Charlotte Smith was one of the most prolific writers of her day (she lived from 1749 to 1807), but her radical republican sympathies during and after the French Revolution eroded her popularity with wary English-speaking critics and readers. Today, however, she is recognized as an important figure in the development of women's writing. She enhanced the novel of sensibility with the romantic description of nature and used the sublime and the picturesque as part of the sentimental-gothic style that she developed and Ann Radcliffe later imitated.
In this comprehensive, reliable survey of all of Smith's work - poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and children's books - Carrol L. Fry looks at Smith as a proto-feminist, a woman quite unusual for her time, and seeks to bring to today's readers an awareness of Smith as one of the most important writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Fry argues that Smith's works reflect the sweeping political and cultural changes of her day. Such novels as The Old Manor House (1793) and Marchmont (1796), he contends, reflect the idealism of British liberalism in the early days of the French Revolution, contemporary republican views on issues that would be part of the British reform movement for the next hundred years, and criticism of the way British society allowed those with wealth and power to abuse the law. Fry finds implicit in Smith's later novels the theme of the powerlessness of women in the patriarchal society of the late eighteenth century.
Using unpublished manuscript material - primarily Smith's copious letters - Fry gives readers a glimpse of this turbulent era and the literature it generated. Smith's work reflects a time when democratic revolutions swept aside ancient privilege and created a new social order, when women writers began the feminist critique, and when romanticism was aborning. Fry's book will bring a new respect for Smith's writing and a fresh insight into the importance of this powerful woman in the canon of British romanticism.
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