Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley [née Godwin], (1797–1851) Part 2

Putting together this exhibition, I have been amazed by the how closely the women writers of the nineteenth century were connected to one another.  I discovered one of these connections investigating this fragment of a letter owned by the Armstrong Browning Library.

[1830, June 18]

Maria Jane Jewsbury to Anna Brownell Jameson

 Although only the last page of the letter survives in our collection, the entire letter is printed in Anna Jameson: Letters and Friendships, edited by Mrs. Stewart Erskine, published in 1915. Maria Jane Jewsbury responds to Anna Jameson’s question about her opinion of Mary Shelley:

 As you expressed a desire to know my opinion of Mrs. Shelley, I will take the present opportunity of saying, that I rarely, if ever, met with a woman to whom I felt so disposed to apply the epithet “bewitching.” I can of course merely speak of appearances, but she struck me in the light of a matured child; a union of buoyancy and depth . . . .Her hilarity, contrasted with the almost sadly profound nature of some of her remarks, somewhat puzzled me . . . . I doubt her being a happy woman, and I also doubt her being one that could be distinctly termed melancholy. . . . She reminded me of no person I ever saw but she has made me wish the arrival of the time when I am to see her again.

 Melinda Creech




Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley [née Godwin] (1797–1851)

We do not enter into society here, yet our time passes swiftly and delightfully. We read Latin and Italian during the heats of noon, and when the sun declines we walk in the garden of the hotel, looking at the rabbits, relieving fallen cockchaffers, and watching the motions of a myriad of lizards, who inhabit a southern wall of the garden. You know that we have just escaped from the gloom of winter and of London; and coming to this delightful spot during this divine weather, I feel as happy as a new-fledged bird, and hardly care what twig I fly to, so that I may try my new-found wings.

Mary Shelley
History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of
France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (1817)
Letter from Geneva, 17 May 1816


Although Mary Shelley’s fame rests in her authorship of Frankenstein, published anonymously when she was twenty-one, her experiences and her publications were rich and varied. Mary Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft, was a feminist philosopher who died shortly after her daughter’s birth. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Mary also became a liberal feminist. She had an affair with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the two eventually married, following the death of Percy’s first wife. Mary Shelley edited some of her husband’s works, and the two also composed pieces together. She also penned short stories, travelogues, and biographies.

The Armstrong Browning Library houses the Browning Library Collection—books and periodicals which were actually owned by Robert and/or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or members of their immediate family. The ABL holds approximately one-third of 2,681 items currently listed in this category in The Brownings: A Research Guide. In an effort to recreate the library owned by the Brownings, the Armstrong Browning Library initiated the Browning Library Copies Collection. These are books which, based on the most complete information available, are the same editions as the volumes once owned and used by the Brownings.

Three books, added to the Armstrong Browning Library collection in 2011, were closely associated with Mary Shelley. All are part of the Browning Library Copies Collection. The library purchased Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), written by William Godwin, about his wife Mary Wollstonecraft; History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (1817) written by Mary Shelley, Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s daughter; and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Posthumous Poems (1824), compiled by Mary Shelley.

The quotation above is taken from Mary Shelley’s travelogue, History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (1817).

 Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face – Anna Brownell Jameson [née Murphy] (1794–1860)

A gifted woman may pursue a public vocation, yet preserve the purity and maintain the dignity of her sex. . . there is no prejudice which will not shrink away before moral energy, and no profession which may not be made compatible with the respect due to us as women, the cultivation of every feminine virtue, and the practice of every private duty.

Anna Brownell Jameson
Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad
London: Saunders and Otley, 1834, p. 271.

The quotation above, suggested by Dr. Cheri L. Larsen Hoeckley, Professor of English and Coordinator of Gender Studies at Westmont College, comes from an essay Jameson wrote on the actress Sarah Siddons, whom she found fascinating.

It seems Miss Jameson was passionate about quite a lot of things.

She was born in Dublin, the eldest of five daughters of Denis Brownell Murphy, an Irish miniature painter and his wife. The family moved to England in 1798 and eventually settled in Hanwell, near London. Anna was educated at home, and at sixteen became a governess in the family of Charles Paulet, the 13th Marquis of Winchester. In 1821 she was engaged to Robert Jameson, but the engagement was broken off, and Anna accompanied the Rowles family to Europe as a governess for their daughter Laura. She wrote a fictitious account of her travels, published in 1826 as The Diary of an Ennuyée.

In 1821, Anna became the governess to the children of Edward Littleton, later know as Baron Hatherton, finally marrying Robert Jameson in 1825. The marriage proved to be unhappy. When Robert Jameson was appointed Puisne Judge in the Island of Dominica in 1829, the couple separated, and Anna visitied the Continent with her father and Sir Gerard Noel, perhaps as a governess for Noel’s daughter, Harriet Jane. She made her first visit to Germany, aquiring there a passion for German art and literature.

In 1833, Robert Jameson received a new appointment as chief justice of the upper province of Canada, and in 1836 he summoned his wife to Canada. He failed to meet her in New York, and she was left to make her way alone in the winter. After eight months of traveling in Canada and the United States, she felt it useless to continue a life far from all ties of family happiness and opportunities for a woman of her class and education. Before leaving, she undertook a journey to the depths of the Indian settlements in Canada. She explored Lake Huron, and saw much of emigrant and aboriginal life unknown to colonial travelers.

She returned to England in 1837 and devoted her life to writing, chiefly to support her parents and sisters. She had passionate relationships with Lady Byron and Ottolie van Goethe, and her many friends included Catherine Sedgwick, Jane Carlyle, George Eliot, Fanny Kemble, Harriet Martineau, Mary Russell Mitford, and Elizabeth Gaskell. She was a friend of both Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. It was she who assisted the poets on their journey from Paris to Pisa just after their marriage.

Mrs. Jameson was deeply concerned with the legal and educational concerns of women. Her travel writings enlighten female roles and responses. In her much acclaimed art and literary criticism, she expands the aesthetic context to propound her views on womanhood. She wrote of women celebrated in poetry, female sovereigns, and Restoration beauties. Her Shakespeare’s Heroines: Characteristics of Women analyzes the female characters of Shakespeare’s works.

Anna’s financial need, and that of her family, remained acute, although from 1851, she had a Civil List pension. In her later writings she treats the plights of governesses and the need for wider female employment opportunities. Her celebrated lectures, published as Sisters of Charity, Catholic and Protestant, at home and abroad (1855) and The Communion of Labour: a second lecture on the social employments of women (1856) focus on the pressing controversy over “Superabundant Women” and praise the good work and courage demonstated by women united in communities, while strongly rejecting any separatist ethic. Partly spurred by a sense of injustice on being omitted from her husband’s will in 1854, Anna actively supported a group of young reformers and educational pioneers including Adelaide Procter, Emily Faithful, and Barbara Bodichon. With Bessie Parkes, she helped initiate the English Women’s Journal, (1858-64).

She died on March 17, 1860.

The Armstrong Browning Library has an extensive collection of the writings of this essayist, fiction and travel writer, biographer, and literary and art critic. It consists of twelve nineteenth century books by Anna Brownell Jameson, nine letters from the Brownings, and forty-two letters to or from other Victorian correspondents.

 Melinda Creech

[1835], August 31. Anna Brownell Jameson to [Eliza Murphy]. The letter above, written to her sister, Eliza Murphy, from Vienna, describing her travels and time spent with friends, is cross-written to conserve paper and postage.

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face – Felicia Dorothea Hemans [née Browne] (1793–1835)

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.

The flames rolled on–he would not go
Without his Father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud–’say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy–oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part–
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

“Casabianca” in
The Poetical Works of Mrs. Felicia Hemans,
New York: James C. Derby, 1854.

Felicia Hemans, who published nearly 400 poems during her lifetime, was a popular poet during the Romantic era. Her poetry included sonnets, lyrics, narratives, dramas, and polemics. Although some critics consider her style merely decorative, others recognize in her poems a critical study of politics and gender and trace her influence in the dramatic lyrics of the Brownings, Tennyson, Kipling, Sigourney, Longfellow, Whittier, and Harper. The ABL owns thirteen of Hemans’ books.

The first line of the poem above is instantly recognizable to many people, committed to memory in elementary school days. Susan Wolfson, editor of Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials (2010), agrees that the beginning lines from “Casabianca” are probably Hemans most familiar, but points out that the poem is “much edgier than its reputation as a sentimental favorite would have it.” Citing Heman’s own footnote describing the circumstances of the poem, Wolfson reminds us that Hemans, a loyal British subject, writes sympathetically about Nelson’s opponent in the Battle of the Nile, heroizing the French boy and lifting her female voice to descry the loss of a child martyr and his useless filial loyalty to a patriarchal agenda and command.

Melinda Creech

from The Poetical Works of Mrs. Felicia Hemans,
Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company,
New York: James C. Derby, 1854
accessed through
The 19th Century Women Poets Collection
at Baylor University.