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Poetic Pain: The Life of William Cowper

Thomson, Cowper, Scott — she would buy them all over and over again: she would buy up every copy, I believe, to prevent their falling into unworthy hands; and she would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree. Sense and Sensibility William Cowper (pronounced Cooper) (November 20, 1731 – April 25, 1800) was an English poet and hymnodist. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside. He suffered from periods of severe depression, and although he found refuge in a fervent evangelical Christianity, the source of his much-loved hymns, he often experienced doubt and fears that he was doomed to eternal damnation. However, his religious motivations and association with John Newton (who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”) led to much of the poetry for which he is best remembered in the popular mind. Cowper was, perhaps, Jane Austen’s favourite poetical moralist. From the frequent mention of his works in her letters and novels, it is certain that she was well familiar with all his writings and shared many of his beliefs. William Cowper was born in Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England. After education at Westminster School, he was articled to Mr. Chapman, solicitor, of Ely Place, Holborn, in order to be trained for a career in law. During this time, he spent his leisure at the home of his uncle Ashley Cowper, and there (more…)
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Maria Edgeworth: Jane Austen’s Gothic Inspiration

Maria EdgeworthA Summary of Maria Edgeworth: It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Northanger Abbey Maria Edgeworth (January 1, 1767-May 22, 1849) was an Irish novelist who’s early “Gothic” works had untold influence on Jane Austen’s life and writing. Austen admired her so much, that she sent her a complimentary copy of Emma when it was published in 1815. Edgeworth, the author of Belinda, and Castle Rackrent was known for the moral theme in her stories and was apparently not impressed with the novel. She never acknowledged Jane’s gift, and later wrote, “There is no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet’s lover was an admirer of her own–& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow*–and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma’s father’s opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel.” Maria Edgeworth was born in Oxfordshire, at the home of her grandparents, but spent most of her life in Ireland, on her father’s estate. She grew up in the landed gentry of Ireland, with the families of Kitty Pakenham (later the wife (more…)
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Sir Walter Scott: Author & Critic

Who was Sir Walter Scott? Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early! Sir Walter Scott Journal entry, March 14th 1826 Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (August 14, 1771 – September 21, 1832) was a prolific Scottish historical novelist and poet popular throughout Europe. In some ways he was the first author to have a truly international career in his lifetime, with many contemporary readers all over Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, Australia, and North America. He is sometimes known as the “Great Magician.” His novels and poetry are still read, but with nothing like the popularity he once enjoyed. But many of his works remain in current lists of classical works in English literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Lady of the Lake and Talisman. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1771, the son of a Scottish solicitor of limited means, the young Walter Scott survived a childhood bout of polio that would leave him lame in his right leg for the rest of his (more…)
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Mary Wollstonecraft: The first of the modern feminists

Mary Wollstonecraft: The first of the modern feminists Who was this woman who could outrage learned men and women, causing her to be named “A Hyena in Petticoats”? Mary Wollstonecraft (April 27, 1759 – September 10, 1797) was the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Her husband William Godwin was one of the most prominent atheists of his day and a forefather of the anarchist movement. Her father—a quick-tempered and unsettled man, capable of beating wife, or child, or dog—was the son of a manufacturer who made money in Spitalfields, when Spitalfields was prosperous. Her mother was a rigorous Irishwoman. In 1778, when she was nineteen, Mary Wollstonecraft left home to take a situation as companion with a rich tradesman’s widow at Bath. After two years she returned home to nurse her sick mother, who died after long suffering, wholly dependent on her daughter Mary’s constant care. The mother’s last words were often quoted by Mary Wollstonecraft in her own last years of distress—”A little patience, and all will be over.” After the mother’s death, Mary Wollstonecraft left home again, to live with her friend, Fanny Blood, an artist, who was at Walham Green. In 1782 she went to nurse a married sister through a dangerous illness. The father’s need of support next pressed upon her. He had spent not only his own money, but also the little that had been specially reserved for his children. In 1783 Mary Wollstonecraft—aged twenty-four—with (more…)
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Only a Novel: The Life of Fanny Burney

the life of fanny burneyThe Life of Fanny Burney “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Northanger Abbey Fanny Burney later Madame D’Arblay (June 13, 1752-January 6, 1840) was an English novelist and diarist. She published her first novel Evelina anonymously in 1778. The revelation of its authorship brought her immediate fame. She published Cecilia in 1782 and Camilla in 1796. Her three major novels, much admired by Jane Austen, are about the entry into the world of a young, beautiful, intelligent but inexperienced girl. The life of Fanny Burney began when she was born as Frances Burney, daughter of Dr Charles Burney, at King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Her mother, Esther (nee Sleepe) was granddaughter of a French refugee named Dubois. Fanny was the fourth child in a family of six. Of her brothers, James (1750-1821) became an admiral and sailed with Captain James Cook on his second and third voyages, and Charles Burney was a well-known classical scholar. In 1760 the family moved to London, and Dr Burney, a fashionable music master, took a house in (more…)
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The Indomitable Mrs. Siddons

Mrs SiddonsMrs. Siddons – The Life of One of Britain’s Greatest Actresses “Well, mother, I have done something for you that you will like. I have been to the theatre, and secured a box for to-morrow night. A’n’t I a good boy? I know you love a play; and there is room for us all. It holds nine.” Charles Musgrove, Persuasion The theatre in Regency Bath was a part of everyday life. Society went for entertainment. Entertainers came to take the waters and perform. Of all the thespians ever to play there, however, the most beloved was Sarah Siddons. Sarah Siddons was the daughter of noted actor Richard Kimble, and was perhaps the most acclaimed tragic actress of her day. Born July 5, 1755, she performed on stage with her father’s troupe at an early age. As the oldest of 12 children, she was well educated and reportedly quite beautiful. After falling in love with one of her father’s cast members, a William Siddons, she was sent away from home to work as a Lady’s Maid. There she performed for her fellow servants and, occasionally, guests. In November, 1773, the 18 year old Sarah finally gained her parent’s blessing and married William. Now Mrs. Siddons, was free, once again, to pursue the acting she loved. Though traveling with a small troupe, it was not long before recognition was afforded her talent. Her success was enough to catch the attention of David Garrick, then nearing the end of his career. He brought (more…)
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The Delectable Dora Jordan

I think you judge very wisely in putting off your London visit, and I am mistaken if it be not put off for some time. You speak with such noble resignation of Mrs. Jordan and the Opera House, that it would be an insult to suppose consolation required… Jane Austen to Cassandra January 8, 1801 She was born Dorothea Bland (though she sometimes went by Dora or Dorothy) on November 21, 1761, near Waterford, Ireland. She was the daughter of a stagehand, Francis Bland, and his mistress, actress Grace Phillips. With this background it’s no surprise that when Francis abandoned the family in 1774 (to marry yet another actress) Dora was forced to go to work to help support her mother and four siblings. Her mother found her, then 13 year old, daughter a position with the Theatre Royal in Cork. The manager of the company, Richard Daly, also saw potential. He cast Dora in any number of second rate productions, all the time acting his own love scenes on the side. Dora wanted nothing to do with her married manager—despite his “kindness” to her family. His true colors were revealed when, in a last ditch effort to gain his way with her, he threatened her with jail if she could not repay the funds he had leant her. Still Dorothy would not budge and Daly was forced to abduct her. A child resulted, you Frances, born in Dublin in 1782. Finally Dora could take no more. She and her (more…)
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John Keats

John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was the latest born of the great Romantic poets. Along with Byron and Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the movement, despite publishing his work over only a four-year period. During his short life, his work was not well received by critics, but his posthumous influence on poets such as Alfred Tennyson and Wilfred Owen was significant. The poetry of Keats was characterised by sensual imagery, most notably in the series of odes which remain among the most popular poems in English literature. The letters of Keats are among the most celebrated by any English poet. What is most interesting to Austen scholars is the apparent link between Jane Austen’s work and the influence it may have had on Keats’ poetry. The lives of both these writers overlap almost perfectly and as Katie Mastrucci writes in (more…)