English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Reviewers, Magazinists And Minor Poets Of The First Period
Women Writers Of The First Period
Summary Of The Pre-victorian Literature
Second Or Early Victorian Period—1837-1870
Earle Lytton Bulwer
Captain Frederick Marryat
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
Women Writers Of The First Period
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A marked feature of the Nineteenth Century has been the number and excellence of its women writers. The first of merit still acknowledged is Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849). Her "Castle Rackrent" (1801) is a lively picture of the recklessness and misconduct of Irish landlords. Her "Belinda" (1803) exhibits the female dissipation of the time. In "Ormond," a youth of impetuous character, whose education has been neglected, rises to true nobility. In "Helen," a story of thrilling interest, it is shown that deceit brings misery in its train. "The Absentee" reveals the wretchedness inflicted on the tenantry by unscrupulous agents while the gentry pursue their pleasures in London. When Miss Edgeworth visited Sir Walter Scott in 1823, he said that her stories had made him wish to do for Scot-land what she had done for Ireland. But this may have been only the baronet's gallantry to a lady author. She treated only of Protestant society, and dealt but sparingly with the peasantry and middle classes, and hence was not thoroughly national. Her chief excellence is in sprightly dialogue and amusing scenes. Her short tales are better than her long novels, and her moral stories for children have not yet entirely lost their vogue. She did not fully attain the art of creating individual characters, but rather depicted a variety. of types and set them off with humor.
Another woman, less popular in her day, but now regarded as having a higher genius, was the English Jane Austen (1775-1817). Her first publication, "Sense and Sensibility," was in 181o, but she is said to have written novels many years before. In spite of her secluded life, and slender knowledge of society, she succeeded in creating many real characters. Her skill lay in building them up with an infinity of detail. Her delicate irony is rare among women, and gives her a modern tone. Two of her six novels were published after her death.
The three novels of Susan Ferrier (1782-1854) were published anonymously, "Marriage," in 1818; "The Inheritance," in 1824, and "Destiny," in 1831. Sir Walter Scott praised their clever portraiture of contemporary Scotch life and manners, and called her, with reference to their common anonymousness, his "sister shadow."
Even more popular than these novelists was the poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1794-1835), whose verses won praises from the leading poets and critics of the day. Being a woman of wide culture, she ranged over Europe, seeking subjects for pathetic dramas, romantic tales, and songs of the affections. She wrote too fluently and did not stop to correct. The religious tone of her poetry, which descanted on the transitoriness of this world and the assured hope of a better world, commended it to the favor of many readers. She had been. unhappy in her marriage with Captain Hemans and was compelled to write for the support of her children.
Two other women who were for a time unduly esteemed and afterward entirely neglected were Joanna Baillie (1762-1851) who wrote "Plays on the Passions," containing both tragedies and comedies on hatred, fear, love, revenge; and Miss Landon (1802-1838), known as "L. E. L.," who dashed off sentimental and impassioned lyrics, and several prose romances.