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About this book

This timely anthology offers a broad selection of critical texts - introductions, prefaces, periodical essays, literary reviews - written by women of the Romantic era. The collection offers fuel for some of the most topical debates in British Romantic period studies including professionalism, nationalism and the literary canon.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
In the past three decades, scholars of reading history and print culture have made impressive strides in the study of formerly neglected genres and authors, including aesthetic commentary by Romantic era women writers. Readers now widely recognize that novels, poems, and private letters all furnish passages in which women writers express views on aesthetic ideals, the value of certain literary forms, or the achievement of predecessors, male and female. The letters of Anna Seward (collected and published in 1811), Jane Austen’s defense of the novel in Northanger Abbey (1818), and the sequence of poetic celebrations of female forebears begun by Felicia Hemans (“The Last Song of Sappho”), Letitia Landon (“Felicia Hemans”) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (“L.E.L.’s Last Question”) offer only a few prominent examples.1 These illustrations reveal much about Romantic women writers’ views of literature, yet although they certainly rank as aesthetic commentary, their authors did not write them explicitly for publication as criticism. Thus even many readers who are aware of these and similar examples still retain a mistaken impression that women rarely ventured into the field of professional literary criticism during these years. By bringing together an assortment of women’s texts published explicitly as criticism, this anthology challenges restrictive assumptions about the range of venues in which women’s literary commentary appeared and the breadth of issues addressed.
Mary A. Waters

Elizabeth Moody (1737–1814)

Abstract
Born Elizabeth Greenly, daughter of a wealthy lawyer residing near Kingston, southwest of London, Elizabeth Moody grew up surrounded by a fashionable set that included lawyers, politicians, courtiers, and literary dilettantes. A book lover from an early age, she also attained unusual fluency in French and Italian, and with access to several fine libraries among neighbors and relatives, she was well read in English, French, and Italian literature. For many years, she composed and privately circulated verse within a small literary coterie that included poets Edward Lovibond (1724–1775) and George Hardinge (1744–1816). She remained unmarried until 1777, when she wedded dissenting clergyman Christopher Lake Moody, a versatile literary professional. Soon after, Elizabeth Moody began publishing her poetry, first in the General Evening Post and the Gentleman’s Magazine. The following year, Christopher Moody and publisher Ralph Griffiths joined resources to found the St. James’s Chronicle, with the poetry of Elizabeth Moody, now sometimes called the “Muse of Surbiton,” as one of the cornerstones of the new journal’s success.
Mary A. Waters

Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743–1825)

Abstract
By the end of her long career, Anna Letitia Barbauld was esteemed as a poet, essayist, educator, author of children’s literature and educational materials, devotional writer, political pamphleteer, and finally literary critic. Born into a family of religious dissenters, Anna Aikin benefited from the position of her clergyman father, John Aikin, as a noted theologian and classics tutor at the highly respected Warrington Academy for dissenters. Her unusually rigorous home education included modern languages, Latin, and Greek. At Warrington, she was welcomed into a convivial and vibrant intellectual and social circle that included some of the leading figures in eighteenth-century dissent, among whom she circulated her early literary efforts, culminating in the publication of Corsica: An Ode (1768), Poems (1773), and Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose (1773), a volume produced in collaboration with her brother John.
Mary A. Waters

Charlotte Turner Smith (1749–1806)

Abstract
Charlotte Smith was born into privilege, but at an early age found herself faced with a life of pain, penury, and isolation. Her father, Nicholas Turner, owned estates in Sussex and Surrey, and Charlotte spent much of her childhood in the country. After her mother died when she was three years old, her father traveled abroad for several years, leaving Charlotte consigned to the care of an aunt. At age six, she was sent to school, where she attained some distinction in the usual feminine accomplishments, and became known as an avid reader and composer of verse.
Mary A. Waters

Elizabeth Inchbald (1753–1821)

Abstract
Actor, playwright, novelist, and literary critic, Elizabeth Inchbald offers the best example of canny professionalism among her female literary contemporaries. Born into a family of theater enthusiasts, Elizabeth Simpson received only an informal education, but reading and attending plays comprised much of the family’s recreation. Her brother acted in a Norwich theater company, and, determined to follow suit, Elizabeth tried unsuccessfully during her teen years to join the company as well. Failing there, she packed her bags for London, where she soon married the much older established actor, Joseph Inchbald. Together they toured with a Bristol theater company, where Elizabeth made her stage debut as Shakespeare’s Cordelia. After her husband’s early death, Elizabeth Inchbald returned to London to continue her stage career. Never ranked among top actors, she still achieved notable success, performing with, among others, the famed John Kemble and Sarah Siddons.
Mary A. Waters

Mary Darby Robinson (1758–1800)

Abstract
Poet, novelist, actor, and periodical editor, Mary Robinson, née Darby, enjoyed a short but apparently tranquil rural childhood before her father, a Bristol merchant, sustained heavy losses on his investment in an unsuccessful whaling venture. Insolvent and accompanied by a mistress, Mr. Darby brought his family to London, where he separated from his wife, establishing her and the children in Chelsea. Mary’s education included several boarding schools, most notably first at the Bristol school run by Hannah More’s sisters, and later with a Mrs. Lorrington, a talented but alcoholic woman who encouraged Mary’s penchant for literature and experiments in composing verse. By the time Mary reached fourteen, finances had become so strained that her mother established her own boarding school with Mary assisting in teaching grammar and literature. Mr. Darby soon broke up this project, and Mary was sent to a finishing school. There her dancing master introduced her to actor, playwright, and theater manager David Garrick (1717–1779), who later helped launch her acting career.
Mary A. Waters

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797)

Abstract
Britain’s first known truly professional woman literary critic, Wollstonecraft was born into a London middle-class family headed by a profligate and tyrannical father who squandered the family’s money on a series of unsuccessful business ventures. Her childhood was dominated by the family’s frequent moves, her father’s drunkenness and domestic violence, and her own haphazard education. At age eighteen Wollstonecraft accepted employment as a lady’s companion, but returned home after two years to nurse her mother through a fatal illness. Soon after, her sister Eliza suffered from a post-partum depression. Convinced that Eliza was being maltreated, Wollstonecraft persuaded her to abandon her husband and their baby, who died a year later. To support herself, Eliza, another sister, and a close friend, Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft established a marginally successful girls’ school at Newington Green. The school’s location brought Wollstonecraft into contact with some of England’s most prominent religious dissenters, and though she never converted to dissent, her ties with this community remained strong throughout her life.
Mary A. Waters

Mary Hays (1760–1843)

Abstract
Mary Hays’s wide-ranging literary career included writing on feminism, philosophy, biography, education, social and political reform, fiction, history, and literary criticism. Born to a middle-class family in the Southwark suburb of London, Hays received the usual superficial education for women of her class. In her teens she became engaged to religious dissenter John Eccles, and the letters they exchanged show the influence of late eighteenth century ideals of sensibility, in which sympathy and delicate sentiments are understood to reflect personal refinement and virtue. Shortly before their wedding, Eccles died suddenly, leaving Hays emotionally devastated. Nevertheless, she remained close to Eccles’s circle of dissenting intellectuals, and began a course of self-improving reading under their guidance.
Mary A. Waters

Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)

Abstract
The most significant Romantic period British woman playwright with Elizabeth Inchbald the only possible challenger, Joanna Baillie stands as one of the foremost women critics as well. Born in Scotland, Baillie evinced an early antipathy to her studies, and her late mastery of reading seems an unpromising beginning for a literary career. Yet her passion for mathematics and creativity in storytelling proclaimed a strong intellect and vigorous imagination. Her teen years disrupted by the death of her father, Baillie endured with her mother and sisters several years of transitory housing and financial dependency before her brother inherited his uncle’s London medical practice and they all moved to London. When the brother married in 1791, Baillie, her mother, and her sister moved to Hampstead, where Baillie remained for the rest of her life, and where she enjoyed an active social life among the circle of Hampstead literary figures, including her aunt, poet Anne Hunter, and Anna Letitia Barbauld. Her broadening circle of literary friends eventually came to include Samuel Rogers, Henry MacKenzie, Maria Edgeworth, and Walter Scott, among others.
Mary A. Waters

Ann Ward Radcliffe (1764–1823)

Abstract
One of the most popular and imitated novelists of her day, yet reticent about publicity, Ann Radcliffe was admired by celebrated literary contemporaries such as Austen, Scott, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, and Keats. Born Ann Ward, she spent much of her girlhood with relatives who enjoyed strong contacts within the major circles of religious dissent. She probably received little formal education but enjoyed reading, and her later journals show her appreciation for nature and some knowledge of art, recent literature, and the major aesthetic theories. Family connections may have brought her into contact with such notable literary women as Hester Thrale, Elizabeth Montagu, and Anna Barbauld. In 1784 she married William Radcliffe, an Oxford graduate trained for the bar but turned journalist with republican sympathies. The couple settled in London, where they enjoyed the pleasures of urban life varied with travels to picturesque destinations in England and abroad.
Mary A. Waters

Lucy Aikin (1781–1864)

Abstract
Daughter of one prolific writer, editor, and literary critic and niece to another, Lucy Aikin was born into the world of letters. At the time of her birth, her father, physician John Aikin, was tutor of classics at the renowned Warrington Academy for Dissenters. Later forced from his medical practice by the combination of religious discrimination and his own weak health, he became an astonishingly fruitful writer, critic, and editor, producing biographies, histories, essays, fiction, and volumes of criticism, and operating several literary reviews. Under his guidance, Lucy received a home education of far greater breadth and rigor than that available to most English youth, boy or girl. Lucy’s aunt, Anna Letitia Barbauld, one of the most revered women writers of her day, was also a productive literary critic and editor whose essay on fiction appears in the present volume. Lucy’s brother Arthur was not only known for his scientific writing, but himself operated a literary review, The Annual Review.
Mary A. Waters

Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan; 1776?–1859)

Abstract
Sydney Owenson’s Irish-born father moved to London at age seventeen, where he Anglicized his name from MacOwen to Owenson and became an actor. There he met and eloped with Jane Mill, a genteel young woman who brought her husband a comfortable inheritance. After returning to Dublin for an engagement at the Theatre Royal, Robert Owenson decided to remain and sent for his wife. Sydney was probably born either during her mother’s journey or shortly after her arrival in Ireland but because she went to great lengths to conceal her age, even her birth year remains uncertain.
Mary A. Waters

Maria Jane Jewsbury (1800–1833)

Abstract
During her short life, Maria Jane Jewsbury earned the respect of the literary world for work ranging from poetry, fiction, and satire to reflective essays and literary criticism. In addition to her four books, Jewsbury’s work appeared in literary annuals and periodicals, especially the prominent Athenæum, one of the leading literary reviews of her day.
Mary A. Waters

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802–1838)

Abstract
Best known by the signature “L.E.L.,” Letitia Landon was one of the most widely read poets of her day. Born into a moderately genteel middle-class family, Landon briefly attended a nearby day school, but most of her education took place at home. She first began writing poetry for entertainment, but when her father’s business losses plunged her family into financial crisis, her mother showed some poems to their neighbor, William Jerdan, editor of The Literary Gazette, in hopes that publication might bring in some much-needed income. Jerdan was impressed, and Landon’s poems began appearing signed “L.” Soon shifting to her better known signature, Landon intrigued the British reading public with her romantic subject matter and luxuriant, sentimental verse style. The Fate of Adelaide, A Swiss Romantic Tale; and Other Poems (1821), her first volume of poetry, met with only moderate interest, but it was followed by The Improvisatrice; and Other Poems (1824), which quickly sold out multiple editions. The success was crucial, for when Landon’s father died that same year, her literary earnings became her and her mother’s only income, and her brother relied on her as well.
Mary A. Waters

Harriet Martineau (1802–1876)

Abstract
The versatile Harriet Martineau launched her long career during the Romantic era through literary criticism. She was born to a family of emotionally austere but intellectually and politically progressive Norwich religious dissenters who believed in rigorous education for both boys and girls. Martineau received a solid home education, and enrolled for a time in a local grammar school primarily for boys. She was an early and avid reader of a broad range of literature as well as more “unfeminine” subjects such as philosophy, theology, social theory, and political economy. While visiting an aunt in Bristol, Martineau came under the influence of philosopher and Unitarian minister Lant Carpenter (1780–1840), who encouraged her intellectual growth. Martineau’s physical health, however, was weak, and before she reached age twenty, illness had left her virtually deaf.
Mary A. Waters
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