Also known as the Countess
. One of the earliest published women poets
. 1661-1720. She had extremely divergent fates
. Her father died 5 months after she was born - oddly, leaving in his will extremely specific instructions, to last the financial detail
, for how his daughter
s, as well as his sons, should be educated. Her grandmother, no less the eccentric
, took her in after her mother's (apparently not as successful) second marriage, and promptly fought her stepfather in Chancery
court over that very inheritance
, and won. By all accounts, she had an exceptional childhood, and her father's (for the time, utterly bizarre) wishes were carried out to extremes
She was aristocratic and close to the Stuart royalty - she was a maid of honor at the wedding of James II. She managed to find, at court, by some miracle, a husband who was as supportive and freethinking as her family had been, and remained happily married until her death. It boggles the mind. As a side note, for those not familiar with English history of that era, being loyal to the Stuarts became rather dangerous conservatism around 1688. Again, miraculously, neither one of them was locked up or executed, although they came rather close.
More remarkable is that she wrote, and was actually published. 17th century England was a place sexual equality was never seriously spoken of. Women - even respectable, well brought up, aristocratic women - did not write. Or if they did, they did it in secret. See Anne Killigrew. Nonetheless, she won encouragement from no less than Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. The feminists win points by keeping her squarely in the canon. To give you an idea of her style:
Let me then, indulgent Fate!
Let me be still, in my Retreat,
From all roving Thoughts be freed,
Or Aims, that may Contention breed:
Nor be my Endeavours led
By Goods, that perish with the Dead!
Fitly might the Life of Man
Be indeed esteemed a Span,
If the present Moment were
Of Delight his only Share;
If no other Joys he knew
Than what round about him grew:
But as those, who Stars would trace
From a subterranean Place,
Through some Engine lift their Eyes
To the outward, glorious Skies;
So th' immortal Spirit may,
When descended to our Clay,
From a rightly governed Frame
View the Height, from whence she came;
To her Paradise be caught,
And things unutterable taught.
Give me then, in that Retreat,
Give me, O indulgent Fate!
For all Pleasures left behind,
Contemplations of the Mind.
Let the Fair, the Gay, the Vain
Courtship and Applause obtain;
Let th' Ambitious rule the Earth;
Let the giddy Fool have Mirth;
Give the Epicure his Dish,
Every one their several Wish;
Whilst my Transport I employ
On that more extensive Joy,
When all Heaven shall be surveyed
From those Windings and that Shade.
-from The Petition For An Absolute Retreat