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Charlotte Smith’s Collected Letters: a story of wife abuse as permitted by law & custom

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If you previously purchased this article, Log in to Readcube. Log out of Readcube. Click on an option below to access. Log out of ReadCube. In her Elegiac Sonnets , Charlotte Smith presents the reader with a suffering poetic persona, one heavily burdened by a melancholic longing for death as a release from the ills of the world. Although this image of a despairing sentimental heroine cultivates a perception that this persona, or even Smith herself, harbours suicidal intentions, this essay argues that such desires remain inert throughout the sonnet sequence.

Finally, it is a further reminder that literary suicide, often seen as the quintessentially transcendent Romantic destiny, was not a viable option for Romantic female writers who aspired to sympathetic identification and elegiac remembrance. Volume 12 , Issue The full text of this article hosted at iucr. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account.

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If the address matches an existing account you will receive an email with instructions to retrieve your username. Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation. Share Give access Share full text access. The proposal was accepted for her by her father; [2] forty years later, Smith condemned her father's action, which she wrote had turned her into a "legal prostitute".

The Smiths had twelve children. In , Charlotte and Benjamin had their first child, who died the next year just days after the birth of their second, Benjamin Berney — Between and , the couple had ten more children: William Towers born , Charlotte Mary born c. Only six of Smith's children survived her.

Catalog Record: The collected letters of Charlotte Smith | HathiTrust Digital Library

The Smith marriage was unhappy. She detested living in commercial Cheapside the family later moved to Southgate and Tottenham and argued with her in-laws, who she believed were unrefined and uneducated. They, in turn, mocked her for spending time reading, writing, and drawing. Even worse, Benjamin proved to be violent, unfaithful, and profligate.

Only her father-in-law, Richard, appreciated her writing abilities, although he wanted her to use them to further his business interests. Although Charlotte Smith later argued against slavery in works such as The Old Manor House and "Beachy Head", she herself benefited from the income and slave labour of Richard Smith's plantations, [2] and assisted in the family business that her husband had abandoned by helping Richard Smith with his correspondence.

She persuaded Richard to set Benjamin up as a gentleman farmer in Hampshire and lived with him at Lys Farm from until However, because he had drawn up the will himself, the documents contained legal problems. Smith and her children saw little of it. In fact, Benjamin illegally spent at least a third of the legacy and ended up in King's Bench Prison , a debtor's prison , in December Smith moved in with him and it was in this environment that she wrote and published her first work.

Smith's sonnets helped initiate a revival of the form and granted an aura of respectability to her later novels, as poetry was then considered the highest art form. Smith revised Elegiac Poems several times over the years, eventually creating a two-volume work. Smith's husband fled to France to escape his creditors. She joined him there, until, thanks largely to her, he was able to return to England.

After Benjamin Smith was released from prison, the entire family moved to Dieppe, France to avoid further creditors.

Charlotte Smith (née Turner)

Charlotte returned to negotiate with them, but failed to come to an agreement. She went back to France and in began translating works from French into English. She was forced to withdraw her other translation, Manon Lescaut , after it was argued that the work was immoral and plagiarized.

In , she published it anonymously. She wrote that she might "have been contented to reside in the same house with him", had not "his temper been so capricious and often so cruel" that her "life was not safe". Smith claimed the position of gentlewoman, signing herself "Charlotte Smith of Bignor Park" on the title page of Elegiac Sonnets. Her success as a poet allowed her to make this choice.

Although she published far more prose than poetry and her novels brought her more money and fame, she believed poetry would bring her respectability. As Sarah Zimmerman claimed in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , "She prized her verse for the role it gave her as a private woman whose sorrows were submitted only reluctantly to the public. After separating from her husband, Smith moved to a town near Chichester and decided to write novels, as they would make her more money than poetry.

Her first novel, Emmeline , was a success, selling copies within months. Smith began her career as a novelist during the s at a time when women's fiction was expected to focus on romance and to foreground "a chaste and flawless heroine subjected to repeated melodramatic distresses until reinstated in society by the virtuous hero". At times, she challenged the typical romance plot by including "narratives of female desire" or "tales of females suffering despotism".

Smith's novels are autobiographical. While a common device at the time, Antje Blank writes in The Literary Encyclopedia , "few exploited fiction's potential of self-representation with such determination as Smith". Stafford in Emmeline are portraits of Charlotte and Benjamin. Her mother died in childbirth when Charlotte was three.

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Charlotte's own first child died a day after her second child, Benjamin Berney, was born and Benjamin Berney lived only ten years. The prefaces to Smith's novels told the story of her own struggles, including the deaths of several of her children.

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Smith's experiences prompted her to argue for legal reforms that would grant women more rights, making the case for these reforms through her novels. Smith's stories showed the "legal, economic, and sexual exploitation" of women by marriage and property laws. Initially readers were swayed by her arguments and writers such as William Cowper patronized her.

However, as the years passed, readers became exhausted by Smith's stories of struggle and inequality. Public opinion shifted towards the view of poet Anna Seward , who argued that Smith was "vain" and "indelicate" for exposing her husband to "public contempt". Smith moved frequently due to financial concerns and declining health. She eventually settled at Tilford , Surrey. Smith became involved with English radicals while she was living in Brighton from to Like them, she supported the French Revolution and its republican principles.

Her epistolary novel Desmond tells the story of a man who journeys to revolutionary France and is convinced of the rightness of the revolution and contends that England should be reformed as well.

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The novel was published in June , a year before France and England went to war and before the Reign of Terror began, which shocked the British public, turning them against the revolutionaries. However, in her last novel, The Young Philosopher , Smith wrote a final piece of "outspoken radical fiction". The Old Manor House is "frequently deemed [Smith's] best" novel for its sentimental themes and development of minor characters.

Meet Charlotte Smith

Smith earned the most money between and , after which she was no longer as popular; several reasons have been suggested for the public's declining interest in Smith, including "a corresponding erosion of the quality of her work after so many years of literary labour, an eventual waning of readerly interest as she published, on average, one work per year for twenty-two years, and a controversy that attached to her public profile" as she wrote about the French revolution.

Her insistence on pursuing the lawsuit over Richard Smith's inheritance lost her several patrons.

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  6. Also, her increasingly blunt prefaces made her less appealing to the public. In order to continue earning money, Smith began writing in less politically charged genres. She also wrote two volumes of a history of England and A Natural History of Birds , posthumous.