Monday 31 March 2008

A Woman of Letters

My favourite museum in London is the National Portrait Gallery.

I never tire of exploring the galleries of faces, however many times I visit; many images are familiar friends but there is always something new and interesting.

Yesterday MissM and I had tickets to the Vanity Fair exhibition and while we were waiting for our time slot we explored the smaller display of portraits of the Bluestocking Circle. These remarkable women contributed to the lively intellectual society in London in the late eighteenth century.

Hannah More as the personnification of the Muse of Tragedy 1778

Hannah More was a good example. She came from a poor background but became financially independent and moved to London where she socialised with David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr Samuel Johnson. Her achievements included many publications, the establishment of schools and participating in the Abolitionist movement.

Hannah More 1745 - 1833 by Frances Reynolds 1780

I was fascinated by the comment beside this portrait:

The Dramatist and Writer, Hannah More, never fully reconciled her creative talents and her feelings about fame with the restrictive codes of female propriety. Her desire for a respectable professional identity can be seen in this portrait by her friend and fellow Bluestocking, Frances Reynolds, Sir Joshua's sister.

With no female tradition on which to draw Frances Reynolds adapted the pose and costume from the way that 'men of letters' were often depicted. Like Hannah More, such men were shown in a dishevelled state of 'undress' when absorbed in their work and away from polite company, making this Britain's first portrait of

a 'woman of letters'

We are all writers in Blogland
and we struggle in various ways
to reconcile our lives with our writing.
I look at this portrait of Hannah More
and I wonder if it merely mimics male portraits
or whether it shows that she, like me,
had to get up and write in the early morning
before anyone else was awake.


blackbird said...

I was just going to say: that's what they'd write about me.

Ginnie said...

I suspect, Alice, that you would have been a charter member of the Bluestocking Circle if you had lived during those days.

Mary said...

Or squeezed the writing in post bath and pre bed for the kids!

Marmadaisy said...

Maybe her "room of ones own" was more than just a physical space? Maybe it shows the way that women would write on their own time, outside the time when they were dressed up and having callers.

Tracy said...

Such fun to catch up on your lovely posts, Alice, now that we're back from holiday. When last we were in London we visited thiss museum for the first time and were enchanted. Even in this modern age, I think all of us women are still finding our space, our time in which to be, to create, to think...

dottycookie said...

Thank goodness no-one's around to take a picture of me as I'm writing ...

Love the NPG; it's been too long since I visited. we did get the littlies to visit the National Gallery last time we were in London but Tate Modern remains their firm favourite which is galling since the coffee shop is rotten.

Unknown said...

Interesting... i bet she did.

Anonymous said...

Her face has that "Yes, yes I'm listening..." expression. I suspect you may be correct.