Type of Document Dissertation Author Meehan, Kathryn URN etd-07112008-180500 Title Maternity, Self-Representation, and Social Critique in Nineteenth-Century Working-Class Scottish Women's Poetry Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Eric Walker Committee Chair Ailine Kalbian Committee Member Candace Ward Committee Member Helen Burke Committee Member Keywords
- Women Poets
Date of Defense 2008-06-10 Availability unrestricted AbstractThis dissertation studies self-representation, maternity, and social critique in the work of nineteenth-century working-class Scottish women poets. I focus on books of poetry by Janet Little (1759-1792), Christian Milne (1773-1820?), Susanna Hawkins (1787-?), and Janet Hamilton (1795-1873), while also contextualizing each poet’s work in relationship to the publications of other working-class British women poets of the nineteenth century. I agree with Judith Rosen’s revision of Donna Landry’s argument in The Muses of Resistance. Rosen asserts that she observes “strategic affirmation” in working-class women’s verse where Landry observes “dissolution and defeat” in poetry of the nineteenth-century. In this dissertation, I propose that each poet’s treatment of maternity, self-representation, and social critique reflects “strategic affirmation.”
Each volume affirms the poet’s authority as a social critic, while also emphasizing her gender-appropriate perspective through maternal sympathy, or a related form of feeling for a child. Each working-class woman poet also claims a space for self-representation and creates a self-portrait which includes her life experience, creative inspiration, and personal beliefs. This strategy shapes each volume into a collection of poems which would be acceptable to nineteenth-century readers, especially important given each poet’s unstable position as a working-class woman.
In the first chapter in this study, “Janet Little and Working-Class Publication: Setting the Stage,” I argue that the content and publication history of Janet Little’s The Poetical Works of Janet Little, The Scotch Milkmaid (1792) sets the stage for the study of nineteenth-century Scottish working-class women’s poetry. Little frequently represents her self in relationship to Robert Burns and negotiates her gender and class identities. Little’s representation of maternal sympathy includes a poem which expresses concern and hypothetical guardianship for an aristocratic child patron. Little also critiques pressures of courtship and marriage in her insightful portrayals of upper-class young women. I propose that Little’s critique of class and gender constraints affirms her authority as an observer of upper-class women’s concerns in addition to her insight into working-class women’s struggles, as revealed through her Burns poems.
In Chapter Two, “The Artless Muse: The Poetry of Christian Milne,” I argue that Milne’s single published book of poetry, Simple Poems on Simple Subjects (1805), includes “strategic affirmation” in Milne’s complex, often contradictory portrayals of self, maternity, and social critique. Milne’s poems frequently address patrons, critics, and potential supporters in the middle- and upper classes. Milne’s shifting tone reveals her complex relationships to her class superiors and her strategic approach in addressing each of them. One significant event which emphasizes the different eras of Little’s and Milne’s publications is Burns’s death. Little addresses Burns as a living contemporary, whom she briefly met, greatly admires, and with whom she shares a patron. Milne addresses the “shade” of Burns after his death, which allows Milne freedom to critique his behavior and poetry. The preface to Milne’s book of poetry also includes the strategic presentation of working-class women’s verse, which affirms Milne’s class and gender and seeks to reassure readers of her appropriate behavior according to both identity categories. I propose that intersections of maternity and social critique in Milne’s volume are significant, including a poem in which Milne urges her daughter to read, self-educate, and pursue ambitions which result from her education.
In Chapter three, “‘Nature stood still’: The Poetry of Susannah Hawkins,” I argue that Hawkins’s personifications of moral binaries and brief sketches of maternal sympathy and self-representation reflect the significance of her precarious class and gender position and the volatile cultural moment during which her volume was published in 1827. Hawkins writes poems of concern for middle- and upper-class ladies and gentlemen, and in one poem, “Lines on a Gentleman’s Son,” she expresses concern for an upper-class child. This likely provided her nineteenth-century readers with evidence of Hawkins’s potential maternal sympathy although she was not a mother, reassuring her readers of her gender-appropriate concerns. Hawkins’s poems vacillate between strategic descriptions of moral abstractions in rural scenes and her concern for various members of the royal family and several other ladies and gentlemen. Her volume also includes a brief prose introduction which forms a significant moment of self-representation. Although Hawkins’s volume frequently defers to those in the middle- and upper-classes, the prose introduction creates a small yet vivid self-portrait of the working-class poet.
In Chapter Four, “‘Where there’s a will there is ever a way!’: The Poetry of Janet Hamilton,” I argue that Hamilton’s multiple volumes, published from the 1860’s through the 1880’s, include a significant range of political and personal concerns and publication histories crucial to our understanding of working-class women’s poetry. Many of Hamilton’s poems and essays vehemently condemn the effects of alcohol and advocate temperance. In addition to temperance, Hamilton also portrays the hardships of her physical labor as a tambourer (embroiderer) in “A Lay of the Tambour Frame,” an examination of the physical realities of working-class life and their toll on the individual. Hamilton’s volumes delve into the destructive effects of the rapid industrialization in her community and the struggle for working-class men’s and women’s rights, yet she also critiques national and international political injustices.
In Chapter Five, “Between the Poet and the Public: Edwards’s Anthology and Late-Century Publication Practice,” I argue that the critical arrangement and content of working-class women’s poetry in Edwards’s anthology, published between 1880 and 1897, reflects the persistent popularity and circulation of working-class women poets’ work throughout the century. Edwards’s introductions often describe the poet’s devotion to her domestic duties in addition to her creative impulses, and her contentment with her “simple” way of life. The working-class women’s poetry included in the anthology reveals “strategic affirmation,” from conventional explorations of maternity to social critique focused on poverty and workhouse conditions. Edwards’s editorial mediation limits the range of expression of the working-class women poets he includes although his anthology reflects the prominence of working-class women poets in mid- to late-nineteenth century Scottish culture.
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