ENL 6236 Eighteenth Century Women Writers                   Spring 2009


April 6     Lonsdale: poems of Charlotte Smith, Helen Maria Williams and Mary Robinson


“The Emigrants” by Smith http://www.lib.ucdavis.edu/English/BWRP/Works/SmitCEmigr.htm

or at http://artsweb.bham.ac.uk/ejoshua/Romanticism/charlotte_smith.htm


See http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~worp/williams/ for information on Helen Maria Williams


Presentation:  Kevin Jordan:  “Mary Robinson and the Literary Marketplace”

Recommended:  Backscheider, chapter eight “The Sonnet, Charlotte Smith and What Women Wrote”



Given that this is our final class on women’s poetry for the course, we can take the opportunity to reflect on the trends in scholarship and interpretation, as well as the spectrum of differences and similarities observed, on the corpus of works we have read.  Romantic women’s poetry in general has received greater critical attention, and these writers in particular are recognized as important to Romanticism.  Among them, Charlotte Smith is probably the most significant, as indicated by Backscheider’s attention to the poet.


I ask that you read the full text of Smith’s “Emigrants,” available on two different websites.  Note that much of it is excerpted in Lonsdale (although confusingly titled), and it will make more sense to read the whole. 




As the last class on women’s poetry, reflect on some of the themes and questions that Backscheider and Staves have raised for us.  How are the short poems of these late eighteenth-century women different from the lyrics, odes, satires of earlier writers such as Behn, Finch, Wortley Montagu or Leapor?


Barbauld and Seward are contemporaries of the poets we are reading today:  how do they compare?  Do you read similar concerns (such as with form or political engagement)?


In what ways do these sonnets and short lyrics for today anticipate or participate in the trends of the Romantic era?  In particular look at the ways in which the poets represent the landscape, whether winter or spring or otherwise, along the lines of the beautiful and / or sublime: Winter being the most sublime of seasons.  How do the landscape poems engage in the philosophical tradition of aesthetics?  How do poets describe the sublime ocean and to what extent does this engage Edmund Burke’s categories?


 With the overwhelming historical reality of war (American, French) during this era, how do you understand the representation of war in these poems?


Isobel Armstrong has argued that the categories of affective language (the mythical gush of the feminine) are ANALYTICAL categories.  If so, then what analysis is going on in the condemnation of war?


Pay close attention to the grammar of the poems.  How might you explain Smith’s use of the dash, for instance?  Is it emotive, affective?  Is it a pause in time?  Does it signal a cognitive connection or gap?



Discuss women’s relationship to market exchange – the free exchange and circulation of goods and money – as it is represented in Robinson’s town satires.  I was struck by the similarities with Swift’s urban pastorals, but impressed by the strong presence of commerce in Robinson’s London.  What does the repetition of “shops” in “London’s Summer Morning” suggest?


Many of these poems express the desire for isolation – how might this trope fit into dominant Romanticism?  In what ways is the women’s expression of a need for isolation – whether from affective exhaustion or world-weary jaundice – different from their male contemporaries?


Note the importance of the French Revolution to these poets.  You may want to investigate some preliminary histories of the period (or timelines) to aid your understanding of the poetry and Desmond as well. 


For our discussion this week, explore the careful negotiation of the following politicized subjects in the poetry:  religious tenets (in particular the differences among Church of England and Catholicism as well as Dissenting religions), English liberty, Aristocratic privilege (nice counter to representations of ORVILLE) and the peasant class, and finally war.


Note and appreciate the range of styles represented in the poems for today, in particular through the voices adopted by Mary Robinson.


I challenge everyone to choose one short poem and do a concentrated formal analysis.  Feel free to share the analysis with us or simply discuss what you gleaned from doing the exercise in class.