Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury (1812–1880)

courtesy of Bettina Lehmbeck

I believe we are touching on better days, when women will have a genuine, normal life of their own to lead.  There, perhaps, will not be so many marriages, and women will be taught not to feel their destiny manque if they remain single.  They will be able to be friends and companions in a way they cannot be now.  All the strength of their feelings and thoughts will not run into love; they will be able to associate with men, and make friends of them, without being reduced by their position to see them as lovers or husbands.  Instead of having appearances to attend to, they will be allowed to have their virtues, in any measure which it may please God to send, without being diluted down to the tepid ‘rectified spirit’ of ‘feminine grace’ and ‘womanly timidity’-in short, they will make themselves women, as men are allowed to make themselves men.

Geraldine Jewsbury to Jane Welsh Carlyle, [1849]
from Selections from the Letters of
Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury to Jane Welsh Carlyle,
by Mrs Alexander [Annie] Ireland, 
London and New York: Longmans, Green 1892, p. 347.

The above quotation was suggested by Aileen Christianson, senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, who has worked as a researcher and editor on the Duke-Edinburgh edition of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle since 1967.

Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury was born on August 22, 1812, at Measham, near the Derbyshire-Leicestershire border, the daughter of Thomas Jewsbury, a cotton manufacturer, and his wife, Maria, a cultivated woman of artistic tastes.  When she was six, Geraldine and her family moved to Manchester, and her mother died the following year. Her older sister, Maria Jane Jewsbury, who had become an accomplished poet, took control of the household and her sister’s education. After Maria’s marriage in 1832, Geraldine, was charged with the care of the Jewsbury household. After her sister’s sudden death the next year,  and the illness and death of her father shortly afterward, Geraldine grew disenchanted with her milieu. She began a correspondence with Thomas and Jane Carlyle, who became her lifelong friends.

Her unconventional personality was reflected in her “novels of doubt,” which dramatized the loss of faith in orthodox Christianity and the quest for a new structure of belief. She wrote eight novels, six for adults, two for children. She also gained fame as a critic, a publisher’s reader, and a figure in London literary life. Her friends included Huxley, Kingsley, Rossetti, the Brownings, Forster, Bright, Ruskin and Lewes. Her book, The History of an Adopted Child (London: Grant and Griffith, 1853) was in the Brownings’ library.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns one letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dated 11 December 1854, which anticipates Geraldine Jewsbury’s gift to EBB of her book, The History of an Adopted Child (1853). Another letter from her sister Maria Jane Jewsbury to Anna Jameson describes her impressions of Mary Shelley.

In 2012 the ABL acquired a commonplace book containing 17 pages of manuscript text and 27 very fine pencil drawings after engraved illustrations, bound in a claret morocco binding with gilt title, Gleanings, on the cover, dated 1832, and dedicated to “ā ma chēre soeur. Mars 26ēme 1832,” translated “To my dear sister March 26th 1832”. The volume is quite beautiful, and it inspired me to search for the Victorian sister who had created it. One of the first clues in the album was a poem, “The Florentine,” written by Maria Jane Jewsbury (1800-1833). A little more research led to her sister, Geraldine Jewsbury, and having compared a sample of her handwriting, our curator of manuscripts, Rita Patteson, agreed that this may well be the work of a juvenile Geraldine Jewsbury. Prior to 1830 the young Geraldine had spent several years at the Misses Darbys’ boarding-school at Alder Mills, near Tamworth, and then in 1830–31 she continued her studies in French, Italian, and drawing in London. Perhaps Geraldine demonstrated her expertise in the French language, her drawing skills, and her regard for her sister’s poetry by composing the book and giving it to Maria Jane as a wedding gift. (Another poem in the volume is “The Bride” by Felicia Hemans.) Maria Jane was married later that year, and traveled to India with her husband, where she died unexpectedly from cholera the following year. Geraldine tried to collect the rest of her sister’s unpublished works and belongings from her husband, but was unsuccessful. Geraldine’s inability to obtain her sister’s possessions could possibly account for the loss of the lovely friendship book until recently.

Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell [née Stevenson] (1810–1865)

Although the ladies of Cranford know all each other’s proceedings, they are exceedingly indifferent to each other’s opinions. Indeed, as each has her own individuality, not to say eccentricity, pretty strongly developed, nothing is so easy as verbal retaliation; but, somehow, good-will reigns among them to a considerable degree.

The Cranford ladies have only an occasional little quarrel, spirited out in a few peppery words and angry jerks of the head; just enough to prevent the even tenor of their lives from becoming too flat.

Elizabeth Gaskell
Cranford (1851)

The above quotation from Cranford, suggested by Dr. Elizabeth Ludlow, crystallizes Gaskell’s desire to show the union of the new England with old Victorian values. Dr. Ludlow is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the Anglia Ruskin University and author of several articles in the Gaskell Journal.

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell was greatly influenced by her Unitarian family, later marrying a Unitarian minister. Her faith combined with a firm belief in social duty and reform constituted the central force in her life. She wrote novels and short stories depicting the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, often incorporating the use of dialect into her writing. Her first novel, Mary Barton, published anonymously in 1848, was an immediate success, winning the praise of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle. She went on to write Cranford and North and South. Cranford, a series of episodes in the lives of three women in the fictional town of the same name, was first serialized in the magazine Household Words, edited by Charles Dickens, beginning on December 13, 1851. The 1900 volume, featured in our exhibit, includes an introduction by Anne Thackeray Ritchie, another nineteenth-century writer.

Charlotte Brontë, yet another nineteenth-century writer and author of the well-known Victorian novel Jane Eyre, was a friend of Mrs. Gaskell, and when Charlotte died in 1855, her father, Patrick Brontë, asked Mrs. Gaskell to write her biography. The biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), made use of a huge quantity of firsthand material and was skillfully written.

 In addition to editions of the two books, Cranford (1900) and The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) authored by Mrs. Gaskell, the ABL owns two letters addressed to Elizabeth Gaskell. One letter is from John Ruskin, a famous English author and art critic, assuring her regarding the selection of an architect for the London Law Courts. The other letter points to Mrs. Gaskell’s influence even in America. It is a letter from Maria Weston Chapman of Boston, thanking Mrs. Gaskell for “her beautiful contributions” and presenting her with a copy of the 1856 The Liberty Bell, an abolitionist annual. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “A Curse for a Nation” was published in that edition.

The ABL also owns Poems and Translations by Elizabeth Gaskell Holland, Elizabeth Gaskell’s sister-in-law. Her book of poetry is available online at the 19th Century Women Poets page of the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections site. Holland’s book includes a poem celebrating Elizabeth Gaskell’s marriage.

Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Sarah Flower Adams (1805–1848)

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

There let the way appear steps unto heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Then with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Sarah Flower Adams
“Nearer My God to Thee”
Hymns and Anthems, compiled by William Johnson Fox
London: Charles Fox (1841)

Virginia Blain, professor in English at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, editor of the Feminist Companion to Literature, and editor of the new Dictionary of National Biography, suggested to me that Sarah Flower Adams was best known for her composition of “Nearer My God to Thee.” The song became famous for allegedly being played by the musicians of the Titanic as it sank. The song has also traditionally been played at the funerals of American presidents. Less well known about the hymn, probably because all the verses are seldom sung, is the fact that the song is based on the story of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28: 10-28. In the story Jacob, traveling to his homeland to look for a wife, retires for the evening with a stone for a pillow and dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. The Lord stood at the top pronouncing a blessing on him and his descendants and promised to be with him always.

Sarah Flower Adams was born in Essex, England, the daughter of Benjamin Flower, a radical journalist and political writer. Sarah and her sister Eliza, a composer, were close friends of Robert Browning and corresponded with him frequently. Eliza is said to have been the inspiration for Robert Browning’s Pauline (1833). After her father’s death, Sarah contracted tuberculosis. Recuperating on the Isle of Wight, she composed her first long poem, “The Royal Progress.” Sarah wrote poems on social and political subjects, a religious catechism for children, dramatic poems, and even attempted a career as an actress. In 1834 she married William Adams, a civil engineer. Her greatest achievements, however, were literary rather than dramatic. Adams’ longest work, Vivia Perpetua: A Dramatic Poem (1841), recounts the third century martyrdom of Vivia Perpetua. Of course, Adams is best remembered for her hymns. Blain suggests those “simple expressions of devotional feeling at once pure and passionate, can hardly be surpassed.”

The Armstrong Browning Library owns a copy of Vivia Perpetua: A Dramatic Poem (1841), inscribed by the author, “Celina Flower. With love from The Author – 1841.” The ABL also owns a very important letter written by Sarah Flower Adams to William Johnson Fox.  After the death of her father, Sarah lived with the Fox family and contributed to the Monthly Repository, a magazine Fox was managing at the time. In this letter, written to Fox on May 31, 1827, Sarah Flower begins by bemoaning the degradation of the “immense hot house” of London and reminiscing about her recent glorious stay in the country. She then introduces Fox  to the juvenile poetry of  “the boy” Robert Browning, quoting two of his poems, “The First Born of Egypt” and “The Dance of Death.” This letter is significant because Browning eventually destroyed the manuscripts of his entire first volume of poems, Incondita, and these two poems transcribed by Sarah Flower are all that remain. The last two pages of the letter contain the transcription of Robert Browning’s poems.

May 31, 1827
Sarah Flower to William Johnson Fox
courtesy of the Armstrong Browning Library

Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802–1838)

Farewell, my lute!–and would that I
Had never waked thy burning chords!
Poison has been upon thy sigh,
And fever has breathed in thy words.

Yet wherefore, wherefore should I blame
Thy power, thy spell, my gentlest lute?
I should have been the wretch I am,
Had every cord of thine been mute.

It was my evil star above,
Not my sweet lute, that wrought me wrong:
It was not song that taught me love,
But it was love that taught me song.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon
from “Sappho’s Song”
in The Improvisatrice

The above quotation was suggested by Jill Rappaport, Assistant Professor of English at The University of Kentucky, who has published several books and articles on nineteenth century women, including Letitia Elizabeth Landon. Several women writers in the nineteenth century chose the life of Sappho, a Greek lyric poet (c.610-c.580 BCE), for the focus of their poetry, finding a resonance between her plight and their own. The fragmentary nature of Sappho’s writings allowed for creativity in the way Victorian women represented her in their works. Here Landon paints Sappho as an abandoned woman, wrestling with the conflict between art and love, profession and gender, and fame and societal pressures.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon learned to read as a toddler. She published her first poem in the Literary Gazette at the age of 18, signing it simply with the initial L. The following year, she published a book of poems, The Fate of Adelaide. She frequently signed her works L.E.L. Her biographer, Laman Blanchard remarked the initials L.E.L. “speedily became a signature of magical interest and curiosity” and Bulwer Lytton reported that he and his friends would anxiously peruse the weekly publications for “the three magical letters L.E.L.” She grew to be respected among the literary community.

In 1838, just four months after she married George Maclean, Letitia was found dead, with a bottle of prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) in her hand. The circumstances of her death are still a mystery. It is unclear whether she overdosed on her medicine, committed suicide, or was intentionally poisoned.

Previous blogs about Felicia Hemans, Anna Jameson, and Mary Shelley have highlighted the connections between nineteenth century women writers. The blog about Felicia Hemans noted that both Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Letitia Elizabeth Landon wrote poems about Felicia Heman’s death in 1835. A few years later, in 1838, Both EBB and Christina Rossetti wrote poems about L.E.L.’s death. Christina Rossetti’s poem was simply entitled “L.E.L,” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem was entitled “L.E.L.’s Last Question.” The Armstrong Browning Library owns a manuscript copy of EBB’s poem about L.E.L.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Autograph manuscript,  with corrections
“L. E. L.’s Last Question”
Courtesy of Armstrong Browning Library

The Armstrong Browning Library owns four of Miss Landon’s books published in the nineteenth century: The Troubadour: Catalogue of Pictures and Historical Sketches (1825), The Golden Violet (1827), and The Improvisatrice: and other poems (1827), and The Poetical Works of Miss Landon (1838); and also Samuel Laman Blanchard’s Life and Literary Remains of L.E.L. (1841). Both The Golden Violet and The Improvisatrice can be viewed online at the 19th Century Women Poets Collection page of Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections site. Elizabeth Barrett Browning owned a copy of The Troubadour as well as a copy of Blanchard’s Life and Literary Remains of L.E.L.

Melinda Creech

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.

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face – Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1855)

The slightest emotion of disinterested kindness that passes through the mind improves and refreshes that mind, producing generous thought and noble feeling, as the sun and rain foster your favourite flowers. Cherish kind wishes, my children; for a time may come when you may be enabled to put them in practice.

Mary Russell Mitford
Our Village: Sketches of Rural Character and Scenery
London: Ward, Lock and Company, 1870
“The Residuary Legatee,” vol. 5, p. 145

Mary Russell Mitford was the only daughter of a father with excessive spending habits. At age ten Mitford won a substantial sum of money in a lottery, which her father quickly spent. Mitford had to work hard to earn enough to support both herself and her father. Luckily, Mitford’s writing was well liked and she and her father were able to survive primarily on the proceeds of her literature. As a poet, novelist, dramatist, and playwright, Mitford was a diverse writer but her prose was the most popular.

Mitford was a close friend and frequent correspondent of Elizabeth Barrett’s, particularly before Barrett’s marriage to Robert Browning. Their letters to each other are full of literary commentary as well as discussions of their daily lives. As a token of their friendship, Miss Mitford gave Elizabeth Barrett an important gift—Flush, EBB’s beloved spaniel. The Armstrong Browning Library has 24 volumes written by Miss Mitford and nine letters.

One of Miss Mitford’s acquaintances was John Kenyon, who was a distant cousin of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This letter from Miss Mitford to Mr. Kenyon talks about geranium seeds given to her by Miss Catharine Sedgwick, then progresses to a review of Miss Sedgwick’s book, presents an offer to share geranium cuttings with Mr. Kenyon, and ends with a discussion of American authors. The letter provides a glimpse into this popular and appealing author, known for her unaffected spontaneous humor, quick wit, and literary skill.

Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face – Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849)

The law, in our case, seems to make the right; and the very reverse ought to be done – the right should make the law.

Maria Edgeworth
“The Grateful Negro”
Popular Tales (1804)

Maria Edgeworth was born in England but moved to Ireland at the age of five following her mother’s death. Primarily educated in London, she returned to Ireland to care for her siblings after her father fell ill. Many of her early works documented life in Ireland and celebrated Irish culture.

Edgeworth also wrote children’s novels with moral lessons. Her popular Parent’s Assistant, or Stories for Children is a collection of short stories reflecting her view that boys and girls ought to receive equal education. Sir Walter Scott, Maria’s friend, was inspired by her novel, The Absentee, to publish his own novels, attempting “to emulate the admirable Irish portraits drawn by Miss Edgeworth.”

Maria lived during the Irish famine and worked tirelessly for the relief of the Irish peasants. Although after her father’s death she assumed the management of the family estate, she continued to write. She sold her last novel, Orlandino, at the end of the great Irish famine “to raise a little money for our parish poor.”

Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick, Professor of English at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who has prepared edition of both Belinda and Castle Rackrent, notes that Edgeworth, thankfully, is these days often read within the British canon along with writers like Jane Austen. Kirkpatrick, however, enjoyed working with Edgeworth’s deep engagement with her Irish context.

 Melinda Creech

The Armstrong Browning Library owns five volumes authored by Maria Edgeworth and one letter written by her. In this letter Maria Edgeworth, always concerned with the fair treatment of her tenants, is advocating on behalf of her tenant’s son, Archy Wilson, for his position with the Earl of Desmond.