"Different sentiments & different connections supports them" : sensibility, community, and diversity in British women's Romantic-period poetry
With diversity as an overarching theme, women writers' responses to the cultural feminisation and developing social climate of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain are explored through analyses of their poems on sensibility, community, and abolition. To determine a focus for expressive criticism and recover Romantic women writers from the social and historical contexts that have previously succeeded in highlighting male literary achievements, women's poetry is considered a distinct contribution to Romanticism. This dissertation analyses poems written by Joanna Baillie, Anna Barbauld, Harriet and Maria Falconar, Frances Greensted, Frances Greville, Elizabeth Hands, Eliza Knipe, Isabella Lickbarrow, Hannah More, Amelia Opie, Priscilla Pointon, Mary Robinson, Mary Scott, Helen Maria Williams, Ann Yearsley, and Mary Julia Young. Although literature brought together the public and private spheres, sensibility mediated between the two and served as a social currency for women. The various applications of sensibility are apparent in its dual-gendered nature, its link with reason, and the significance of economic language. A new genre of the "Address to Sensibility" was prominent in the period and followed a loose formula which defined sensibility, traced its personal impact, and determined a link between the Romantic culture and heightened emotion. Through explorations of poems on intellectual coteries, patronage, creative influence, Reviews, and literary critique, it is evident that women poets' affiliations with the literary community were marked by a discomfort based on their literary associations, the anxiety about their public reception, and the social differences in the literary community. However, the development of social, intellectual, literary, and critical communities alleviated this discomfort and contributed to women's participation in literary culture. In addition, women poets expressed sensibility and used images of community in diverse ways in their works against slavery and the trade. Abolitionist poetry acts as a case study of the particular motifs, highlighted throughout, such as the amalgamation of masculine and feminine, the political and economic applications of sensibility, the association of feeling with reason and community, and the assertion of individuality amidst commonality. Women poets' petitions to alleviate the sufferings of slaves paralleled arguments for the improvement of British society to benefit women. The poems discussed signify the complexity of the issues of sensibility, community, and diversity.