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Dear Friends,

While away at a recent 18th century regional conference, I splurged on two books, the first Devoney Looser's very enjoyable. British Women Writers and Old Age, 1750-1850, and the huge paperback version of Paula Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia's British Women Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century. What a milestone. 906 pages!  I was chuffed to see the picture I used as mascot here at first and still have on on Library Thing is on the cover: Georg Friedrich Kersting's (here called) Woman Embroidering. I had thought she was writing or reading, but looking now, staring intently I can make out a thread hanging from the table.  The background is a fashionable green of the era; it comes out too dark; it was thought to be contemplative and appropriate for quiet private rooms, which were a new thing then).

But when I began to read it, I was disappointed.  Alas. The same problem I discerned in Backscheider's book is here: they can't seem to tell a good poem from a bad or poor one. It's a representative selection.  Oddly, they are aware of this for in their introduction, they go on about how subjective aesthetic decisions are, and half-say they just give up on it. No. One evaluates; that's a central task of anthology makers, histories of literature, and criticism.

This matters: so Paula Feldman's British Women Poets of the Romantic Era, Joyce Fullard's British Women Poets 1660-1800 where an unerring sense of not only great (exhilarating, alive, interesting, moving, satiric) poems are chosen especially from a woman's ponit of view, and Roger Lonsdale's masculinist approach in Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, and the more general but still alive to what's good Andrew Ashfield's Romantic Women Poets (1770- 1848) will be those that keep women's voices alive.

This is a historical volume; it has some great poetry and is set up very interestingly -- the scholarly parts of the book are very good -- and it is so big that there is much beauty here. Maybe the problem is they eschew feminism too; there is very little anger in this volume at all. Scotched out. But the real problem is the anthology doesn't make the argument from the texts themselves as such.

I will however read it slowly and learn and share what I can.  I am now wondering if she got the idea for the picture from my review where it is placed at the bottom :)



Nov. 11th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC)
A poem from this anthology: Charlotte Smith's "Ode to the Missed Thrush"
I don't know that I've ever heard the song of the thrush; perhaps I have and was unaware I was listening to a thrush, but it must be exhilarating, for I know a number of poems from the 18th through late 20th century where the poet's spirit soars upon hearing or remembering hearing it.

This poem comes from Backscheider and Ingrassia's _British Women Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century_. Though like some of them not specifically on war, it fits in with the poetry discussed by Favret in a recent brilliant moving article in PMLA ("Still Winter Comes", PMLA 124:5 (2009):1548-61 (from the special issue "Perpetual War"), and like them is probably appropriately placed under (hopelessly inadequate categories like)Poems on Nature:

Ode to the Missed Thrush

Charlotte Smith

The Winter Soistice scarce is past,
Loud is the wind, and hoarsely sound
The mill-streams in the swelling blast,
And cold and humid is the ground[;]
When, to the ivy, that embowers
Some pollard tree, or sheltering rock,
The troop of timid warblers flock,
And shuddering wait for milder hours.

While thou! the leader of their band,
Fearless salut'st the opening year;
Nor stay'st, till blow the breeze bland
That bid the tender leaves appear:
But, on some towering elm or pine,
Waving elate thy dauntless wing,
Thou joy'st thy love notes wild to sing,
Impatient of St. Valentine!

Oh, herald of the Spring! while yet
No harebe1l scents the woodland lane,
Nor starwort fair, nor violet,
Braves the bleak gust and driving rain,
'Tis thine, as thro' the copses rude
Some pensive wanderer sighs along,
To soothe him with thy cheerful song,
And tell of Hope and Fortitude!

For thee then, may the hawthorn bush,
The elder, and the spindle tree,
With all their various berries blush,
And the blue sloe abound for thee!
For thee, the coral holly glow
Its arm'd and glossy leaves among,
And many a branched oak be hung
With thy pellucid missletoe.
Still may thy nest, with lichen lin'd,
Be hidden from the invading jay,
Nor truant boy its covert find,
To bear thy callow young away;
So thou, precursor still of good,
0, herald of approaching Spring,
Shalt to the pensive wanderer sing
Thy song of Hope and Fortitude.


I want again to speak of this volume. I regret in a way being hard on it for it has many fine poems. I've now come across poems by women I knew of but had never read the poem, poems by women I had not heard of, and many fine beautiful thoughtful striking poems. The introductions to each of the sections is a propos and helpful.

What there is is this curious I want to call it non-assertiveness. It's as if they are deliberately not asking that we admire or like these poems, a downplaying of what's there so that the framings are also slightly dull. It's as if (as if, that phrase) they were determined to avoid controversy or be seen as feminist (whisper the word) and they are not -- the satiric section shows that.

People do take you at your own assessment of yourself so there is danger in this, but now as I go through it I find it a worthy supplement to the several extant superb anthologies of women's poetry for this long 18th century.


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