‘A Dialogue’: Elizabeth Carter’s Passion for the Female Mind

  • Lisa A. Freeman


When Elizabeth Carter died in 1806, at the age of 89, her poetry was prettily eulogized as having ‘sublime simplicity of sentiment, melodious sweetness of expression, and morality the most amiable’.’ Though in the parlance of the early nineteenth century this commentary can only be read as laudatory, it also works to displace the seriousness of Carter’s poetical works. Such an implicit diminishment of poetical substance hardly seems appropriate in the case of an intellectual who had an excellent-to-working knowledge of nine languages, was renowned in her own time as the translator of the works of Epictetus, and who brought the full weight of her theological, philosophical, and literary knowledge to bear on her poetic productions.


Woman Writer Desiccated Dust Platonic Conception Passive Resignation Lawful Possession 
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  1. See the biographical sketch ‘Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806)’ in Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990 ), pp. 165–7.Google Scholar
  2. Osmond, op. cit., p. 159. For an extended discussion of this subject see Osmond’s ‘Body, Soul, and the Marriage Relationship: the History of an Analogy’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 34 (1973) pp. 283–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. See Natalie Zemon Davis’s now classic essay ‘Women on Top: Symbolic Sexual Inversion and Political Disorder in Early Modern Europe’, in her volume of essays Society and Culture in Early Modern France ( Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975 ), pp. 124–51.Google Scholar
  4. Elizabeth Carter, 20 November 1752, in A Series of Letters between Mrs Elizabeth Carter and Miss Catherine Talbot, from the Year 1741 to 1770 ed. Montagu Pennington, 2 vols (London, 1808) vol. I, p. 315. A few years earlier in a humorous mood she had written to Miss Talbot, ‘You would have been diverted in seeing how I was tormented this afternoon by insinuations of designs from a man who certainly has none, and it was mere malice, for he is the quietest and most peaceable creature that walks on the face of the earth, and has absolutely no meaning about me or anybody else; however, as I have been convinced that one is not perfectly secure on this side an hundred, it will be quite prudent in me, by way of precaution, to learn to swim; having run away from matrimonial schemes as far as dry land goes, my next step must be into the sea’ (5 May 1749, vol. I, p. 203).Google Scholar
  5. Elizabeth Carter, ‘To Miss Hall’ (1746), Memoirs… with a New Edition of her Poems, vol. II, pp. 61–3.Google Scholar
  6. Elizabeth Carter, ‘To Miss Ethelred Lynch’ (1747), Memoirs… with a New Edition of her Poems, vol. II, pp. 71–3.Google Scholar
  7. John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (1774), as reprinted in Vivien Jones (ed.), Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity ( London and New York: Routledge, 1990 ), pp. 45–6.Google Scholar
  8. From The Critical Review 13 (1762), as reprinted in Jones (ed.), Women in the Eighteenth Century p. 175.Google Scholar
  9. Montagu Pennington, Memoirs… with a New Edition of Her Poems 2nd edn, 2 vols (London, 1808), vol. I, pp. 447–8.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Lisa A. Freeman

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