The 19th century saw an influx of many wonderful writers and poets such as Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen in England and Nathanial Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Harriet Beecher Stowe in America. While men dominated the writing scene, many women were producing works that displayed their wit and intelligence effectively, thus securing their own places in the annals of history. Their works paved the way for recognition of women’s literary abilities and in some cases helped free women from the bonds of their traditional places in society.
Emily Bronte, an English writer who is most famous for her novel Wuthering Heights, was an avid writer of poetry. One reason her poems are still celebrated today is because the language is clear, direct, and not full of vague forms like most poetry of her day. After her mother died when she was 3 years old, she and her siblings spent much of their time reading and inventing imaginary worlds to escape from the present, which may have paved the way for their literary success. Emily died when she was only 30. One of her more famous poems is “Death, that struck when I was most confiding”, an excerpt from which is below:
Cruel Death! The young leaves droop and languish;
Evening’s gently air may still restore-
No! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish-
Time, for me, must never blossom more!
|Elizabeth Barrett Browning|
Another English writer, Elizabeth Browning, had a lot of time to write on her hands thanks to never fully recovering from falling off a horse when she was 15 year old. She received wide critical acclaim and was speculated at one point to be the successor to Wordsworth as Poet Laureate. When she was young, her father forbade any of his children to marry, so she married her husband Robert Browning in private, secretly departing her home to live in Italy. Her liaison with Robert contributed to an improvement in her health. Because of her own sufferings, she is seen as the champion of suffering and oppressed people, and she was a huge supporter of the anti-slavery movement. She wrote a very famous poem titled “How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43); the first verse is below.
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 the ends of being and ideal grace.
A third well known English poetess is Christina Rossetti. Very religious, she was known to be incredibly self-sacrificing: she gave up chess because she enjoyed winning so much, pasted strips over antireligious parts of poems that she otherwise enjoyed, and refused to participate in anything celebrating pagan mythology such as Wagner’s Parsifal. She additionally declined to marry the man she was in love with because she found out he was not a Christian, and she earlier rejected another suitor because he was a Roman Catholic. After her rejection of her second proposal, she mostly lived at home, although she had acquaintances in the form of her brother Dante’s friends. She suffered on and off from poor health and ultimately died of cancer. “Goblin Market” is one of her most well-known works, and through it, one can see her appreciation for being self-denying. An excerpt can be found below:
“No,” said Lizzie, “No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”
America was not without its successful female poets, and one of the most famous is Emily Dickinson. After living a mostly normal life that included friends, parties, and church, she became increasingly reclusive in her late 20s until ultimately withdrawing from society and choosing to rarely leave home. She kept up a correspondence with friends, but she would not see them. Most of her poems were discovered after her death; she only published a handful while still alive. Originally looked down on by scholars as a romantic who turned her back on the world after suffering heartbreak rather than a serious poet, she has come to be read with much acclaim. She is the author of my favorite poem, “Heart, We Will Forget Him”, the first verse of which is below:
Heart, we will forget him!
You and I- tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave-
I will forget the light.”
Meanwhile, in India, the jewel of the British Empire, another female poet was leaving her mark. Sarojini Naidu was an Indian independence activist and poet. She was admitted to Madras University at the age of 12, which garnered her fame throughout her country. At the age of 16 she was sent to England against her will to separate her from her love interest, who was in a different caste from her. Three years later, she returned to India because of poor health and married the same man, which caused a scandal throughout India. At the age of 37 she met Gandhi and devoted her time to traveling the country, fighting for freedom. She is said to be responsible for the “awakening of women” throughout in India. Below is a piece of one of her poems, “Alabaster”:
Like this alabaster box whose heart
Is frail as a cassis-flower, is my heart,
Carven with delicate dreams and wrought
With many a subtle and exquisite thought.
|Thérèse of Lisieux|
Finally, it would be a shame to leave out a poetess from France whose life and works have inspired so many people that she was sainted in the 20th century. Saint Therese of Lisieux was a French Carmelite nun. Very pious, she was drawn to God from an early age. She entered the Carmel of Lisieux at the very early age of 15, and she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. She was canonized in 1925. Her work, originally intended for her sisters at the convent, only became known after her death, due to her wish to remain anonymous. Her theme for her poetry and her life was “Thou, O Lord, hast been the only object of my songs in the place of my pilgrimage.”
Kristin Burlingame is a publishing student at UH-Victoria in Texas. When not working as an intern for Aurora Regency, doing classwork, or working at her full-time job, Kristin enjoys riding horses and reading any books she can get her hands on.