Charlotte Smith 1749-1806 : a critical survey of her works and place in English literary history
This study traces Charlotte Smith's relations with the literary world of her day, assembling material from contemporary accounts and correspondence, her own writings, and subsequent scholarship. Letters not previously drawn upon add to our knowledge of Charlotte Smith's literary opinions and help clarify the publication history of her highly successful Elegiac Sonnets. Charlotte Smith's immense popularity in the two last decades of the eighteenth century is confirmed in a survey of reprints of her works and articles about her in contemporary metropolitan and provincial periodicals. A wider range of Reviews than hitherto is drawn upon to give a developing picture of her critical fortunes, showing a slight decline in her popularity after the publication of her controversial novel, Desmond, in 1792. Though she was a minor literary figure, Charlotte Smith is shown to be of significance in her influence on greater writers, such as Jane Austen, Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge and, possibly, Keats, Dickens and the Brontes. Some specific debts are indicated. A full-length, chronological, critical account of Charlotte Smith's poetry, prose works and books for young people is provided. This stresses her innovative work in the fields of romantic landscape- and nature-description and her functional rather than sensational gothicism. It argues, however, that her didactic and satirical political writing - particularly on the French Revolution - and her predilection for colloquial dialogue and a greater realism in fiction, despite her adherence to a basically sentimental formula, have been undervalued in previous accounts. The prose works, poetry and children's books are related to the political and social conditions of her day, Charlotte ý' Smith's poetry is of interest in its 'pre-Romantic' movement towards freer form, its vivid particularity of natural detail and its personal vocabulary of meditation on Nature. In her books for young people, Charlotte Smith adhered fairly closely to the lucrative Moral Tale, despite her unease at its suppression of fantasy. Such works flowed naturally from her progressivist educational and social ideas. Her close interest in Natural History and poetry leavens these moralistic works. The study also indicates the limitations of Charlotte Smith's talent and her inability to maintain a constant realism owing to the exigencies of writing constantly for her living and her personal troubles.