Saturday, March 31, 2012

Quick Curiosity about Nancy and Otto

In paging around through the internets for information on my last Nancy Shippen blog (part 11 of the ongoing tragedy!), I happened across a reference to The Sylph on "The Dutchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century." It's one of my guilty history pleasures (okay not so guilty because it is well-researched, just guilty because of my prickly, no-romance exterior).

Long story short, it was written in 1779 by the ill-married Georgiana Cavendish, Dutchess of Devonshire (pictured at right with the fabulous hairdo and ostrich feathers). It's a novel about "the naive country girl, Julia, who marries a rich aristocrat but soon discovers him to be a rake who spends all his money on gambling and mistresses. To distract herself from her woes, Julia involves herself in the ton and fashion, making friends and frenimies with the elite. Meanwhile her home life only gets worse when her husband gets more and more abusive. Her fellow wives of the ton bring little consolidation because they are just as ill-used by their husbands. In her worst time of need an anonymous person calling himself The Slyph (a sylph was a mythical invisible spirit) writes to her offering her advice. Eventually, Julia is forced to run away from her husband (who promptly commits suicide) and she discovers the true identity of The Slyph and the two wed." (summary borrowed from the blog)

See the paralells to Nancy?

And Julia! Julia was what Louis Otto had begun calling Nancy in the throes of romantic passion in early 1790. "...the Julia, whose letter I can not peruse too often..." he wrote after their meeting in New York that spring and later, "forgive it Julia" in August.

Louis Otto and Nancy Shippen had long called each other by nicknames borrowed literature or mythology. She called him Leander in their youth. He had at least once called her Amanda.

Is this sudden adoption of the name Julia a reference to the tragic heroine of the Dutchess of Devonshire's novel? Is Louis suggesting that he is going to rescue Nancy from her terrible marriage? To be sure, Julia is a name that had many applications over the decades, going back to Ancient Rome. But the timing and popularity of The Sylph does make me wonder.

Although I can never be sure, the possiblity adds an interesting perspective to their perseption of the romance and their hopes for it.

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