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