Gunning, Susannah Minifie (c. 1740–1800)

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Gunning, Susannah Minifie (c. 1740–1800)

English author. Name variations: Susannah Minifie; Mrs. Gunning. Born Susannah Minifie around 1740; died in London, England, on August 28, 1800; daughter of James Minifie; married John Gunning (a colonel of the 65th regiment of foot and lieutenant-general), in 1768; sister of Margaret Minifie; sister-in-law of Elizabeth Gunning (1734–1790) and Maria Gunning (1733–1760); children: Elizabeth Gunning Plunkett (1769–1823).

Details on Susannah Gunning's early life are sketchy. She was the daughter of the Reverend Dr. James Minifie of Fairwater in Somerset, and, by age 23, she published Histories of Lady Frances S… and Lady Caroline S… (1763), a collaboration with her sister, Margaret Minifie . This work was followed by three more, Family Pictures (1764), The Picture (1766), also written with her sister, and The Hermit (1770), a story with conventional plots of love and marriage in the nobility.

In 1768, with her marriage to Captain John Gunning, her writing stopped. Her husband has been described as a morally corrupt individual who may have had his brother-in-law, the duke of Argyll, to thank for his advancement in the military. Gunning and her husband had one daughter, Elizabeth Gunning (Plunkett), and when she reached adulthood, a family breach occurred over a marriage partner for the girl. When Elizabeth embraced her mother's preference for a suitor over her father's, both Susannah and Elizabeth were turned out of the house. Susannah issued a public letter to the duke of Argyll stating her innocence of any deception (there was an intrigue involving a forged letter). The situation grew to such proportions that it became public fodder for the press, with English writer Horace Walpole referring to the incident as 'Gunninghiad.' John Gunning was soon involved in an adulterous affair with his tailor's wife and moved to Italy with her.

In the early 1790s, Susannah Gunning returned to writing. She took advantage of the scandal in the novels, Anecdotes of the Delborough Family (1792) and Memoirs of Mary (1793), in which the heroine suffers as the result of a forged letter, and a poem "Virginius and Virginia" (1792). Her novel Delves (1796) was set in Wales, and her last works, Love at First Sight (1797) and Fashionable Involvements (1800), were novels of manners. Gunning's daughter, Elizabeth Gunning Plunkett, also wrote novels, and one of her works, Combe Wood (1783), was thought to have been written by Susannah Gunning. On the day before he died in 1797, John Gunning changed his will leaving his wife and daughter provided for, with Susannah receiving his Irish estate. Susannah Gunning died in London three years later.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Gunning, Susannah Minifie (c. 1740–1800)

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