Saturday 4 January 2014

Charlotte Lennox, Bluestocking

Charlotte Lennox (née Barbara Ramsay; Gibraltar, 1730 – London, England, 4th January 1804)

Charlotte Lennox

Well, another lady today... I suppose I had better look through my bureau for a story about a gentleman soon or I shall be getting annoyed missives with my morning tea. Like me today's guest is a lady of letters and it is a joy to welcome Charlotte Lennox to the Guide.

Born the daughter of Royal Navy officer James Ramsay and his wife, Charlotte spent the first years of her life in New York before travelling to London at the age of 15 to become companion to Lady Isabella Finch. Two years late she published a volume of poetry dedicated to her employer and for a while looked set for a role at court until she married Alexander Lennox, a Scot noted only for his indolence and, later, an unsuccessful claim to the Earldom of Lennox. The couple had two children but spent little of their married life together, as their union was not a happy one.

At the age of 18 Charlotte decided that her future lay on the stage but the critics and audiences thought otherwise. Even as she attempted to make a name for herself as an actress Charlotte continued to write poetry and when The Art of Coquetry was published in Gentleman's Magazine in 1750, it attracted the attention of Samuel Johnson, who became one of her greatest champions. Whilst others found much in Charlotte to dislike,  including a hot temper and bad manners, Johnson was utterly beguiled by her and brought her into the highest echelons of the London literary world. She was far from universally popular though and her abrasive character did nothing to endear her to her female peers within her new social circle. 

Her debut novel, The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself, was successful yet her greatest success was certainly her second, The Female Quixote, or, The Adventures of Arabella. Championed by Johnson and Henry Fielding, the novel sold incredibly well in England and across Europe upon its publication in 1792. Although it was published anonymously,  there was in truth no secret as to the identity of its author. Indeed, Charlotte's other work all identified itself as "by the author of The Female Quixote".

In the years that followed Charlotte published further novels and wrote extensively for journals, as well as producing a play that was put on by David Garrick. She also became a leading literary translator and critic yet never repeated her earlier successes and eventually sank into poverty, her meagre existence supported by the Literary Fund. The woman who had been so celebrated ended her days alone and was buried in an  unmarked grave at Broad Court Cemetery.

For many years Charlotte's work fell into relative obscurity but she has since been championed by scholars as a significant figure of Georgian literature; it is a pleasure to commemorate her eventful days.


Gem Twitcher said...

An"interesting"lady,Madame!-one who probably"bit the hand that fed her"with Lady Isobella Finch?.....and how easy to twist Sam Johnson around her little finger with her coquettish manners adventures and romantic adventures in her works! Was she a Georgian equivalent of Jackie Collins?

Catherine Curzon said...

I have never heard her so described before; you are a sauce, sir!

Unknown said...

so, what connection may her husband have had to the Lennox sisters? their grandfather was given the earldom on account of its recent abeyance and for his birth (he was an illegitimate son of Charles II). very curious?
as it was, the earldom was gone, changed to a dukedom during the lifetime of Esme Stewart, one of James VI's favourites. did he trace it back to then, i wonder?