Charlotte Smith 1749-1806

In 1784, Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets received great praise from the literary establishment, thus establishing her worth as a writer. Smith’s ability to depict scenes of  natural beauty combined with the melancholy led her to be recognized as influential in the birth of Romanticism. Drawing on these scenes of beauty and the sublime, her work is known to have influenced novelists and poets such as Radcliffe and Wordsworth. Though her early works draw lightly upon the Gothic type, she strayed from dwelling upon subjects of the supernatural, partaking more of an interest in the political and social issues of the day. She possessed a measurable amount of knowledge concerning the nature of geology and botany, and her love of landscape and painting further added to her avoidance of the Gothic genre. 

Though Smith preferred to compose poetry, the unfortunate state of her financial affairs led her to write novels with blazing speed for the purpose of supporting her large family. Smith is known for bringing the sense of aesthetic beauty into scenes within her novels that proved to be a sensation among the readership. These talents of vivid description, alongside the ever-pervading influence of the French Revolution providing a sense of tragic realism, contributed to her ability to capture the imagination of her readers. Unfortunately for Smith, the trend of frowning upon women and their liberalist views portrayed in fictional, printed form led to her dishonor among the political elite of the time.

Smith blazed a trail for the Romantics in that she capitalized upon the reinstitution of the sonnet when composing much of her poetry, a form that Wordsworth and Coleridge among others, would soon utilize for themselves. For these two towers of the Romantic age, much is owed to the influence of Charlotte Smith, where the scenes of the melancholy and the sublime are used in conjunction with the sonnet to produce a mesmerizing sense of awe and pleasure for the reader, and to evoke a sense of connection between the self and nature.  

Anna Laetitia Barbauld 1743-1825

 The lifetime of Anna Laetitia Barbauld stands at the hallmark of not only the age of Romanticism, but at the advent of the pursuit of women’s rights and Feminism. While not directly linked to any specific event of women’s rights advancement, no doubt can be taken that her personal philosophy of equality must have inspired many women to realize the same. Her primary influence in the world was that of her literary achievements, where her works are heralded as some of the most eloquent prose writings of the time. The earlier part of her life was spent defining herself as a breakthrough poet among literary circles, and with the publishing of her Poems (1773-1777), she became renowned as a leader in the contemporary world of English literature.

Barbauld’s achievements are not limited to her literary works alone. Her work as a teacher of children is famous, and she is known for having redefined the methodology of teaching children, changes that range from breaking free from some of the bizarre forms of discipline, to initiating a practical study program where a broader range of specialized subjects were included into the curriculum.

 Barbauld possessed a unique way of brandishing her literary skills for not only creative purposes, but for arguments within the political spectrum. Her embolden ideas were often received with shock, not only by the nature of the material, but by the fact they were designed by a woman. The demise of her career as a published author arrived when she pushed her opposition to governmental policy to the limit by publishing a controversial satire pertaining to British involvement in the Napoleonic endeavor. The essence of the piece essentially defines the difference between the psychology of people who are vehemently opposed to war and the state of mind of those who opinionate the need for war, yet further, the piece is sharply negative and pessimistic with regard to the future of England. Meeting with shock on both sides of the political aisle, the negative criticism received in return, ignited and flared her sensitivities enough to cause a self-initiated exile from the world of publishing.  

 By modern day standards her viewpoint would undoubtedly fall into that of the liberal party, with her views on rights for Dissenters and her brute, anti-war attitude pervading the landscape of her thought. The legacy of her career was shadowed by the specter of disdain held by Wordsworth and Coleridge: once fond admirers of her, the growing nature of their conservatism grew to place them at odds with her liberalist point of view. Only within the last twenty years has an introspective examination of Romanticism, and the role of growing Feminism at the time, has her place in history been properly claimed.