Saturday, December 26, 2009

Female Poets of the Regency - Women of Letters

My research into the role of women in the arts and literature of Regency Britain was triggered by a book. "Women Romantic Poets 1785-1832: An Anthology" is edited by Jennifer Breen and published by J. M. Dent Ltd. The ISBN is 0--460-87078-5, for my paperback copy. I picked the book up at a charity book sale because the dates were 'right'. The more I looked at the book, the more impressed I was by the female poets.

We all know Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, etc. etc. Why, I wondered, had I not heard of any of these authors? Because of the paternalistic, dismissive attitudes to women in the arts in the 19th century came immediately to mind. Also my own lack of intellectual curiosity is obviously at fault. How happy I am to now be enlightened!

The excellent introduction in this book holds a great deal of information about the female poets working at the turn of the 18th/19th century. The author holds that the women fall into one of two categories. Either the poet was a 'woman of letters'--mostly well-educated, mostly well-financed, and devoted to her art, or she was a working-class woman hoping to earn a living with her work.

I was familiar with some of the women of letters: Dorothy Wordsworth, Hannah More, Mary Lamb. Most, however, I had never heard of, and I certainly was unprepared for the beauty of their work.

Helen Maria Williams was born in England but spent much of her life in France, an unconventional, intellectual novelist, poet and translator. I tweeted one stanza of her poem 'A Song' a few weeks ago, here is that verse and a little more:
"No riches from his scanty store
My lover could impart;
He gave a boon I valued more--
He gave me all his heart!
While he the dangerous ocean braves,
My tears but vainly flow:
Is pity in the faithless waves
To which I pour my woe?
The night is dark, the waters deep,
Yet soft the billows roll;
Alas! at every breeze I weep--
The storm is in my soul."

Laetitia Elizabeth Landon was a brilliant child and, fascinated by poetry, was first published at age eighteen. She published her first book soon after and was one of the most popular contributors to the 'Literary Gazette' where she was also a reviewer. Her personal life was troubled however and eventually she committed suicide. Here are some verses from her poem "New Year's Eve":

There is no change upon the air,
No record in the sky;
No pall-like storm comes forth to shroud
The year about to die.

Ah, not in heaven, but upon earth,
Are signs of change expressed;
The closing year has left its mark
On human brow and breast.

But Hope's sweet words can never be
What they have been of yore:
I am grown wiser, and believe
In fairy tales no more.

Carolina Oliphant, later Baroness Nairne, was a Scot named in memory of Prince Charles Edward Stuart--nicknamed the 'Flower of Strathearn'. Rather more conventional than the preceding poets, she undertook the collection of Scottish songs, and was herself a songwriter, using dialect for much of her work. She wrote, in fact, the famous song about the Bonnie Prince--

'Charlie is my Darling':

’TWAS on a Monday morning,
Right early in the year,
When Charlie came to our town,
The young Chevalier.

(refrain) O Charlie is my darling,
My darling, my darling—
O Charlie is my darling,
The young Chevalier!

There are many more wonderful poems by 'women of letters' in this little book. Next time we'll look at the working-class female poets of the Regency.

Happy Christmas!


Friday, December 18, 2009

A Revelation of Regency Women Artists II

As I researched Regency female artists last week, it became obvious that there were many, many talented non-professional artists. As I noted in that previous blog, sketching, drawing and watercolours were considered 'accomplishments' of a lady. But at the same time artistic talent was encouraged, it was also devalued as a mere amusement of the fair sex.

Nevertheless some of the ladies of fashion produced work of skill and merit, and were recognized for their ability.

Lady Gordon (nee Julia Isabella Levina Bennet) was one of J. M. W. Turner's pupil, and also studied with Thomas Girtin. Her picture, Cottage at Wigmore, Kent was painted 1803 and displays a confident hand. It can be viewed at the Tate Gallery website.

Lady Wharncliffe ( nee Lady Caroline Mary Elizabeth Creighton) was likewise a more-than-competent 'amateur'. I can find no other information on her life, but the Tate Gallery does hold some pieces of her work. Her untitled picture held at the Tate Gallery shows a typical Regency emphasis on trees and sky, probably due to the influence of Constable and Turner.

All that I can discover about Lady Susan Elizabeth Percy are the dates of her life: 1782-1847. The Tate Gallery has several examples of her drawing however, sketched in both Britain and on the continent. They are here.

The Duchess of Sutherland, Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, who succeeded by Scottish law to her father's titles, was known for her involvement in the Highland Clearances. She was also however a splendid artist. The Tate Gallery has only one of her watercolours, Mountain Landscape.

The works of Amelia Long, Lady Farnborough, are available for viewing online at several places: Courtauld Institute of Art, Tate Gallery, The Huntington Library, and Victoria and Albert Museum . She was competent and prolific, the daughter of an amateur artist and, like Lady Gordon, a pupil of Thomas Girtin and also of Henry Edridge.

It frustrates me no end that so little information is available online about these artists. I am sure there are brief mentions in some books, but I think they deserve their own study. Would that I had the time and the resources to write that book!

We must not forget, before we leave the female artists of the Regency, those women who--in the absence of photography--recorded their day to day life in sketches. They have left an invaluable, and charming, record of Regency life. One such was Diana Sperling, and thankfully, there is a book devoted to her Regency world "Mrs. Hurst Dancing and other scenes from Regency Life" from Gollancz Publishers. If you haven't seen this book, I strongly urge you to look it up.

I am still looking for books on female artists of the late 18th and early 19th century. Please let me know if you are aware of any!

'Til next time,


Friday, December 11, 2009

A Revelation on Regency Women Artists

Above: An engraving from a painting "The Hours" by Maria Cosway

I have had a revelation of how miserably neglected women artists and poets of the late 18th and early 19th centuries have been. A book led to this realization, and I will tell you about it in a later post. Suffice to say that I have been guilty of not thinking outside the box, and I intend to change my ways.

Since my epiphany, I have been reflecting on the lack of publicity and honour given to the female artists of the Regency period. Such was the paternalistic society of the time that women's efforts in the field of art were largely discounted and regarded as of lesser value than their male peers. Thus, we all know the names of Turner, Constable, Lawrence and Rowlandson, but few of us have ever heard of Maria Cosway, Clara Wheatley Pope or Mary Moser or the host of well-educated ladies of rank and fashion who produced a great deal of memorable and vaulable art. I must admit with some shame that my own Regency World Art page contains no female artists. I will do what I can to change that, but there are only a few 'out of copyright' versions of their artwork available to me.

Above right: A painting OF Mary Moser

In researching this blog on the Internet, I have found very little information on the women artists of the late 18th and early 19th century compared with the vast reams of material on male artists. There is one excellent article at GadflyOnline that is well worth reading, and discusses the problem that I have only just discovered.

The issue of female artists is complicated in that, during the Regency, sketching, watercolour painting, and drawing were considered necessary accomplishments for ladies to acquire. This fact alone led to any talent they might have had being discounted by the masculine dominated art world. Oil painting was frowned upon for 'ladies' but nevertheless those serious artists among women undertook that discipline as well.

Some facts make plain the difficulties that female artists faced:
- women were not admitted in the Academies of Art or their schools that dominated the art world in European countries
- women were not permitted to study in 'life' classes, that is study the human form via nude models
- therefore, they could not undertake the historical paintings which were in vogue and consisted of classical subjects ie nudes

The Gadfly article noted above calls the female artists that challenged these rules 'heroes' and I must agree. Despite the difficulties they faced, Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser began the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. Maria Cosway gained recognition as a painter of mythological scenes, Clara Wheatley Pope exhibited miniatures at the Royal Academy and eventually was renowned as a portraitist. She is particularly remembered today for her botanical art, especially the plates for a monograph on camellias.

On the left below: Young Woman Drawing by Marie-Denise Villers and on the Right: Self-Portrait by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun

The number of professional female artists in Britain was small during the early 1800s, and in discussing the subject, we cannot ignore the continent--German Anna-Marie Ellenrider, Frenchwomen Marie-Denise Villers and Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-LeBrun. The portrait work of these women illustrates the Regency world with precision and beauty. I offer what reproductions I can of their work, and urge you to search on their names in Google to visit gallery sites to see more of their art. We have done their work a disservice and I, for one, will campaign for their visibility in the future!

'Til next time,


Friday, December 4, 2009

Charing Cross - Heart of the City

I became interested in Charing Cross, in the heart of London, when I started to write my latest book "The Harmless Deception" (to be published by Uncial Press in May 2010). My heroine owns a millinery shop, and I wanted it to be a shop in an area not generally visited by the ultra-fashionable ton. So I invented a fictional street and placed it east of Charing Cross somewhere off the Strand.

I used good authority for the location--George 'Beau' Brummell reportedly never liked to be seen east of Charing Cross. At a chance encounter at Charing Cross with playwright Sheridan he apparently said, "Sherry, my dear boy, don't mention that you saw me in this filthy part of town, though perhaps, I am rather severe, for his Grace of Northumberland resides somewhere about this spot. if I don't mistake. The fact is, my dear boy, I have been in the d--d City, to the Bank. I wish they would remove it to the West End, for re-all-y it is quite a bore to go to such a place; more particularly as one cannot be seen in one's own equipage beyond Somerset House,..."

Mr. Brummell was being rather severe, as he said, for there was much of interest and importance of course east of Charing Cross. But there was no doubt that during the Regency, the West End and Mayfair was the fashionable area of town.

Charing was originally a nondescript hamlet, but an Eleanor Cross erected there in 1291-94. The cross was one of twelve memorial crosses constructed by Edward I in memory of his Queen. The word Charing may come from the French 'chere reine' but there are many possibilities for the word's origin. The cross was replaced in the 1600s by a statue of Charles I. The statue was joined in the 1600s by a major pillory, and the open space around it was often used for public entertainment.

Charing Cross is truly the heart of the city at the junction of the Strand, Whitehall, and Cockspur Street. Although its reputation was less than sterling during the Regency shortly thereafter it began to be used as a central point to define the geographical scope of the City of London. In 1829 it was used to set up police districts; parishes within twelve miles were part of the Metropolitan Police Act. In 1831 the London Hackney Carriage Act used Charing Cross to 'set the radius within which cab drivers were obliged to take a fare'. But in 1832 Charing Cross changed as there was mass demolition to accommodate the construction of Trafalgar Square.

Charing Cross has become quite a favourite place of mine since doing this research--my heroine knew it well. Do you have a favourite place in London, or its environs?

'Til next time,