Anna Seward (1742-1809) was a poet, literary critic, and intellectual celebrated in her lifetime as one of the prominent lyrical voices of Great Britain. Due to the major success of her poems “Elegy on Captain Cook” (1780) and “Monody on Major André” (1781), she attained national fame and critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Seward played a central role in the intellectual and cultural milieu of her native Lichfield, and she enjoyed close ties to the most acclaimed members of that community, such as the scientist Erasmus Darwin and the writer Samuel Johnson.
My research, eminently literary, exists at the crossroads with Age studies, and in particular Old Age studies, a rather incipient discipline which examines age and ageing as an identity marker.
Seward’s poetry, spanning more than fifty years, allows us to analyse the ways in which the author revisits and reconsiders her own work from the perspective of an experienced writer. Seward’s later poetry is significant as a corpus since it captures decades of poetic and textual practice that has run parallel to the construction of her self-image as a professional woman of letters. My research explores Seward’s representation of maturity and old age in her poetry and letters and it attempts to answer the following question: How do gender and age inform an eighteenth-century author’s self-representation and reception? And, more specifically, how does Seward’s authority as a writer unfold in her later production and how does this affect her critical reception?