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Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism"A Tribe of Authoresses"$

Andrew O. Winckles and Angela Rehbein

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940605

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781786940605.001.0001

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“A Tribe of Authoresses”

(p.1) Chapter One Introduction
Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism

Andrew O. Winckles

Angela Rehbein

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter broadly outlines how the networking practices of Romanticism created unique spaces for communities of women and their literary activities. In particular, it traces the ways that women used literary networks and how these networks influenced the ways that they thought about their own identities and their identities in relation to others. Furthermore, it tracks how the protocols and norms that structured these literary networks were reflected in these women’s lives and relationships specifically, and then more broadly in the literary culture of the period by first examining networks of association or interest (groups of actual women who corresponded with and worked in community with each other), and then by turning to networks of meaning, within which authors and texts that may not traditionally seem to have any connection with each other interacted and spoke in unexpected ways. The approach allows for a more nuanced view of how networks formed and functioned during the Romantic period.

Keywords:   literary networks, Romanticism, networks of association, networks of meaning, literary communities

In April 1800, Charles Lamb wrote to Samuel Taylor Coleridge to apologize for a minor annoyance he and his sister Mary had caused the mercurial poet. The letter is included in Lamb’s collected correspondence under the title ‘With the Blue Stockings’, and it signals both the significance of women’s literary networks during the Romantic period and the competing discourses surrounding such networks and female authorship more generally:

You blame us for giving your direction to Miss Wesley; the woman has been ten times after us about it, and we gave it her at last, under the idea that no further harm would ensue, but she would once write to you, and you would bite your lips and forget to answer it, and so it would end. […] Miss Wesley and her friend, and a tribe of authoresses that come after you daily, and, in defect of you, hive and cluster upon us, are the shadows. You encouraged that mopsey, Miss Wesley, to dance after you, in the hope of having her nonsense put into a nonsensical Anthology. We have pretty well shaken her off, by that simple expedient of referring her to you; but there are more burrs in the wind. I came home t’other day from business, hungry as a hunter, to dinner, with nothing, I am sure, of the author but hunger about me, and whom found I closeted with Mary but a friend of this Miss Wesley, one Miss Benje, or Benjey—I don’t know how she spells her name. I just came in time enough, I believe, luckily to prevent them from exchanging vows of eternal friendship. It seems she is one of your authoresses, that you first foster, and then upbraid us with.1

(p.2) The ‘Miss Wesley’ Lamb references is Miss Sarah Wesley, better known as Sally, the daughter of Charles Wesley and Sarah Gwynne Wesley. Charles Wesley is perhaps best known as the younger brother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, though Charles himself was instrumental in the foundation of the movement and served as its chief poet and hymnist. Like her father, Sally Wesley was a gifted poet, though few of her poems saw print, and she had several anonymous essays published in The Monthly Magazine. ‘Miss Benje’ is Elizabeth Benger, who would go on to become a noted historian – penning histories of Ann Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth Stuart – and a close friend of the novelist Elizabeth Hamilton, whose memoirs she would later publish. Both Wesley and Benger were well known in London literary circles at this time: Wesley because of her famous last name and her association with Dr. George Gregory, Benger because of her connections with important literary women like Hamilton and the Porter sisters. Their status makes the condescending tone of Lamb’s letter to Coleridge quite striking. The implication is that such ‘minor’ literary women are beneath the notice of great men like Lamb and Coleridge – their intellectual and literary aspirations a mere annoyance to be batted aside. The fact that Lamb is relieved to have interrupted Mary and Benger before they could exchange ‘vows of eternal friendship’ subtly indicates the disruptive power of such connections. Furthermore, Lamb’s characterization of this network of women as a ‘tribe’ of authoresses is interesting for its orientalist and colonialist implications: the term ‘tribe’ transforms such women into vaguely threatening ‘others’ who violate cultural norms.

Despite recent gains in our awareness of the importance of networks and networking during the Romantic period, we still lack a complex understanding of how such ‘tribe[s] of authoresses’ functioned for women like Benger and Wesley. Indeed, we lack a complex understanding of what we mean by the term ‘network’ to begin with, both historically and critically. As Lindsay O’Neill points out in her work on the uses of the letter at the turn of the eighteenth century, the term network ‘remains messy and vague. Historians rarely interrogate its meaning, which has disguised the networking practices of the British during the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth centuries’; thus, ‘digging into the vagueness of the term and tracing how historians have employed it pushes to the surface a vast constellation of networks of different sizes, shapes, and purposes’.2 Our project in this volume is to explicate the types of ‘networking practices’ that O’Neill describes, which were local, familial, international, and professional. They were organized around a variety of beliefs, ideas, or interests, and some smaller networks were encompassed within larger networks. In other words, these networks were not static but, as (p.3) O’Neill points out, ‘active and changeable organisms’ (p. 7), which have yet to be fully mapped or interrogated. These, then, are the questions that guide this collection: What were Romantic-era networks, and what can their scope and nature tell us about who had access to literary culture in this period? In what form(s) did material move through literary networks? How did social and gendered protocols structure literary networks – and, in turn, how did these networks influence the larger literary culture?

Part of the difficulty in approaching these questions derives from the fact that our tendency toward comparisons between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ‘social’ networking and twenty-first century digital networks has the potential to elide what was actually happening during the period, especially among women. Women created and used networks in different ways and for different purposes than are common today – differences that were often organized by the technologies and means of mediation that were available to them. By re-reading and re-thinking the purposes of manuscript culture, re-examining the role of women in Romantic-era printing, tracing local networks of affiliation and interest, and employing digital tools to collect ‘big data’, the essays in this collection provide a more nuanced picture of what women’s literary networks actually looked like, how they functioned, and how they structured Romantic-era literary production. What all of these essays have in common is an understanding that not only did Romantic-era writing not happen in a vacuum, but also that there were many different modes and means of literary expression open to women writers during the period. Applying a variety of critical and disciplinary methods to our study of women’s literary networks thus allows us to interrogate key assumptions about the literary culture of the eighteenth century in general and the Romantic period in particular; specifically, the assumption that this period marked the rise of the author as individual, as well as the creation of the category of ‘literature’ itself.

While studies of women’s writing during the Romantic period have long since moved beyond Virginia Woolf’s claim in A Room of One’s Own that, for much of literary history, women lacked access to the means of literary production, we have not necessarily, or at least not consistently, gone beyond this assumption to examine how the networks of intimacy engendered by female correspondence created the climate for literary work well beyond the printed page. As the essays in this volume reveal, the ways that women used literary networks, in whatever form, also influenced the ways that they thought about their own identities and their identities in relation to others. Ultimately, what this volume tracks is how the protocols and norms that structured these literary networks were reflected in these women’s lives and relationships specifically, and then more broadly in the literary culture of the period. We approach this inquiry first by examining what we call networks of association or interest (groups of actual women who corresponded with (p.4) and worked in community with each other), and then by turning to what we term networks of meaning, within which authors and texts that may not traditionally seem to have any connection with each other interacted and spoke in unexpected ways. While our approach is far from comprehensive, we believe that it is a necessary first step towards opening up new ways of reading relationships between literary women both in and out of print, and of understanding their networks as living, breathing things, as personal and political, as literary and lived.

Networks of Association and Interest

In order to get a better idea of the ‘shape’ of women’s networks during the Romantic period, the first half of this volume employs a variety of methods to trace the contours of networks of association and interest that bound diverse groups of women together. Many of the women who made up these networks are largely unknown today, even within scholarly circles, while others are only beginning to be recovered. What is clear is that women’s literary networks extended far beyond the well-known coteries and Bluestocking circles centred in London and encompassed diverse groups of men and women from all walks of life and from every corner of Great Britain and the larger British Empire.

Sally Wesley’s network embodies these observations: not only was Wesley an accomplished poet and scholar in her own right, she also maintained an extensive correspondence with some of the most notable literary women of her time. In addition to Elizabeth Hamilton, she is known to have corresponded or been on friendly terms with Marianne Thornton, Hannah More, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Hester Thrale Piozzi, and Martha Swinburne, just to name a few. She apparently circulated in manuscript and/or performed some of her poetry within this network of like-minded women. Hamilton had certainly seen it, as is indicated by her admonitory October 30, 1801 letter to her friend:

My pen would burn the paper when I come to speak of this vile drudgery business to which you so quietly submit. You to spend your time in translating stuff! It provokes my very soul to think of it. I know your talents, and I am not inclined to do injustice to my own. If I have written with success, how much more might you reasonably expect to meet with? … I have within these three years made £500 by my writings, and what is to me a matter of much more moment, have, I trust been of some use to the minds of many young people. … If instead of pursuing my own plan, I had followed the line chalked out for me, by our dear plodding friend—what would have been the consequence? I should have been all this time employed making stupid compilations, of stupid authors, for stupid booksellers, and should have had two or (p.5) three guineas dropping in at a time, which I should never have known myself a farthing richer for.3

Here Hamilton promotes her own talents and successes – a stance that flies in the face of the demure and self-effacing posture often expected of women writers. Furthermore, she explicitly highlights her financial gains and encourages Wesley to seek such gains as well. This advice, too, contrasts with the expectation that women wrote with ‘purer’ motivations than financial ones (though Hamilton also touts the didactic purposes of her writing – an important caveat for a woman writer at this time). Finally, Hamilton encourages Wesley to be an innovator rather than ‘[following] the line chalked out for [her]’. Despite Hamilton’s encouragement Wesley, perhaps intentionally, never published her poetry and her prose essays were published anonymously. Like many of her younger literary friends – Marianne Francis (a granddaughter of Charles Burney and niece of the novelist Frances Burney), Elizabeth Benger (biographer of Elizabeth Hamilton), Agnes Bulmer, Mary Tighe, and Maria Spilsbury – Wesley preferred to circulate her work privately, not necessarily because publication was not open to her but because she preferred the interaction of this intimate circle of literary friends. A quick glance into Wesley’s little-known literary network, then, indicates that such relationships have much to teach us about how women negotiated the tensions surrounding female authorship and assisted one another in the development of their careers.

Too often the assumption has been made about women’s lives and writing that simply because they are ‘obscure’, simply because they have not been transmitted to us in the manner we have come to accept, they are not worth our attention. As the list of women included above exemplifies, while the published work of women like Barbauld, More, and (to a lesser extent) Hamilton has been largely recuperated within Romantic-era studies, the prolific literary work of other women in their networks – like Wesley, Francis, Swinburne, Benger, Elizabeth Heyrick, Susanna Watts, and Mary Berry – has not. This neglect is puzzling given the influence and importance of these women within their social sphere. To play devil’s advocate, perhaps their work simply isn’t that ‘good’ or aesthetically pleasing (though such terms are, of course, problematic at best, tending to reveal more about contemporary critical interests than about the work itself). Perhaps Wesley’s poems were, as Frank Baker describes them, just ‘conventional’ versifying – the idle scribblings of a young woman – or perhaps she is simply too ‘obscure’ for serious notice.4 By the same token, perhaps Heyrick’s and Watts’ abolitionist work in the Midlands is simply too (p.6) ‘provincial’ to matter in our larger reconstruction of the period. However, as Diane Menagh puts it in her study of Marianne Francis, ‘obscurity’ is a term that gets uniquely applied to women writers and carries with it all sorts of baggage:

Our reasons for reading the letters of the obscure, then, are manifold. We read letters found in attics and old writing desks for the same reasons we read a friend’s – for instruction and amusement, for gossip and diversion, for unique insights as well as commonplace observations. We attempt to rescue the ‘separate lives’, or particular histories, from oblivion for the sake of common life as well as the individual. As we reconstruct the ‘little separate lives’, certainly we are curious about the facts, but quickly we learn they are scanty. Our interest turns toward our subject’s imaginative life and her gallant struggle to sustain it.5

As Menagh eloquently points out, ‘obscurity’ often masks an intense inner and imaginative life that speaks to the common life – of a literary period, of a group of writers, of a circle of family and friends – and it is in the lives and writing of the ‘obscure’ that we find the details which illuminate a broader perspective.

Perhaps, alternately, women like Wesley, Benger, Heyrick, and Watts are simply victims of the sheer volume of women’s writing yet to be recovered from this period. According to recent estimates, there were approximately 900 women who produced a total of 1402 books of poetry during the period between 1750 and 1830. Likewise, of the nearly 3,000 novels listed in the British Fiction database, nearly half (approximately 1375) were by women, and the Orlando database, which tracks women writers of all eras, had entries for 1300 writers in 2013.6 By necessity, the task of selecting and recovering these authors must be prioritized in some way, especially in an era of shrinking financial support for the humanities. The time, effort, and money necessary to seek out and properly research the work of someone like Sarah Wesley is significant. It does make some practical sense to focus on the work of someone who published a lot, like Hamilton or the Porter sisters. Thus, practically speaking, limited access to some manuscripts has limited the attention paid to them. This position is understandable, but it does not necessarily represent (as has been commonly assumed) an aesthetic judgement or measure of literary (p.7) worth. In any event, it would be impossible to even know whether the work by a given female author was ‘good’ (whatever that means) or not simply based on how often her name appears in the historical record.

A more interesting proposition is that women like Wesley, Heyrick, and Watts did not wish to be published in the traditional sense – did not see print as the ultimate goal for their work. Perhaps they preferred alternative methods of circulation, through scribal publication for example. The practice of scribal publication and circulation was, in fact, well established within the Bluestocking network. Anna Seward, for example, published her early poetry in manuscript for circulation among fellow Bluestockings.7 Earlier female poets, such as Elizabeth Singer Rowe, also shifted between manuscript and print publication in order to suit different rhetorical situations and different purposes for their poetry, something Kathryn King calls the ‘tactical’ use of manuscript and print.8 Heyrick and Watts even went so far as to sew abolitionist messages into work-bags which were used by the women in their Midlands network. In both of these cases, these different modes of circulation and network building allowed women a level of control over the production and circulation of their own work that they would not otherwise have been able to enjoy.

Indeed, recent scholarship speaks to the significance of these alternate forms of production and circulation. For example, Daniel White has traced how the associational practices of Dissent informed Romantic sociability, especially in the Aikin-Barbauld circle where family members exchanged and commented on work before publication,9 while Betty Schellenberg has performed a similar analysis of the Bluestockings by exposing the ways in which members of this circle corresponded with each other prior to print.10 More recently, Amy Culley has explored how Romantic-era life writing provided women with an opportunity to mediate and remediate each other’s experiences in both manuscript and print within a literary or religious community.11 Perhaps most significantly, Margaret Ezell’s influential Social Authorship and the Advent of Print convincingly demonstrates that social authorship and literary collaboration were not (p.8) the exclusive province of the wealthy in coteries of elite men in London, but also of women living in the provinces. Ezell also challenges the progressive narrative of the triumph of print by illustrating that the lines between manuscript and print were blurred and fluid. Often manuscript production and circulation was an intentional choice that had nothing to do with a reluctance to enter public space and everything to do with intended audience and generic conventions.12 Indeed, Harriet Kramer Linkin has usefully explored how Mary Tighe’s circulation of fifty copies of Psyche among her intimate circle led to remediation of the text in manuscript among a much larger circle – with friends of friends copying portions of the text and passing it on.13 Though Tighe did not intend wide distribution of the text and it was not published in a mass edition until after her death, nevertheless the literary networks surrounding her ensured a degree of literary fame even during her own life.

Networks of Meaning and the Construction of ‘Romantic Literature’

Networks of association or mutual interest were not the only type of network that operated during the Romantic period, however. As Susan Wolfson reminds us, networks of influence, knowledge, and meaning were created during this period ‘as a literary consciousness, in a web of reciprocally transforming and transformative creative subjects – in what I term interaction’.14 These interactions between authors ‘in connection with other authors – whether on the bookshelf, or in the embodied company of someone else writing, or in relation to literary celebrity’ (p. 1), created a sort of literary and cultural consciousness that permeated works we have come to think of as Romantic. The result of investigating such interactions is a radical revision of our understanding of authorial formation and self-recognition during the period. According to this perspective, ‘authorial self-recognition takes shape as a reciprocal formation in a society of formations … not in categorical rhetorics, but in specific sites and textual reflections of complex interaction’ (p. 8). In other words, the authorial self only comes into being during the Romantic period in conversation with and reaction to other authors and other texts. This situation belies the assumption that, if the male Romantics represent individual literary genius (itself a problematic concept), then female Romantics must represent its other – textual production in domestic conversation and community. Early and influential accounts of women’s Romanticism by Marlon Ross and Anne Mellor, while important in (p.9) revitalizing the study of women during the period, often uncritically reify this binary. A more robust exploration of women’s literary networks during the Romantic period reveals just how invested male authors were in these networks as well, and the extent to which they too were part of a collaborative model of textual production, which directly contradicts their claims of individual genius.

Indeed, Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite have argued for the recuperation of Romantic sociability as a major means through which Romantic-era authors – male and female – oriented the self. They argue that this ‘process of reconfiguration and realignment considerably expanded and in some cases threatened the literary public sphere by incorporating others – women, servants, the lower orders – which the paradigmatic coffee-house model of the public sphere could more easily ignore’.15 Taking account of the role of sociability in Romanticism thus means destabilizing long-standing gendered authorial binaries (not to mention class boundaries) and the canons that they allow us to construct. Russell and Tuite also urge us not to ‘focus solely on the sociability of literary circles but … recognize its fluid interplay with other modes of sociability within British society as a whole’ (p. 19). Eighteenth-century models of conversation, for example, which often took place outside of the privileged world of the coffee houses and salons, were a crucial factor in the development of the social space of Romanticism, as Jon Mee convincingly argues in Conversable Worlds. As Mee points out, while ‘definitions of the field of literary production in terms of visionary genius or professional specialism grew apace and gathered cultural authority’ during this period, ‘they did not simply erase the understanding or practices of reading and writing as taking place within and between variously situated conversable worlds’.16 These eighteenth-century conventions of conversation and conversability structured how writers spoke with each other in person, through letters and manuscripts, and through textual production more broadly. Moreover, these real and/or imagined interlocutors exerted a tremendous textual force on authors during this period – creating webs and networks of meaning that continued to resonate throughout the nineteenth century and blurring familiar lines between literary periods. Conversation was not the only model of Romantic sociability on offer, though, and part of the project of this volume is to trace some of the discourse structures and patterns – from religious and evangelical discourse to Sadian libertinism to free love socialism – that are not traditionally associated with women’s literary and social lives during this period.

(p.10) These relationships between readers and texts, however they are conceived, took place not only between the usual suspects (William and Dorothy Wordsworth, for example) but also among those on the ‘margins’ of Romanticism, as well as in less familiar forms. For example, one of Hannah More’s most unusual and influential correspondents was Horace Walpole, while Anna Seward was in direct dialogue with Erasmus Darwin – both the man himself and his work. Often, however, the interactions between writers were indirect, built upon networks of common interest and constructions of meaning. These networks functioned as much upon signs and symbols as they did upon actual friendships, and offered a way for women writers in particular to define the self, and specifically the authorial self, against the dominant modes of Romantic discourse. Of particular importance to this study is the way that these networks of meaning helped women writers construct and interrogate gender in their works: Mary Shelley reading the Marquis de Sade, for example, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning reading the French socialist Charles Fourier. These networks and connections occur at the level of the text itself and inhere within it, as Susan Wolfson points out in Borderlines:

While no one would deny the information and force of context, there is a loss in discounting literary agency in the world, and a loss, moreover, in neglecting literature itself as a context in which the ways of the world are refracted by oppositional pressure, critical thinking.17

By thus reading ‘literature itself as a context’, as a space in which writers interacted, we can trace lines of connection, knowledge, and meaning across time and space. While this approach does not and should not ignore the importance of physical connections and networks, it does help us better understand how women spoke to and through various texts as a way of constructing gendered identities.

Structure of this Volume

In order to address the questions and issues laid out here, we have divided the current volume into two parts. Part One explores physical and relational networks: women and men who knew each other, corresponded with each other, and read each other’s work; Part Two addresses networks of literary influence, citation, and knowledge among writers who did not necessarily know each other. This approach allows us to examine networks from multiple perspectives and using multiple methodologies. We make no claim to comprehensiveness (p.11) here, but the essays we have included build on each other to paint a broad picture of how women’s networks operated during the period.

To open the volume, Andrew Winckles (Chapter Two) explores the religious and literary network surrounding Sally Wesley. Wesley was at the center of a network of latter day Bluestockings who produced and circulated material around the turn of the nineteenth century. Of particular interest to this diverse group was the nature and influence of evangelical feeling and enthusiasm on British life and letters – something Wesley knew much about as the niece of the famous Methodist John Wesley and the daughter of the hymnist and poet Charles Wesley. Analysis of Wesley’s network reveals members from all social and religious backgrounds debating and discussing the proper role of religious enthusiasm – arguing for the importance of a well-regulated enthusiasm to the creation and distribution of literary work. Winckles then proceeds to explore points of contact between these women and their works – from Wesley’s manuscript poetry, to Elizabeth Hamilton’s novels, to Maria Spils-bury’s paintings – to reveal just how vital these networks of enthusiasm and religious devotion were to women’s religious and literary identities.

In Chapter Three, Felicity James and Rebecca Shuttleworth pick up where Winckles leaves off, both chronologically and thematically, by tracing the local network surrounding Midlands abolitionists and writers Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick in the 1820s. Watts and Heyrick were at the center of a local network that engaged in multiple textual production and circulation practices in support of the cause of abolition. Of particular importance to this group were manuscript circulation practices that allowed women to operate outside of established print networks and circumvent increasingly restrictive cultural ideas about women’s participation in political issues. James’ and Shuttleworth’s essay thus allows us to get a better ground-level view of how and why networks operated at the local level and how these networks influenced larger conversations about controversial political topics. In a similar vein, Amy Culley (Chapter Four) illustrates how relationships between women endured and matured over the course of their lifetimes as well as beyond the traditional chronological boundaries of the Romantic period. In this case, Culley explores the relationship between Joanna Baillie and Mary Berry and how their personal and literary friendship structured and influenced their work.

While the first three chapters in this volume adopt relatively traditional literary and archival methods to explore the structure, role, and function of literary networks on a micro level, the next two chapters adopt slightly different methods to gain a wider, more bird’s-eye view of the shape of different networks and how information flowed through them. In the first of these chapters, Michelle Levy and Reese Irwin (Chapter Five) analyse the network of women authors who corresponded and published with the important firm of Cadell and Davies. Cadell and Davies (or C & D), according to Levy and Irwin, (p.12) operated as a common node or focal point in a network of women writers that included Frances Burney, Hannah Cowley, Felicia Hemans, Hannah More, Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe, Helen Maria Williams, and many others. These women’s correspondence with the male editors and publishers at C & D reveal the professional and business side of women’s interactions within publishing networks and shed important light on how these professional relationships helped women’s work reach print. Though many of C & D’s authors did not correspond directly with each other, their association with C & D ensured that they had a common reference point when writing, editing, and preparing their work for print.

In Chapter Six, Elisa Beshero-Bondar and Kellie Donovan-Condron utilize the data generated by the Digital Mitford project to trace the shifting shapes and structures of Mary Russell Mitford’s networks over the course of her long life. Combining distant reading practices with digital humanities methods, Beshero-Bondar and Donovan-Condron first lay out the contours of Mitford’s extensive network and then illustrate what its shifts over time tell us about her literary friendships and the way she and her friends saw their work into print. In particular, they illustrate that as Mitford’s reputation and influence grew over her life, she began to rely less and less on male agents and intermediaries and instead began to act as her own agent for her own work and for other women in her network. While the scope of the data Beshero-Bondar and Donovan-Condron analyse precludes much close reading, the larger view they provide has much to tell us about the wider shape, structure, and functions of women’s literary networks during this period and opens up productive avenues for future inquiry.

The second half of the book follows a different approach to understanding the importance and function of women’s literary networks. Instead of tracing actual physical networks grounded in relationships between men and women, these chapters instead trace networks of citation, influence, knowledge, and affect. This approach recognizes that networks during the Romantic period were larger and more symbolic than just networks of correspondence. Instead, ideas also acted as links between unexpected authors and personalities.

For example, in her essay on Mary Tighe’s ‘citational network’ (Chapter Seven), Harriet Kramer Linkin traces how numerous contemporary authors – including Anna Maria Porter, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Alicia Lefanu, Lady Morgan, and Felicia Hemans – invoke or cite Tighe in their own works. Though many of these women never knew Tighe personally, Linkin considers what those invocations suggest about lines of affiliation, the construction of aesthetic communities, and attempts to shape or forecast reception. In sum, she argues that these Romantic-era women writers created this citational network through the figure and work of Mary Tighe in order to call attention to her significance and to establish their own histories of influence and reception.

(p.13) In Chapter Eight, Robin Runia turns to Maria Edgeworth’s Letters for Literary Ladies as a way of examining how the letter form itself functioned during the eighteenth century and made its way into other literary forms. In particular, she investigates how Edgeworth’s relationships with Thomas Day and Mary Wollstonecraft influenced how she chose to structure her Letters and address them to different audiences for different purposes. Indeed, Runia argues that ‘by acknowledging a divergence between the intended audience of ‘A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend upon the Birth of a Daughter, With the Answer’, the ‘Letters of Julia and Caroline’, and the ‘Essay’, Edgeworth essentially manifests the equality of women’s reasoning outside the confines of a woman’s domestic sphere and the public world of print’. By attending to Edgeworth’s intellectual and publishing networks, Runia illuminates her place in the print culture of her time and the English Romantic canon of our own.

Networks of influence also existed between writers who never met each other or were not even alive at the same time. Rebecca Nesvet (Chapter Nine), for example, explores the intertextual relationship between Mary Shelley and the Marquis de Sade. Scholars have long speculated about whether or not Shelley read Sade and on the role Sade’s thinking and themes played in her works. In this essay Nesvet uncovers conclusive evidence that, not only had Shelley read Sade’s ‘Eugénie de Franval’ (the concluding tale of his multi-volume compilation Les Crimes de l’amour), but that she also consciously adapted this content in both Frankenstein and Mathilda. Most significantly, Nesvet concludes that this new evidence of Shelley having read Sade expands our understanding of Sade’s global network, often assumed to be almost exclusively male. This analysis sheds light not only on Shelley’s intellectual network, but also extends the influence of Sade’s work beyond traditionally accepted bounds.

Finally, Eric Hood (Chapter Ten) pushes against scholarly assumptions about the periodization of Romanticism and about what constitutes a literary network. Specifically, he traces the ways in which Elizabeth Barrett Browning uses the French socialist Charles Fourier as an affective sign and symbol against which she defines herself in Aurora Lee. Fourier, Hood argues, forms one half of an ‘affective network’ with Barrett Browning in Aurora Lee, one which transcends generations and literary periods. Hood’s point is not that Barrett Browning was directly influenced by Fourier or even that she intended Fourier to act as this type of sign in her text, but that they form an intellectual and affective intergenerational bond that was vital to Barrett Browning’s own identity formation and literary work. The inclusion of Barrett Browning in a volume of essays on Romanticism may raise a few eyebrows in and of itself; given Hood’s observations, it is our belief that the 1856 publication date of Aurora Leigh should cause us to productively question where, precisely, the boundaries of Romanticism are drawn.

(p.14) Our aim here is not for comprehensiveness – that would be impossible – but instead we want to suggest some productive avenues for inquiry into the range and scope of women’s literary networks. We have only just begun to understand how women related to one another and to a broader public during the Romantic period and how these relationships and interactions fueled literary work; there is much more work to be done. Our hope is that these essays will spark more conversations, research, and debate on this topic and that the work begun here will be carried on within other scholarly networks and contexts.


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O’Neill, Lindsay. The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

Russell, Gillian and Clara Tuite. ‘Introducing Romantic Sociability’, Romantic Sociability: Social Networks and Literary Culture in Britain, 17701840, ed. Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Schellenberg, Betty A. ‘Bluestocking Women and the Negotiation of Oral, Manuscript, and Print Cultures’, The History of British Women’s Writing, (p.15) 17501830: Volume 5, ed. Jacqueline M. Labbe. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

White, Daniel E. Early Romanticism and Religious Dissent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Wolfson, Susan J. Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

—. Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.


(1) Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb, ‘Charles Lamb to S. T. Coleridge’, in The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas (London: Methuen, 1905), 6: p. 162.

(2) Lindsay O’Neill, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), p. 4.

(3) Methodist Archives and Research Centre, John Rylands Library, GB 135 DDWF 26/56.

(4) Frank Baker, ‘Miss Sarah Wesley of Bristol – A Methodist Bluestocking’, unpublished MS, Frank Baker Papers, Box 211, Duke University Library.

(5) Diane Menagh, ‘The Life of Marianne Francis: With an Account of Her Letters to Mrs. Piozzi an Old Friend of the Family’, Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 80 (Spring 1977), p. 320.

(6) Devoney Looser, ‘British Women Writers, Big Data and Big Biography, 1780–1830’, Women’s Writing, 22:2 (2015), pp. 165–71 (p. 165).

(7) Claudia Thomas Kairoff, Anna Seward and the End of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

(8) Kathryn King, ‘Elizabeth Singer Rowe’s Tactical Use of Manuscript and Print,’ in Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 15501800, ed. George L. Justice and Nathan Tinker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 58–81.

(9) Daniel E. White, Early Romanticism and Religious Dissent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

(10) Betty A. Schellenberg, ‘Bluestocking Women and the Negotiation of Oral, Manuscript, and Print Cultures’, in The History of British Women’s Writing, 17501830: Volume 5, ed. Jacqueline M. Labbe (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 63–83.

(11) Amy Culley, British Women’s Life Writing, 17601840 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

(12) Margaret Ezell, Social Authorship and the Advent of Print (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

(13) Harriet Kramer Linkin, ‘Mary Tighe and Literary History: The Making of a Critical Reputation’, Literature Compass 7.7 (2010), pp. 564–76 (p. 565).

(14) Susan J. Wolfson, Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), p. 1.

(15) Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite, ‘Introducing Romantic Sociability’, in Romantic Sociability: Social Networks and Literary Culture in Britain, 17701840, ed. Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 1–23 (p. 19).

(16) Jon Mee, Conversable Worlds: Literature, Contention, and Community 1762 to 1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 33.

(17) Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), pp. 1–2.