against the satiric portraits of women in Lucian of Samosata’s Menippean dialogues (second century CE) and in the works of Fielding’s brother Henry. The essay argues that Lucian and his male followers predicate the afterlife of satiric speech on the repeated truncation and distortion of feminine voices; it also expands the critical definition of “Menippean” dialogues to accommodate the alternative story told by women writers. A brief coda then places Fielding’s “History of Anna Boleyn” in a wider feminist context by situating the text alongside her Lives of Cleopatra and Octavia and a pair of underworld dialogues composed by Fielding’s fellow bluestocking, Elizabeth Montagu.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]