Women’s AUTObiographies

April 13, 2013 at 10:43 am (books, british royalty, diaries, europe, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


Readers of TWO TEENS IN THE TIME OF AUSTEN will know my debt to the wonderful microfilm series published by Adam Mathew Publications: they had microfilmed my Mary’s diaries!

While looking for girl’s schools in Ireland in the 18th century, up came this notification of the microfilm series Women’s Autobiographies from Cambridge University. What caught my attention was the biography of Dorothea Herbert: I’ve read this book!

So, of course, I had to click and investigate the other ladies on their list.

Some are so “famous” they need no introduction: Laetitia Pilkington, Mrs Papendiek, Sydney Lady Morgan (pictured below), Elizabeth Grant (the ‘Highland Lady’), Hester Thrale Piozzi (whom I’ve discussed elsewhere). To name a few.

A couple REALLY grab my attention:

  • Hannah Robertson, The Life of Mrs Robertson, Grand-Daughter of Charles II (1791) The description of her life’s disappointments sound heart-rending!
  • Mary Anne Talbot, The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot in the name John Taylor (1809). Yes, she passed as a young man! The description places her biography among the “18th century genre of sensational memoirs”, but there are numerous histories (typically later) of women passing as men. The description also makes a good point: “Whether fictional or true Talbot’s account raises the 18th century social issue about how women, without traditional male protection, survived in a patriarchal society”.

lady morgan

I’d like to locate the following:

  • Baroness Craven, Memoirs of the Margravine of Anspach (1826), for Emma’s Great Aunt visited the Margravine when on a trip through Italy & Germany!
  • Catharine Carey, Memoirs of Miss C.E. Cary (1825). Described as a roman a clef, and based on the writer’s life with Queen Caroline, the memoir may be “‘one of the few first-hand records of the Regency era’s covert power struggles‘.”

This one I must find, simply because of its title:

  • Anna Brownell Jameson, Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad by Mrs Jameson including Diary of an Ennuyée (1834) – but she also knew (and presumably writes about) Fanny Kemble, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, Jane Welsh Carlyle, and Barbara Bodichon.

The Publisher’s note gives food for thought: “Women’s autobiographies provide a rich and diverse source of information for social historians, literary scholars, and students studying women and gender issues.

We may wonder what compelled women to write their life histories. ….From these first-hand accounts much information can be learned. For example, recollections of a family history can reveal differing regional cultures….private thoughts relating to marriage, spinsterhood and romance. These autobiographies also reveal women’s aspirations in life: socially what was
expected of them, and privately what they felt they should aspire to.”

la belle_1808

Autobiographies cover the stage, royalty, the workhouse, emigration (for instance, Rebecca Burland relocates to Illinois in her A True Picture of Emigration [1848]), and even evangelical transformation.

Neither Mary nor Emma left a true “autobiography”, but the threads of their lives, left behind in diaries and letters, also gives a “true picture” of their lives and times. So my ladies are among an excellent crowd.

smith-gosling_silhouette1

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1 Comment

  1. Emil said,

    I have the First Edition, First issue from 1826. I’ll put it in an auction soon, so if you are interested, kindly contact me.

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