By Loraine Fletcher
'Sold, a criminal prostitute' while married off on the age of fifteen, Charlotte Smith left her wastrel husband to help herself and their youngsters as a poet and novelist who could have an enduring impact on William Wordsworth and Jane Austen. Combative and witty she grew to become an intensive, arguable and intensely renowned writer: at a time whilst the French Revolution used to be elevating excessive hopes of Reform, she argued for switch in England too. Loraine Fletcher's brilliant scholarly biography is as readable for the newcomer to the 1790s as for the professional, tracing the embattled existence within the splendidly self-dramatising fiction.
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Extra info for Charlotte Smith: A Critical Biography
The adjective 'personal' with its strong eighteenthcentury connotation, 'of the person' or body, suggests that it is the repeated pregnancies and perhaps marital sex that she sees by this time as enslavement. If it appears that she takes up the concept of marital slavery rather easily from her generalising remarks here, she may be concealing plenty that entitles her to her metaphor. However, it must be remembered that this is retrospect, and probably distant retrospect, written when she needed to represent her marriage as entirely wretched since this was then the only acceptable excuse for ending it.
There was nothing she could have done to conciliate Charlotte and Catherine. However little Charlotte knew about money, she probably knew something about sex. Though some families could preserve an unenquiring daughter's ignorance, intelligent girls did not grow up to be quite sexually uninformed as they often did a hundred years later. The frankness of eighteenth century habits and manners would make such an outcome difficult. She read The Lady's Magazine whose editor 'Mrs Stanhope' never published her poems.
It is impossible to date this letter, but it suggests that by the time she was living in Southgate she had made the common late-eighteenthcentury link between women's subjection in marriage, and slavery. But perhaps she also saw a disparity between these two conditions, and the extremism of her language attempts to offer justification for the comparison. The adjective 'personal' with its strong eighteenthcentury connotation, 'of the person' or body, suggests that it is the repeated pregnancies and perhaps marital sex that she sees by this time as enslavement.