Women Prose Writers of the 18th _ 19th Centuries

Document Sample
Women Prose Writers of the 18th _ 19th Centuries Powered By Docstoc
					             Women Prose Writers of the 18th & 19th Centuries

Anna Louisa Karsch, died in 1791, Poet

       Anna Karsch was born in Silesia and during her lifetime was celebrated as
the Prussian Sappho. She began her life as a stable maid, then married a brutal
older man. After divorcing her first husband, Anna was married to a drunken
tailor, Karsch, who even sold his children’s clothes for money to buy liquor.
       During this grim existence, Anna made constant efforts to improve her mind
and her poetry. At the time her husband left to fight in the Seven Years’ War, a
nobleman, Baron von Kottwitz discovered her talent and took her to Berlin. There
she was received into literary circles and her poetry was encouraged.
       Her local fame resulted in an interview with Frederick the Great, who
promised to take care of her but unfortunately forgot his promise. When he once
sent her a royal present of two thalers, she returned them. His successor, however,
built her a house in which she lived until her death.

Luise Gottsched, 18th Century, Scholar

       Luise Gottsched was one of the most intelligent women of the 18th century.
Her’s is one of those stories of a wife who did all the work the husband got credit
for. After her husband, Johann Christopher Gottsched, a respected scholar, began
his work on his Dictionary of the German Language and Model Grammar, Luise

dropped all of her own activities and worked all day on the project for years. The
project made them both well-known and led to a meeting with the Empress, Maria
Theresa. Luise wrote of this visit to a young noble woman, reflecting the awe in
which royalty were held at that time.
               First, embrace me. I believe all good things should be shared with
       one’s friends. Hence must I tell you that never, in all my life, have I had such
       cause to be joyfully proud as on this day. You will guess at once, I know, that
       I have seen the Empress. Yes, I have seen her, the greatest among women.
       She who, in herself, is higher than her throne. I have not only seen her, but I
       have spoken with her. Not merely seen her, but talked with her three-
       quarters of an hour in her family circle. Forgive me if this letter is chaotic
       and my handwriting uneven. Both faults spring from the overwhelming joy I
       feel in the two delights of this day -- the privilege of meeting the empress and
       the pleasure of telling your Highness of the honor....
               In a little while, her Majesty entered followed by the three Princesses.
       My husband and myself each sank upon the left knee and kissed the noblest,
       most beautiful hand that has ever wielded a scepter. The Empress gently
       bade us rise. Her face and her gracious manner banished all the timidity and
       embarrassment we naturally felt in the presence of so exalted and beautiful a
       figure as hers. Our fear was changed to love and confidence. Her Majesty
       told my husband that she was afraid to speak German before the Master of
       that language. “Our Austria dialect is very bad, they say,” she added.
               To which my man answered that, fourteen years before, when he
       listened to her address at the opening of the Landtag, he had been struck by
       the beauty and purity of her German. She spoke, on that occasion, he said,
       like a goddess.
               Then the Empress laughed merrily, saying, “It is lucky I was not
       aware of your presence or I should have been so frightened that I should
       have stopped short in my speech.” She asked me how it happened that I
       became so learned a woman. I replied, “I wished to become worthy of the
       honor that has this day befallen me in meeting your Majesty....”
               Her Majesty said, “You are too modest. I know well that the most
       learned women in Germany stands before me.” My answer to that was,
       “According to my opinion, the most learned woman, not of Germany only,
       but of all Europe, stands before me as Empress.”
               Her Majesty shook her head. “Ah, no,” she said, “my familiar
       acquaintance with that woman forces me to say you are mistaken.”

Isabella de Charrière, 1740 – 1805, Novelist

       Isabella came from a very distinguished Dutch family and received an
extensive education. Her beauty and charm attracted many would-be husbands, but
her view of the role of the traditional wife discouraged her from marriage.
               If I had neither father nor mother I would not get married.... I should
       be well pleased with a husband who would take me as his mistress; I should
       say to him, “Do not look upon faithfulness as a duty. You should have none
       but the rights and jealousies of a lover.” I would prefer being my lover’s
       laundress, and living in a garret, to the arid freedom and good manners of
       our great families.

       The alternative, for Isabella, was being passed from lover to lover, which left
her so scarred that she began to turn to opium to calm herself. In 1771 she finally
married a Swiss teacher, Saint-Hyacinthe de Charrière, but finding him well below
herself, intellectually, she soon left him for renewed affairs.
       In 1785 she began her novel, Caliste, which was for a time highly regarded.
At about this same time, she met Benjamin Constant in Paris. Although 27 years
younger, Constant was much taken by this woman’s brilliance.
                Mme. de Charrière had so original and lively a manner of looking at
       life, so deep a contempt for prejudice, so powerful an intellect, and so
       vigorous and disdainful a superiority over the common run of men,
       that...bizarre and arrogant like her, I discovered in her conversation a
       pleasure I had not know before....

George Sand, 1804 – 1876, Novelist

       George Sand was the pseudonym of Amandine Lucile Aurore Dupin, one of
the most outstanding and prolific writers of 19th century France. She was related,
through marriage, to Maurice de Saxe and Louis XV and devoted a volume of her
autobiography to explaining these complex relationships. Her parents having
married one month before her birth, her father died when she was young and her

mother left her to be reared by her grandmother, Madame Dupin de Frencueil at
her country estate called Nohant.
       Aurore’s initial education, at Nohant, was given her by an ex-abbé, to which
she added on her own, some study of Latin, music and science. More important, in
terms of her later writing, was her absorption of nature and the lives of the
peasants. At age 13 she entered a convent and for 2 years never saw the outside
world. In 1820 her grandmother, refusing to allow Aurore to have a religious
career, withdrew her from the convent and brought her back to Nohant. Now she
expanded her studies to include English, Italian and the study of Greek philosophy.
       In 1822, following the death of her grandmother, she married a local noble,
Casimir Dudevant, and led a life made eventful only by the birth of two children,
Solange and Maurice. Her husband began to drink and on the occasion of his
making love to a maid before her eyes, Aurore left for Paris.
       In Paris, she met Delatouche, the editor of Figaro, who introduced her to
journalism. At this time she published her first works, written together with
another young staff member, Jules Sandeau, under the name Jules Sand. She also
had a romantic relationship with Sandeau, but her heart was broken again when
she found him making love to another woman in their apartment.
       The first work under her own name was the novel Indiana, in which the
character of a disagreeable husband is modeled on her husband, Dudevant. This
was the first of several novels which reflected her disenchantment with marriage. It
was at this time that she took the pen-name, George Sand, in response to the
difficulty in publishing works by female authors. Since she had to assume a male
name, she often took to wearing men’s clothes and smoking cigars as a form of
       In 1833 she fell in love with the poet Alfred de Musset and they departed to
live in Venice. For a time they lived as in a passionate honeymoon, but soon Musset
tired of Aurore’s tendency to write 8 hours per day. He soon suffered a nervous
break-down, she nursed him to health and then ran off with the doctor, named
Pagello, who had treated him.    She soon tired of her new love and cut off her hair,

sending it to Musset as a token of penitence, but he could never forgive her
        Many of the novels Aurore wrote at this time incorporated real persons into
the characters, thus, in some cases, preserving vivid portraits of famous persons
which go beyond standard biographies. As a case in point, her Les Lettres d’un
voyageur (1834) contains a portrait of Franz Liszt and Mme. d’Agoult, whom
Aurore had met in Switzerland. Some years later, Liszt wrote,
                George Sand catches her butterfly and tames it in her cage by feeding
        it on flowers and nectar -- this is the love period. Then she sticks her pin into
        it when it struggles -- that is the congé and it always comes from her.
        Afterwards she vivisects it, stuffs it, and adds it to her collection of heroes for

Two novels, fantaisies à la Chopin and Lucrezia Floriani (in which Chopin is
represented as Prince Karol), similarly provide us with portraits of Chopin.
        Aurore’s affair with Chopin began in 1837, at the time his health was
beginning to fail. She took him to the Spanish island of Majorca, which was not yet
a famous tourist area, where she nursed him as a sick child. This period is also
reflected in her Un hiver à Majorque.
        Beginning with Spiridion, in 1838, Aurore wrote a whole series of socialistic
novels, inspired by Pierre Leroux. From this time it became her custom to write
between ten o’clock in the evening and five o’clock in the morning without stopping.
She often wrote her novels without having a fixed plot in mind in the beginning,
preferring to allow the plot to develop from the characters.
        With Jeanne (Joan d’Arc), of 1844, Aurore’s works began to reflect back on
the countryside of her youth. These novels conclude with the civil revolutions of
1848, during which she tried to contribute political manifestos, letters to the editor
and even founded a newspaper.
        At the end of her life, she became interested in acting and, having returned to
Nohant in 1850, gave puppet shows and amateur theatrical productions for her
friends. She also attempted to transform some of her earlier novels into plays. The
remainder of her time was spent in playing with grandchildren, gardening and
enjoying her many visitors. Her prayer now was “Calme, toujours plus de calme.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806 – 1861, Poet

       Elizabeth was born in the countryside of England, near the Malvern Hills.
Her proud father began publishing her works, written by age 12, in 1819. Elizabeth
also had a strong scholarly inclination and began at an early age to study Greek and
Latin. The first of a number of her scholarly efforts was the translation of
Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus.
       By 1836 the publication of Elizabeth’s poetry had brought her to the
attention of important literary figures, such as Bulwer and Wordsworth, who
helped her career. At this same time, however, her health began to fail
dramatically, the result of a childhood spinal affection.
       She had met the poet Robert Browning by 1842 and his letters and visits
became more and more frequent. At first Robert resisted his romantic inclinations,
not only because of her health, but because he was 6 years younger. When they
finally decided to become engaged and married, it had to be done secretly, as her
father had insisted that all of his daughters never marry. In fact, after the
marriage, she was never again able to restore her relationship with her father.
       After their marriage the couple moved to Italy, where they resided until the
end of her life. Elizabeth’s health began to improve remarkably and her literary
output continued. Her final work, A Curse for a Nation, was criticized by English
critics who understood England to be the subject, whereas her subject was actually
America and its slavery.
       All the world knows her poem,
              How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
              I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
              My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
              For ends of Being and ideal Grace.
              I love thee to the level of everyday’s
              Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
              I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
              I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
              I love thee with the passion put to use
              In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
              I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
              With my lost saints, -- I love thee with the breath,

              Smiles, tears, and all my life! -- and, if God choose,
              I shall but love thee better after death.

Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886, Poet

       Emily was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, where her father was a lawyer
and congressman and her grandfather a founder of Amherst College. Reared in the
typically male dominated society of the 19th century, her mother, “trembled, obeyed
and was silent” when her father spoke.
       She was strongly influenced early in her career by Ben Newton, a young
lawyer and free-thinker who worked for her father. His early death, from
tuberculosis, also had a strong impact on the young poet. Her poetry is
characterized by a simple, economic, yet passionate style, as one can see in these
three examples:
              We never know how high we are
              Till we are called to rise;
              And then, if we are true to plan,
              Our statures touch the skies.

              The heroism we recite
              Would be a daily thing,
              Did not ourselves the cubits warp
              For fear to be a king.

              There is no frigate like a book
              To take us lands away,
              Nor any coursers like a page
              Of prancing poetry.

              This traverse may the poorest take
              Without oppress of toll;
              How frugal is the chariot
              That bears a human soul!

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me, --
The simple news that Nature told
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see,
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!