Charlotte Turner Smith

Charlotte Turner Smith wrote romantic poetry, gothic fiction and political novels. She was born on May 4th, 1749 and died on October 28th, 1806. Smith had three books of poetry published in the late 1700s and early 1800s. She also wrote novels and children books. She had liberal political beliefs and supported the French Revolution. Charlotte Smith suffered from depression and anxiety due to her life circumstances. She married Benjamin Smith, who was unreliable finically and acted violently towards her. Her family sold her to him at the age of 15. He was the son of slave owning West India merchant. Due to the physical violence, she legally separated from her husband in 1787. She wrote to gain respect and financial security. Smith referred to her writing as slavery because she felt like she needed to work to survive. She lost her first 3 children and only had one surviving child. The death of her children before their birth was a source of melancholy that her poems are known for. Mary Wollstonecraft criticized Smith for copying other’s work, which was popular during the romantic era. She claimed that Smith imitated neoclassical art in order to be successful.
Smith’s depression caused her desire for privacy and solitude. She believed solitude was a state worth cultivating. She claimed that some of her poems were never meant to be published because they were products of her melancholy personal moments. Her personal poems were about memories, meditative states, dreams, sexuality and madness. She believed that poems were results of the body’s lived experiences. Smith used imagery of the heart to examine sensibility and sympathy in the human experience. She was heartbroken and lonely throughout her life, but was aware of others’ suffering. She believed that the poet could only rely on poetry and nature.

Smith, like Wordsworth, was known for her style of hybrid poems. She combined lyrical ballads and elegiac sonnets. . She created a new form of poetry. Smith would write an elegiac sonnet and conclude with a lyrical ballad. She used 14 lines with a single sentiment knowing that readers that read well would understand. She mixed rhyme schemes and structures.
Charlotte Smith was politically radical and supported the French Revolution. Smith believed in the revolution for potential for social transformation and freeing the culture from the bondage of tradition and prejudices. She believed women play an important role in forming a democracy because women are disenfranchised, along with the lower class. She believed the French Revolution came out of anger at the crimes of France against its own people and saw the British Monarchy committing the same crimes. Smith was against the institutional hierarchy of privilege and power. She desired major political and social reform.
Charlotte Smith was a feminist and was influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the rights of woman. Smith believed that she was creating a space for women’s political opinions by writing. She published her work to raise public awareness for issues she believed in and promote revolutionary politics. Her writing addressed issues of liberty, justice, and national identity. She wrote about the connection of public and private space and it’s relation to the suffering of woman. Smith believed woman’s suffering came from external factors opposed to internal factors. Her feminist writings focused on the idea of domestic felicity. She disagreed with the idea that woman should find bliss in taking care of the home because a woman’s bliss is destroyed by economic and political violence, and physical violence committed against woman by husbands. Her experiences with sexual violence caused her depression and influenced her writing.
Smith was a humanist. She conceptualized human nature over cultural limitations of nationalism. Smith believed that the power of human sentiment could be more powerful that governments and religion, and could transcend past boarders. But, she also acknowledged the duel nature of exile and liberty in being a citizen of the world. Over time, she became very pessimistic about the state of political justice in Britain. She idealized nature and dreamed of alternative, utopian, multicultural communities. Smith criticized the creation patriarchal hierarchies and slave economies in the New World because it was a failure to escape oppression.

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