Aubin, Penelope (c. 1685–1731)

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Aubin, Penelope (c. 1685–1731)

British author and translator. Born around 1685 in London, England; died in England around 1731; married a government employee, name unknown.

Selected works:

The Strange Adventures of the Count de Vinevil (1721); The Life of Madame de Beaumont (1721); The Life of Charlotta DuPont (1723); The Life and Adventures of the Lady Lucy (1726).

In the late 17th and early 18th century, fictional novels by women made their debut in England. At a time when it was considered disreputable for women to write, let alone receive payment for their work, Penelope Aubin experienced relative success and would become known as a respected foremother of the fictional novel.

Little, however, is known about the author. The only published account of her life, by Abbé Prévost, appeared during the pinnacle of her success. She was the daughter of a poor French officer, who immigrated to England around the time of her birth, and his English, likely Protestant, wife. Aubin's lineage drew her back and forth between British allegiance and an attraction to things French, a dichotomy apparent in several of her works. She was married to a financially secure man who held a government post, though his name is unknown, and she was a devout Roman Catholic.

These latter factors allowed Aubin, in good conscience, to continue writing. She reportedly required no fee for her work, and her novels bore a strict moral message. In the preface to The Life of Charlotta DuPont (1723), she wrote, "My design in writing is to employ my leisure hours to some advantage to myself and others …. I do not write for bread, nor am I vain or fond of applause; but I am very ambitious to gain the esteem of those who honour virtue." In fact, however, it is believed her publication career did begin for money. Unlike her peers, who wrote romantic and whimsical novels that Aubin thought blended together in their sameness, she hoped to encourage heroism and intelligence in her readers. In 1707, three anonymously published poetic pamphlets by Aubin received broad distribution. She was then silent for 13 years, during which time she married. Aubin reemerged more well-to-do in 1721, and over the next eight years published six novels, four translations (from French and Asian works), a drama, and a moral treatise. In these later years, despite her professions of monetary disinterest, Aubin noted with pride that her many books were widely enjoyed and sold well. She was also a public speaker of popular demand for a short period. In 1729, she established an oratory in London, at which patrons paid a small sum to hear her lecture. Aubin claimed a friendship with author Elizabeth Singer Rowe , though it is unconfirmed if the two knew each other. There is some suspicion that Aubin invoked her peer's name to improve sales of her books, particularly Charlotta DuPont, which is dedicated to Rowe.


Batlestein, Martin C., ed. British Novelists, 1660–1800. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985.

Blain, Virginia, Pat Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Goreau, Angeline. The Whole Duty of a Woman: Female Writers in Seventeenth Century England. Garden City, NY: Dial Press, 1985.

MacCarthy, B.G. The Female Pen: Women Writers and Novelists 1621–1818. NY: New York University Press, 1994.

Williamson, Marilyn L. Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650–1750. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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Aubin, Penelope (c. 1685–1731)

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