“To ‘leave my name in life’s visit’”
The Intersection of Age and Gender in the Literary Afterlife of Anna Seward
Anna Seward (1742-1809) made detailed plans toward her posthumous legacy in the last decades of her life through the compilation and editing of her poetical works and letter books, as well as the negotiations for their publication. In having her life’s work and correspondence published after her death, Seward challenged societal and literary expectations already subverted by publishing in advanced age and asserted the value of her own production and, by extension, her literary authority, at the end of her career. While this is a known claim, this article aims to go further and examine this material and its reception from the perspective of age studies in order to ascertain what roles gender and old age played in both Seward’s self-presentation in this compilation and in the failure of her act of self-canonization. For this purpose, this article investigates the intersection of gender, marital status, and old age (the triple-layered “old maidism”) in eighteenth-century perceptions of age and aging, and questions how that intersection affected her work’s editorial process and its reception. To do so, the article addresses Walter Scott’s and Archibald Constable’s—her editor and publisher, respectively—treatments of the material and of the detailed instructions Seward left them in her will. Finally, it assesses the reception of the posthumously published works in three periodicals of the time: The Critical Review, the British Review and London Critical Journal, and The Monthly Review.
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