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Close encounters: Anna Seward, 1742–1809, a woman in provincial cultural life

Roberts, Marion (2011)
Other thesis, University of Birmingham.

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Abstract

Anna Seward (1747–1809) is best known today as a poet, but one whose reputation did not survive her death. Most studies of Seward since the nineteenth century have been critical or dismissive, but in recent years her published work has attracted more attention. Academics, particularly feminist scholars, have focused on her environmental observations, and the ways in which her writings draw attention to the gendered nature of eighteenth-century society. This study adopts a different approach by exploring Anna Seward’s private and public life within the provincial culture in which she emerged and remained until her death. Seward’s identity was shaped by her early life in the Derbyshire Peak District and the cathedral city of Lichfield. Her relationships with male mentors and friends of both sexes provided learning experiences and opportunities to develop her literary skills and personal confidence. Her wealthy clergyman father educated her at home and developed her literary interests. She was also heavily influenced by Dr Erasmus Darwin who encouraged her literary abilities and developed her confidence. Influenced by other provincial literary figures, such as Thomas Whalley, William Hayley, Robert Southey, Helen Maria Williams, Hannah More and the Ladies of Llangollen, she embarked on a publishing career, became a commentator on public affairs and acted as a critic. Her extensive letters bear witness to a wide range of interests and a large network of correspondents. Unlike other cultural figures, Seward did not move to London to participate in the competitive life of the capital. She disliked large towns and did not become part of the Bluestocking circle of metropolitan intellectuals; instead, people came to her or solicited her opinions from a distance. Seward was self-willed, independent and prepared to criticise the famous, such as Samuel Johnson and Darwin, her former mentor. Her life in Lichfield, moreover, secured the disapproval of the local ecclesiastical establishment, because of her close public relationship with a married man, John Saville. Towards the end of her life she worked to secure her reputation as a poet and commentator, through the agency of Walter Scott, but after her death, his savage editing of her letters and works did much to destroy her reputation. Though Seward was a literary figure orbiting within an environment which excluded London, her life was important. It revealed how middle-class women could develop a national cultural reputation outside of the capital and provided a commentary on the vigorous nature of provincial life in the English Midlands.

Type of Work:M.Litt. thesis.
Supervisor(s):Mitchell, Sebastian and Dick, Malcolm
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
Department:School of Humanities
Subjects:PN0080 Criticism
PN0441 Literary History
HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
PR English literature
HM Sociology
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:1581
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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