Fragments of the Journal of a Young Lady of Virginia, written by Lucinda Lee Orr to her friend Polly on visits to relatives and friends in Lower Virginia in 1782, show that reading novels had become a pastime of young women and a subject of their correspondence.
From “The Wilderness”, residence of John Grymes, Esq.(one of this family was Gen. Robert Lee’s grandmother) Orr writes to “my dearest Polly” on September 20.
I have spent this morning in reading Lady Julia Mandeville, and was much affected. Indeed, I think I never cried more in my life reading a Novel: the stile is beautiful, but the tale is horrid. I reckon you have read it. Some one just comes to tell us A Mr. Masenbird and Mr. Spotswood is come. We must go down, but I am affraid both Sister’s and my eyes will betray us.
Orr writing from “Belleview”, residence of Thomas Ludwell Lee to Polly
The Company is all gone, and I have seated myself to converse with my Polly. Mrs. A. Washington has lent me a new Novel, called Victoria. I can’t say I admire the Tale, though I think it prettyly told. There is a verse in it I wish you much to read. I believe, if I a’n't too Lazy, I will copy it off for you: the verse is not very butifull, but the sense is, I assure you.
Lucinda writing from Chantilly, the residence of Richard H. Lee.
I have been very agreeably entertained this evening, reading a Novel called Malvern Dale. It is something like Evelina, though not so pretty.
I have a piece of advice to give you, which I have before urged—that is, to read something improving. Books of instruction will be a thousand times more pleasing [after a little while] than all the novels in the World. I own myself, I am too fond of Novel-reading; but, by accustoming myself to reading other Books, I have become less so, and I wish my Polly to do the same.
Writing from Lee Hall, the residence of Richard Lee.
To-day is rainy and disagreeable, which will prevent their comeing from Bushfield. I have entertained myself all day reading Telemachus. It is really delightful, and very improveing. Just as I have seated myself they are come to tell me tea is ready. Farewell.
I have, for the first time in my life, just read Pope’s Eloiza. Just now I saw it laying in the Window. I had heard my Polly extol it frequently, and curiosity lead me to read it. I will give you my opinion of it: the poetry I think beautiful, but do not like some of the sentiments. Some of Eloiza’s is too Ammorous for a female, I think.
We are going to seat ourselves and hear Mr. Pinkard read a Novel.