ENL 6236 Eighteenth Century Women Writers Spring 2009
Feb. 23 Lonsdale: poems of Mary Leapor, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, Jane Brereton and Anna Seward; selected letters of Wortley Montague (websites)
Recommended: Staves, chapter 5
pp. 228-285 and
Backscheider, Chaps. 5 and 7
Presentation: Paul Quigley
In addition to the poems contained in the Lonsdale
anthology, please read the two additional poems by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,
“The Reasons that
Notes and Discussion:
The writers considered here cover the entire length of the eighteenth century and so offer opportunities for noting the changes in style and content of literary works. We will be primarily concerned with their poetry, although they wrote in other genres as well. For LMWM we should consider her prose writing in the letter form, and in that capacity consider her in terms of life-writing, travel-writing, cultural historian, satirist. The writers in question also occupy quite different places in social status. LMWM is an aristocrat with all the bearing of that class; Leapor is a working-class poet, and Seward and Brereton occupy the genteel, educated class. Consider these factors in evaluating the writings for today .
For example, how does the class/status of the poet affect the choice of subject matter for their poems? In what sense does the aristocratic class of LMWM give her privileges not available to Leapor , Brereton or Seward. Conversely, what freedoms does the latter group possess in their subject matter, that LMWM would avoid because of her class? What examples can you give?
How is the poet’s relationship to writing and, more particularly, publishing reflected in the publishing history or the self-representation of the poet in her poems? For example, note how, where and when the poems are published? What attitudes do they express regarding poetry in their poems? How does the class/status of the poet affect this?
What role do well-known men (Swift, Pope, Cave, Johnson, Scott, for example), play in the works and writing lives of these female poets?
What forms do they choose to write in? Recall the opinions of Lonsdale and Doody:
Lonsdale: “In the course of the eighteenth century itself ‘polite’ taste had increasingly come to favour a poetry of self-conscious elevation above the facts of the mundane world, which produced much that was insipid and stilted. Throughout the century, however, there were many writers who expressed, in verse of a sociable, unpretentious, sometimes homely, sometimes idiosyncratic kind interests and experiences which must contradict some of the generalization made about the period” (xliii).
Doody: “A poet such as Leapor benefits from the eighteenth century’s openness to the physicality of experience. The empiricism of Locke placed sensory experience at the root of consciousness, and thus of all knowledge and all forms of self-consciousness. Consciousness is formed through experience and through reflection on experiences. If that is so, then the role of authority – already rendered politically suspect in the Revolution and the Restoration – becomes less important. A combination of political and philosophical views gave more opportunity for women and the poor to enter the literary arena, to create works that would be heard, than they ever had before. In order to understand their own society, and the world in which human beings really do live, men and women of the eighteenth century could believe it would be valuable to understand the experiences of others. We can know another person, or person, or even perhaps class, by entering imaginatively into their sensations” (227).
“The early eighteenth century is an era of creative ferment, both in fiction and in poetry. Poets test the limits of ‘the poetic’, surprising us with the unexpected, taking a cue from the satiric and conversational poets such as Horace, and women writers participate to good effect” (227).
What changes in form can you see across the period represented by these poets? For example, how does the satire of LMWM differ from that of Leapor and more pointedly from Seward? Compare the use of satire with the developing taste for sentiment, evident in Seward’s poetry.
Many of the themes we explored earlier return here: examine and compare the representation of the poet, for example. Leapor’s appear to be the most striking.
Female friendship emerges in each of the poet’s works. How do they represent relationships among women? What is the role of the poetry in the depiction of female friendship? What is the role of female friendship in the writing of poetry? Backscheider claims that the “friendship poem” is a legacy of the eighteenth-century woman poet. What contributions do these writers make to the genre?
Beauty is a predominant theme in both LMWM and Leapor. Compare and contrast. Both have a predilection for portraying the ugly, but they do so in different ways and for different ends. Explore.
Examine the representation of public themes in each of the poet – public events or figures (Pope or Swift in LMWM, the affair of Mrs. Yonge [see also Staves’ assessment of this poem 180-1]; the American revolution by Seward). How does this challenge the assessment of female poets as essentially private and domestic? Or does it?
I am particularly interested in the ways in which these
writers use the popular poetic form of the landscape poem. How does each approach the form (or the
land?) To what purpose is the landscape
constructed in the poems? How does this
change from poet to poet? Take a close
look at Verses written in the Chiosk of the
Examine and compare the use of the epistle form by LMWM and Leapor in particular. Recall that Lonsdale also observes that “women poets, like their unfashionable male contemporaries, were often intimidated by or indifferent to the loftier poetic genres and worked most happily in less self-conscious, social forms: most notably, throughout the century, in the familiar verse epistle, in which generic expectations were minimal, polished diction inappropriate, and the writer would be confident of her ability to amuse a friend whose interest was guaranteed” (xlv).
Finally, examine the representation of courtship and gallantry in the poems. The writers choose to deal with it in different ways, but we can continue our conversation about the subject from earlier classes. How do women deal with / construct the inevitability of marriage, the subordination of women?
Continue to think on the question of how or why we value these works/writers: