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Why is Charlotte Smith important to literary history?


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Answered 2007-12-28 17:57:53

Charlotte Smith (1749- 1806) was a literary dynamo who could rightfully be considered the Mother of English Romanticism. In fact, all of the men who are deemed the Fathers of Romanticism made pilgramages to meet her; learned from her, and in many cases borrowed from her works. Wordsworth made it a point to be presented to her; scholarly research is only now beginning to call attention to the echoes of Smith's sonnets in his verse. William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft were friends of Smith's, and Godwin sent at least one play to her to review. Smith even babysat for Mary Godwin (Shelley) on one occasion! Sir Walter Scott noted upon Smith's death in 1806 that the debt English literature owed to Charlotte Smith would never be properly acknowledged or remembered. Sadly, history has proved him correct these past 200 years. Charlotte Smith wrote poems, plays, novels, histories and translations--mored than 63 volumes of published works. In the decade from 1789-1799 was the most popular and best-selling author of the day! Her poetry ushered in the era of "sensibility", melancholy and the autobiographical in verse which later would be made so famous by Byron, Shelley and Keats. Her work in fiction produced novels which ran the gamut from the heroine-centered (an influence on the young Jane Austen who mentions her repeatedly in letters and in her novels), political, gothic, all the way to epistolary. Charles Dickens' scene in A Tale of Two Cities of a Parisian carriage which runs over a poor child without bothering to stop comes right out of Smith's Desmond. Smith was a passionate supporter of the French Revolution and was instrumental in calling attention to the plight of the French emigres or refugees of the war which arrived by the boatload after the Reign of Terror began. She cried out against arranged marriages, primogeniture and the laws which made women and children property. Her voice was one that was heeded as laws and customs changed in the 19th century. Smith, though long buried as one of the female "novel writing horde" of the late 18th century, is in reality one of its major figures and a true pioneer in many genres and styles.

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