Smith, Charlotte (Turner)

Charlotte Smith

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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.

Biographical essay
[Ruth Facer; Chawton House Library and Study Centre]
Charlotte Smith
A substantive biographical essay by Antje Blank of the U of Glasgow. [Literary Encyclopedia]
Biographical note
The Works of Charlotte Turner Smith
Site for e-versions of Smith's complete works; the introduction page provides a biographical overview. [U Nebraska - Lincoln]
Brief note
[Gothic Labyrinth]
Brief biographical note a LitGothic etext
[John W. Cousins, A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910]
Charlotte Smith
Brief note emphasizing Smith's educational children's books.
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The Works of Charlotte Smith
Brief overview as part of a publisher's blurb for a forthcoming library edition (i.e., really expensive edition) of Smith's works. [Pickering & Chatto]
[Essaka Joshua, U Binghampton]
[Cathy Decker, U California Riverside]

Elegiac Sonnets
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.

Sonnet XLII: Composed During a Walk on the Downs, in November 1787 [ a litgothic etext ]
Sonnet XLIII [ a litgothic etext ]
Sonnet XLIV: Written in the churchyard at Middleton in Sussex [ a litgothic etext ]
Sonnet LXVI: Written in a tempestuous night, on the coast of Sussex [ a litgothic etext ]
Sonnet LXVII: On passing over a dreary tract of country, and near the ruins of a deserted chapel, during a tempest [ a litgothic etext ]
Sonnet LXXXVII: Written in October [ a litgothic etext ]

An e-facsimile of the 5th edition (1789) is available at GoogleBooks opens in new tab/window

The complete Elegiac Sonnets (7th edition, 1795) is available at The Works of Charlotte Turner Smith website mentioned above: Vol. 1; Vol. 2.

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Emmelineclick the cover image for more info from
Emmeline [1788]
E-facsimile of the four-volume 1788 edition published by T. Cadell, with the exception of Volume I, which is from 1789: Volume 1; Volume 2; Volume 3; Volume 4 [GoogleBooks]

- two Gothic excerpts [a LitGothic etext ]

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]

"The Romanticism of Charlotte Turner Smith: Plurality of Vision"
By Cecilia Fernandez. Not directly concerned with Smith's "Gothicism," this essay does address some of the Romantic aspects of Smith's poetry, particularly her social and political concerns.  [Prometheus Unplugged?]
"'Tranquil seclusion I have vainly sought': The Frustrated Landscapes of Charlotte Smith and William Wordsworth"
By Beth Ann Neighbors. Another study of Smith's poetry that helps illuminate her contribution to "Romantic" understandings of landscape and politics.  [Prometheus Unplugged?]

Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontės buy this book at
By Diane Long Hoeveler (Penn State University P, 1998). Reviewer: Deborah Kennedy [Romantic Circles]
This book is also reviewed in Romanticism on the Net. Reviewer: Lauren Fitzgerald

Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith
Edited by Judith Phillips Stanton (Indiana UP, 2003). Reviewer: Elizabeth Kraft. [Jane Austen Society of North America]

"Charlotte Smith."