Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Jean Ingelow [pseud. Orris] (1820–1897)

Jean Ingelow
Lyrical and Other Poems
Selected From the Writings of Jean Ingelow (1886)
Courtesy of  the Armstrong Browning Library

Jean Ingelow published poetry, a novel which explored the relationship between evangelicals and the traditional Anglicans in the Church of England, and a series of fanciful, didactic stories for children. She is most remembered for her poetry, which is reminiscent of Wordsworth. Dr. Maura Ives, Associate Professor at Texas A & M University and Associate Director of The Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture, suggests that “Divided” is one of Ingelow’s most famous poems. The poem is a fascinating description of two lovers walking along hand in hand on opposite sides of a rivulet. They are separated as the rivulet increases to a stream, a river, and an estuary. The lovers call to each other to cross over, but neither does, and they remain divided.

Dr. Ives also reports that her personal favorite is a children’s story “Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Two” in Stories Told to a Child (1872).  She discusses the story in “Jean Ingelow in the Youth’s Magazine” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 102.2 (2008): 197-220. Dr. Ives’ research suggests that the story was first printed as “Nineteen Hundred and Fifty-Two” (February 1852) in Youth’s Magazine and signed “E. D.” It was reprinted as “Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Two” in The Little Wonder Horn (1872),  in Stories Told to a Child (1872), The Little Wonder Box (1887), and in Good Words for the Young (February 1872).

Ingelow became a bit of a maverick in writing this fantasy story for children. Most of the fantasy literature in the nineteenth century was written by men; women wrote realistic stories of home life and school days. The story, written in 1872, predicts what the world would look like in 1972. She uncannily gives a surprisingly accurate description of the “acoustigraph” twenty-five years before Edison’s invention in 1877.

“…he began to describe what was evidently some great invention in acoustics, which, he said (confusing his century with mine), ‘…you are going to find out very shortly…you know something of the beginnings of photography?’

“I replied that I did.

“‘Photography’ he remarked, ‘presents a visible image; cannot you imagine something analogous to it which might present an audible image? The difference is really that the whole of a photograph is always present to the eye, but the acoustigraph only in successive portions. The song was sung and the symphony played at first and it recorded them, and gave them out in one simultaneous, horrible crash; then when we had once got them fixed science soon managed, as it were, to sketch the image and now we can elongate it as much as we please.’

“‘This is very queer!’ I exclaimed. ‘Do you mean to tell me these notes and those voices are only the ghosts of sounds?’

“‘Not in any other sense,’ he answered, ‘than you might call a photograph a ghost of sight.’

ABL has one letter and six books by Ingelow, one of which, A Story of Doom and Other Poems, 1867, was in the Brownings’ library. The ABL also owns a letter from Jean Ingelow to Robert Browning [23 July [1867]] referring to A Story of Doom and Other Poems. The letter states “I send with this note a little volume of verses which I hope you will do me the favour to accept.”

Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Marian Evans [pseud. George Eliot] (1819–1880)

My own experience and development deepen everyday my conviction that our moral progress may be measured by the degree in which we sympathize with individual suffering and individual joy.

Letter from George Eliot to Charles Bray
(15 November 1857)

Although, as a child, Marian Evans was not considered physically attractive, she was very intelligent and a voracious reader. Her father, recognizing her intelligence and her dim prospects for marriage, ensured that she had an excellent education, one not often offered to young women. By her thirties she was an editor for the Westminster Review, an English journal founded by Jeremy Bentham.

Evans became very interested in religion. She translated The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Volume 2, by David Strauss in 1846,  The Essence of Christianity, by Ludwig Feuerbach in 1854, and Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics in 1856.

Having resolved to become a novelist, Evans’s last essay in the Westminster Review in 1856, “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” criticized the ridiculous plots of contemporary women novelists. Evans assumed a nom-de-plume, George Eliot, and three years later published her first novel, Adam Bede, which was a huge success in England. The popularity of Adam Bede led to Evans revealing that she was the author behind the name George Eliot. Other novels by this leading writer of the Victorian era include The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, and Middlemarch.

Evans lived a somewhat unorthodox life and considered herself married to George Henry Lewes, though he was officially married to Agnes Jervis. Despite her popularity in England, Eliot was not buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey due to her denial of Christianity and her unconventional relationship with Lewes.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns twenty-three books written by George Eliot during her lifetime, many first editions. The ABL also owns a copy of Essays and Leaves from a Notebook, by George Eliot, published shortly after her death. The preface is signed by Charles Lee Lewes, Henry Lewes’s eldest son, who curated his father’s library after his death in 1878.

Only one letter from George Eliot to Robert Browning [24 March 1864] is part of our collection at the ABL. In this letter Eliot encourages a visit from Browning after her return from Scotland, and notes that, “By that time I hope to be a less headachy wretch than I happen to be this week, and all pleasant things will be pleasanter to me.”

Letter from George Eliot to Robert Browning
[March 24, 1864]
Courtesy of the Armstrong Browning Library

Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Theodosia Trollope [née Garrow] (1816–1865)

Theodosia Garrow
“She Is Not Dead, But Sleepeth”
The Keepsake (1846)

Theodosia Trollope published her first book of poetry in 1839, and, for a time, her reputation rivaled that of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Walter Savage Landor, nineteenth century English writer and poet, praised her poetry in a letter to Robert Browning:  “This very year there is in the Book of Beauty a poem by my friend Theodosia Garrow, on Italy, far surpassing those of M. Angelo and Filicaia. Sappho is far less intense. Pindar is far less animated.”

Letter from Walter Savage Landor to Robert Browning
[10 November 1845]
Courtesy of  the Armstrong Browning Library

Theodosia Garrow moved to Florence with her family in 1844, and in 1848 married Thomas Adolphus Trollope, brother of Anthony Trollope, one of the most successful novelists of the Victorian era. Their home, The Villino Trollope, in the Piazza dell’ Indipendenza, became the focal point  of Anglo-Florentine society.

Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Theodosia found herself exposed first hand to the Italian struggle for freedom against Austria. She is probably best remembered for a series of letters praising the efforts of the Risorgimento in Tuscany and denouncing its opponents, including the papacy. These letters, published as Social Aspects of the Italian Revolution (1861), were instrumental in turning British public opinion in favor of the liberation and unification of Italy.

The ABL has two letters written by EBB to Theodosia. One of the letters [?6 June 1859], beginning “Your indignation cannot exceed mine — The reputation for truth of English gentlemen seems about to perish,” precipitates a politically charged letter written on the same day by Theodosia to William Johnson Fox concerning her sympathy with the Italian cause after the outbreak of fighting in 1859.

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Theodosia Garrow
[?6 June 1859]]
Courtesy of the Armstrong Browning Library

Melinda Creech

Notes: Theodosia Garrow published a poem called “Bees” in the Book of Beauty in 1844, no  poems in 1845, “Paolina. Song” in 1846, and “The Cry of Romangna” (which is about Italy) in 1847. She also published “Sonnet – Petrarch to Laura” in The Keepsake for 1944, “Mabel’s Dove” in The Keepsake for 1845, “She is not Dead, but Sleepeth” (also about Italy) in The Keepsake for 1846, and “The Lethe-Draught” in The Keepsake for 1847.

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Isabella Blagden (1816/17–1873)

Isabella Blagden
“To Georges Sand:
On Her Interview With Elizabeth Barrett Browning”
Poems (1873)

The poem above was inspired by the meeting of the nineteenth century poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and nineteenth century novelist, George Sand, in Paris in 1852. Both Blagden and Barrett Browning admired George Sand for her unconventional private life and the frank sexuality of her novels. Barrett Browning also wrote poems honoring George Sand. The following poems appeared in her two volumes of Poems, published in 1844.

THOU large-brained woman and large-hearted man,
Self-called George Sand! whose soul, amid the lions
Of thy tumultuous senses, moans defiance
And answers roar for roar, as spirits can!
I would some mild miraculous thunder ran
Above the applauded circus, in appliance
Of thine own nobler nature’s strength and science,
Drawing two pinions, white as wings of swan,
From thy strong shoulders, to amaze the place
With holier light! that thou to woman’s claim
And man’s, mightst join beside the angel’s grace
Of a pure genius sanctified from blame , —
Till child and maiden pressed to thine embrace,
To kiss upon thy lips a stainless fame.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“George Sand: A Desire”
Poems (1844)

TRUE genius, but true woman! dost deny
Thy woman’s nature with a manly scorn,
And break away the gauds and armlets worn
By weaker women in captivity?
Ah, vain denial! that revolted cry
Is sobbed in by a woman’s voice forlorn!—
Thy woman’s hair, my sister, all unshorn,
Floats back dishevelled strength in agony,
Disproving thy man’s name! and while before
The world thou burnest in a poet-fire,
We see thy woman-heart beat evermore
Through the large flame. Beat purer, heart, and higher,
Till God unsex thee on the spirit-shore;
To which alone unsexing, purely aspire.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“George Sand: A Recognition
Poems (1844)

Isabella Blagden was a dear friend of the Brownings and a central figure in the Anglo-Florentine community. Although originally little was known about Isa’s birthplace, parents, relatives, and early life, recent research by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, and Edward Hagan, published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, Vol. 16,  has provided many details about her early life. The uncertainty over the year of her birth arises from different information given on her grave marker and death certificate. With Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s encouragement, Isa wrote five novels, Agnes Tremorne, being the most well known. The Armstrong Browning Library has an extensive archive of Isa Blagden’s writing, including three books, twelve manuscripts, and 124 letters written to or by her. Robert Browning’s letters to Isa Blagden were first collected in a volume edited by E. C. McAleer entitled Dearest Isa (1951). Most recently the letters were published in Florentine Friends: The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning to Isa Blagden, 1859-1861, edited by Philip Kelley and Sandra Donaldson (2009).

Isa almost always published under a pseudonym. Although she requested that her novel, Agnes Tremorne (1861), be published under the pseudonym Ivory Beryl, the publisher substituted her real name. The poem “Voices: Youth, Love and Death” in the Victoria Regia (1861) is the only one of her publications signed “Isa Blagden.” The manuscripts of  “A Roman Picture” below illustrate Isabella Blagden’s pseudonyms, “I.B.”  and “Ivory Beryl.”

Isabella Blagden
“A Roman Picture” (undated)

Isa Blagden died in the Villa Castellani, Piazza di Bellosguardo, Florence, on 20 January 1873 and was buried on 28 January near her friend, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in the Protestant Cemetery.

Melinda Creech