Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Anne Isabella, Lady Ritchie, née Thackeray (1837 – 1919)

My father [William Makepeace Thackeray, a nineteenth century English novelist] was always immensely interested by the stories of spiritualism and table-turning, though he certainly scarcely believed half of them. Mrs. Browning believed and Mr. Browning was always irritated beyond patience by the subject. I can remember her voice, a sort of faint minor chord, as she, lisping the “r” a little, uttered her remonstrating “Robert!” and his loud dominant baritone sweeping away every possible plea she and my father could make; and then came my father’s deliberate notes, which seemed to fall a little sadly — his voice always sounded a little sad — upon the rising waves of the discussion.

Anne Ritchie, “Robert & Elizabeth Browning” in Records of Tennyson, Ruskin, and Browning (London: Macmillan, 1892), pp. 191-2.

Dr. Elizabeth Jay, Emeritus Professor at Oxford Brookes University, who has written extensively on women writers and the interaction of religion and literature in the nineteenth century, suggested the above quotation which concerns the Brownings’ disagreements about spiritualism. She suggests it is typical of Anne Thackeray Ritchie’s ability to recall the small intimate details of her acquaintance with the Brownings and bring those experiences to life. Lady Ritchie shares her memories of three great writers of the Victorian period in this book.  The signature “E. FitzGerald, Oct. 1, 1892” appears on the front flyleaf of the Armstrong Browning Library’s copy of this book. Eliza Fitzgerald was a good friend of Robert Browning.

Anne Ritchie was the eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, a well-known Victorian novelist. Ritchie was well acquainted with many in the literary community and was Virginia Woolf’s step-aunt. Ritchie notably wrote biographical pieces on her contemporaries, including Tennyson, the Brownings, and Julia Margaret Cameron. The photograph above was taken by Ms. Cameron. Ritchie was also popular for her modernization of fairy tales, setting them in the nineteenth century. She published the stories in several volumes, including Five Old Friends and Bluebeard’s Keys.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns twenty-six nineteenth-century editions of Anne Thackeray Ritchie’s works, including rare editions of The Story of Elizabeth: A Tale (1864), To Esther, and Other Sketches (1869), Bluebeard’s Keys, and Other Stories (1874), Toilers and Spinsters, and Other Essays (1874), Records of Tennyson, Ruskin and Browning (1892), and Alfred, Lord Tennyson and his friends; A series of 25 portraits … from the negatives of Mrs. Julia Margaret Cameron and H. H. H. Cameron (1893).

The ABL also owns 110 letters in which Anne Thackeray Ritchie was a correspondent. Many of these letters are part of the Joseph Milsand Archive and are previously unpublished. Her manuscript of “From the Roundabout Papers” is also at the library.

Melinda Creech

 

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