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Abstract

In her paper, "The Staged Self in Mary Carleton's Autobiographical Narratives," Geraldine Wagner examines Mary Carleton's use of romance and picaresque modes of self-representation to appropriate and redefine counterfeiting as a legitimate means to identity. The most notorious female criminal of the English Restoration, Mary Carleton, captured the public's imagination in 1662 when she stood trial for bigamy. Although acquitted on insufficient evidence, the allegation that she was a common shoemaker's wife counterfeiting the identity of a German noblewoman spawned a war of pamphlets of competing biographical accounts between Carleton and her detractors. Wagner argues that these attempts to confine Carleton to an essentialist view of selfhood demonstrate how her self-styling tapped a deep well of cultural anxiety regarding the instability of gender, class, and ethnic identity. She contends that to read Carleton's life as a German noble as a mere criminal con or even an inventive fiction is to discredit her lived experience unjustly. For, in staging herself through live and textual performance, Carleton not only created a valuable literary (and theatrical) commodity, but also subverted successfully an economics in which counterfeits were otherwise considered worthless.

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