Smith, Charlotte (Turner)
4 May 1749 - 28 October 1806
English poet and novelist who never wrote a "Gothic" work. So what's she doing here? Simple: she helped invent the Gothic, in large part due to the influence of her works on Ann Radcliffe. (She also helped invent Romanticism and William Wordsworth, and never gets much credit for that, either.) She did this by bringing to the sentimental novel—extremely popular in her day—a sophisticated aesthetic sense (informed by her deep interest in landscape and painting) that included a thorough knowledge of the sublime and the picturesque. Setting important episodes and characters in both sublime and picturesque landscapes, Smith heightened the emotional and aesthetic register of her works, thus bringing them in line with—and/or helping to create, actually—the emerging intellectual and cultural currents of Romanticism.
There are "Gothic" elements in only a few of Smith's early works, for by her own admission she was uninterested in literary sensationalism and in the supernatural; adverse financial circumstances (a profligate and irresponsible husband, largely) led her to novel-writing in the first place (she preferred poetry), and the success of her first novel, Emmeline (1788), showed her that sales could be positively affected by the inclusion of the sorts of dramatic scenes she was writing. But her own interest in political and social issues, heightened by her first-hand experience with the early moments of the French Revolution, led her away from even the quasi-Gothic traces in her first three novels: Emmeline: The Orphan of the Castle; Ethelinde, the Recluse of the Lake; and Celestina. A Novel.
Smith herself wrote, in a letter to a friend who had suggested she include more botanical imagery in her work (botany being an extremely fashionable "pop science" of the very late C18), that "I have not forgotten (being still compelled to write, that my family may live) your hint of introducing botany into a novel. The present rage for gigantic and impossible horrors, which I cannot but consider as a symptom of morbid and vitiated taste, makes me almost doubt whether the simple pleasures afforded by natural objects will not appear vapid to the admirers of spectre novels and cavern adventure. However, I have ventured a little of it, and have at least a hope that it will not displease those whose approbation I most covet" (15 March 1798). Her sentiments here about the Gothic are very close to those reported by Wordsworth in the 1802 preface to the Lyrical Ballads.
First published in 1784, this collection of Smith's poems proved quite popular, and Smith kept adding poems to the volume as it went through subsequent editions.
The Old Manor House
(Table of Contents) [Celebration of Women Writers]
-- Title page
of The Old Manor House
(2nd ed). [Corvey Women Writers on the Web, Sheffield Hallam U]