Friday, January 4, 2013

Will your name be remembered?

Hannah More, Sarah Trimmer, Maria Edgeworth, Mary Russell Mitford, Barbara Hofland.

Wait! Barbara Hofland? You have probably heard of the other authors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. But Barbara Hofland is one of the many 'lady' writers of the period whose names are now unknown to those with an interest in the Regency era. These writers are still recognized in the academic community but they have faded from the public consciousness.

Barbara Wreaks was born in 1770 in Yorkshire to an affluent merchant family. On her father's death, she was raised by a maiden aunt, and seems to have been a resourceful, independently minded woman. She first founded and owned a millinery shop (about 1795), then later, a school in Harrogate (1809-1811).

Her downfall lay in her marriages. She was married for three years to Thomas Hoole and gave birth to a son. But she was left impoverished by the collapse of Hoole's business after his death in 1799. Her subsequent marriage in 1811 to talented but ineffectual artist Thomas Hofland lasted for more than thirty years. She was the family's financial provider for that entire period.

Barbara had begun to write for a Sheffield newspaper in 1794. When she was widowed and impoverished she increased her literary efforts and published poems and verse with which she was able to support herself and her son. Eventually she had to support her husband as well.

With a move to London in 1811, Hofland's literary future was secured. Her 1812 book "The Daughter-in-Law" impressed Queen Charlotte. Her most popular book "The Son of a Genius" went to multiple editions, foreign translations and American reprints. It is suggested its story of the harm a feckless nature can produce was based on her second husband's failings.
'The Son of a Genius' title page illustration
Barbara Hofland published over sixty books, but was never wealthy. Her work is thought by some to have influenced the creation of Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist. Certainly her books provide a close, and invaluable, look at the realities of life in the early nineteenth century.

Barbara was a friend of John Soane, Maria Edgeworth and Mary Russell Mitford. Her work was no more or less tedious than that of other moralistic children's writers like Hannah More and Sarah Trimmer. Yet her name is not, today, well-known.

What is the cause for such inequity of memory? A good biographer? The quantity of mentions of her name in the past two hundred years? Inclusion in literary anthologies and historical collections? Is who is remembered, and who is not, all a matter of chance?

This last seems possible. The shade of Mary Martha Sherwood would probably like to know the answer. She wrote over four hundred works and I had never hear her name either until I undertook this research!

Happy New Year and all the best in 2013!

'Til next time,


Anne Gallagher said...

Wow. That's a shame. To think I've never heard of any of these women. I guess I'm not doing enough research.

Happy New Year, Lesley-Anne!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Research is a never-ending delight and chore, isn't it? Don't feel badly about not knowing these names--I keep discovering wonderful female artists of the period who are totally unknown to me. It is bothering me more and more that the patriarchy has caused us to lose sight of these hugely talented women of the past.

Thanks for stopping by, Anne!