Char­lotte Smith

Wil­liam Wordsworth was a fan of the poet and novelist


Char­lotte Smith em­barked on her ca­reer as a ‘gen­tle­woman poet’, and her suc­cess gave her the con­fi­dence to pub­lish prose un­der her own name.

Like Ann Rad­cliffe, her nov­els were satirised by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Smith of­ten in­cor­po­rated the Gothic set­ting of the manor house – which has been sug­gested was a metaphor for the na­tion – and it was ar­gued that she used the form of the courtship novel to crit­i­cise pri­mo­gen­i­ture laws.

An­other de­vice was that of the ‘wan­derer’ fig­ure as a means of ex­plor­ing so­cial is­sues. In The Old Manor House (1793), Or­lando Somerive’s trav­els in Amer­ica lead him to be­come op­posed to im­pe­ri­al­ism and slav­ery. While, as above, Smith did later crit­i­cise slav­ery, she had also ben­e­fited from its ex­is­tence – her hus­band Ben­jamin was the son of an East In­dia

Com­pany di­rec­tor, who owned plan­ta­tions in Bar­ba­dos, and his and Smith’s an­nual in­come had de­pended on slave labour.

Smith also be­came a vo­cal sup­porter of the French

Repub­lic, but later al­tered her opin­ion as a re­sult of the

Ter­ror. Even­tu­ally Smith’s pop­u­lar­ity de­clined, but she was re­mem­bered by Wil­liam

Wordsworth as “a lady to whom English verse is un­der greater obli­ga­tions than are likely to be ei­ther ac­knowl­edged or re­mem­bered”.

“Si­lene, who de­clines The gar­ish noon­tide’s blaz­ing light; But when the evening cres­cent shines, Gives all her sweet­ness to the night.” The Horologe of the Fields

Smith’s novel Ce­lestina chal­lenged gen­der as­sump­tions

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