Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Few More Notes on Women Writers. . .

Last week I posted a list of English women writers from the 19th century. Though I got very little response to the post, confirming the lack of literary interests on the part of my handful of regular readers, I thought I would make a few more remarks on the subject anyway.

I failed to include in my list the somewhat famous writer Anne Radcliffe who was integral to the formation of the so-called gothic novel. Though the source of the gothic novel is usually put down to Horace Walpole, with the publication of his Castle of Otranto (1764), Radcliffe is arguably most responsible for its popularization with the publication of six important novels, all but one of which was published in a short ten year period at the end of the 18th century. Radcliffe's only 19th century novel, entitled Gaston de Blondeville, was  published posthumously in 1826, and for this reason Radcliffe is usually not considered a 19th century author. (An interesting side not is that Mary Mitford, whose biography I am just finishing, wrote a drama based upon a manuscript version of this novel which she was shown by Radcliffe's literary executor Thomas Noon Talfourd). The gothic novel was a very popular form for a while and the most popular (and arguably the most interesting) of these novels was a book entitled The Monk by Matthew Lewis, perhaps the most successful English book of the 18th century. Lewis became so identified with his novel that he became know by the name "Monk" Lewis. (Incidentally, this book, despite being unknown to most people today has enjoyed a profound, almost cult-like popularity in literary circles and the remarkable, sometimes mentally unstable, Surrealist writer Antonin Artaud wrote a version of the book which began as a translation of Lewis' book but ended up being a book in its own right) Radcliffe's novels are not as interesting as The Monk and are a little bit like 18th century versions of an episode of Scooby Doo in which a young woman is tormented by some rogue, then apparently haunted by preternatural forces which turn out to be either figments of an over-heated imagination or a plot to disturb her by her pursuer. But they are still interesting reading and given Radcliffe's influence on many 19the century writers, she deserves to be remembered.

One of the most popular writers on my list, though again not commonly remembered today is Felicia Hemans who was probably the most successful women poet up until that point. Hemans' work attracted the attention of both Sir Walter Scott and Percy Shelley who exchanged a number of letters with her. Though Hemans was born in England, she lived most of her life in Wales and has been adopted by the Welsh as one of their own, and the only biography of Hemans that I know of is a short book written as part of the "Writers of Wales" series published by the University of Wales. Hemans is an excellent poet in her way and developed a very effective poetical style. Her weakness as a writer, and one of the primary reasons, I believe, that she has not fared well with posterity, is the overt nationalism which emerges in much of her work as she champions all things British and is rather disparaging of anything 'foreign.' However, Hemans still deserves credit and attention as a writer as well as a remarkable women who raised five sons almost entirely on her own and with the money she earned with her pen.

Another interesting writer on the list is the poet Adelaide Anne Procter. Procter was the daughter of Bryan Procter who published under the pseudonym Barry Cornwall and was a friend of, and one of the first biographers of, Charles Lamb. Bryan Procter was also a friend of Charles Dickens which gave his daughter, who was an aspiring poet, an important potential connection in the literary world. However, Adelaide chose to forgo her connections and instead sent her poems to Dickens anonymously for consideration for his journal "Household Words." With no idea that the poems had been written by the daughter of his friend, Dickens published Adelaide Procter's poetry and she went on to a successful career and one of the few women writers up to that point who was primarily known as a poet.

Incedently, another name that I inadvertently left off the original list is Charlotte Dacre (1771 - 1825). Dacre is primarily known as a gothic novelist and her book Zafloya was an important influence on Shelley in his early years. Even though Dacre was the daughter of John King, who was a radical and, I believe, a member of the London Corresponding Society, Charlotte regrettably married a Tory (Nicholas Byrne) and named one of her sons after William Pitt, one of Tories whom I most despise.


Owen Gray said...

What is true today was true then, Kirby. A large part of success is being in the right place at the right time -- and knowing the right people.

Consider, for example, Percy Shelley's wife.

Valentine Goldenberg said...


My name is Valentine and I am in charge of bloggers relations within the company Made in Blog. Our website,, aims to offer our bloggers a way to monetize their audience and the possibility to build partnership with brands.

We are currently looking for Canadian bloggers with any profile to take part in the largest survey ever realized in the Canadian blogosphere. It would be great to have your opinion and you could win a lot of great prizes including $100 ALDO gifts certificates.

Take the survey here :

Have a good day and happy clicking! Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions: