Manley lives only in that line of Pope which seems to promise it immortality." (2) Today, however, a growing number of critics are discussing The New Atalantis, often as part of analyses of women's writing or the "rise of the novel." A comment relevant to both of these projects which has been largely overlooked is Manley's own description of the book in her dedication to the second volume: "The New Atalantis seems, my Lord, to be written like Varonian satires, on different subjects, tales, stories and characters of invention." (3) To label a work a Varronian satire seems somewhat exotic, even pedantic, today.
Manley herself, however, identifies a different type of formal tradition for the work when she describes The New Atalantis as a Varronian satire.
Manley's mention of Varronian satire jars with feminist depictions of her work as part of a "female form"; one reading, in order to propose a "distinctly feminocentric model" of influence, dismisses "the invocation of Varro" as "nothing more than an audacious trope." (7) In seeking to restore Manley as an object of serious study, critics have at times gone too far in portraying her as a feminist author writing a feminist work for a female audience; occasionally, feminist elements of the texts (which are undoubtedly present) are inaccurately or misleadingly privileged.
In order to understand what Manley hoped to achieve by aligning her work with Varronian satire, we must first assess the reputation of Varro and his works at Manley's time.
Ultimately, it is this body of criticism which would do more to determine the idea of "Varronian satire." While relatively few were likely to have read the fragments, many were familiar with, for example, Quintilian's description of Varro as "vir Romanorum eruditissimus," his mention of Varro as one who had expounded upon his philosophy in verse, and his praise of the learning conveyed by his work: "Quam multa, paene omnia, tradidit Varro!' (How wide, almost universal, was the knowledge that Varro communicated to the world!).
The tradition of Varronian satire is remarkable in that its primary textual source was lost: the Varro of the eighteenth century was almost entirely a critical construction.
For Casaubon, Varronian satire was a Roman development, distinct from the work of Menippus.
Dacier repeated many of Casaubon's statements on Varronian satire, but also clarified and condensed certain points:
Though Dacier's writings were familiar, Manley and other early eighteenth-century writers were most likely to have encountered descriptions of Varronian satire in Dryden.
Thus far the elements of Varronian satire emphasized by Dryden and other critics include variety, elegance, wittiness, eloquence, and learnedness, as well as the avoidance of "ridiculous" or "impudent" material.