Amelia Opie

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A 1798 portrait of Amelia Opie by her husband, John Opie

Amelia Opie, née Alderson (12 November 1769 – 2 December 1853), was an English author who published numerous novels in the Romantic Period of the early 19th century, through 1828.

Life and work[edit]

Amelia Alderson was the daughter of James Alderson, a physician, and Amelia Briggs of Norwich, England. She was a cousin of notable judge Edward Hall Alderson, with whom she corresponded throughout her life, and also a cousin of notable artist Henry Perronet Briggs.

Miss Alderson had inherited radical principles and was an ardent admirer of John Horne Tooke. She was close to activists John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1798 Alderson married John Opie, the painter. The nine years of her married life before her husband's death were happy, although her husband did not share her love of society. With his encouragement, in 1801 she completed a novel entitled Father and Daughter, which showed genuine fancy and pathos.

Writing career[edit]

Amelia Opie by David d'Angers (1836).

Amelia Opie published regularly after that. In 1802 she completed a volume of verse. Additional books followed: Adeline Mowbray (1804), Simple Tales (1806), Temper (1812), Tales of Real Life (1813), Valentine's Eve (1816), Tales of the Heart (1818), and Madeline (1822).

Opie wrote The dangers of Coquetry at age 18. Her novel Father and Daughter (1801) is about misled virtue and family reconciliation. Encouraged by her husband to continue writing, she published Adeline Mowbray (1804), an exploration of women's education, marriage, and abolition of slavery. The novel is noted in particular for engaging the history of Opie's former friend Mary Wollstonecraft, whose relationship with the American Gilbert Imlay outside of marriage and later marriage to the philosopher William Godwin caused some scandal. Godwin had previously argued against marriage as an institution by which women were owned as property, but when Wollstonecraft became pregnant, they married despite his prior principles. In the novel, Adeline early on becomes involved with a philosopher who takes a principled stand against marriage, only to be convinced to marry a West Indian Landowner against her better judgment. The novel also engages abolitionist sentiment, in the story of a mixed-race woman and her family whom Adeline saves from poverty at some expense to herself.

Amelia Opie divided her time between London and Norwich. She was a friend of writers Sir Walter Scott, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Madame de Stael.

In 1825, following the death of her father who objected, she joined the Society of Friends through the influence of Joseph John Gurney and his sisters who were longtime friends and neighbors in Norwich. Detraction Displayed and contributions to periodicals were her final publications. The rest of her life was spent travelling and working at charity.

Even late in life, Opie maintained connections with writers, for instance receiving George Borrow as a guest. After a visit to Cromer, a seaside resort on the North Norfolk coast, she caught a chill and retired to her bedroom. A year later on 2 December 1853, she died at Norwich. Ms. Opie was said to retain her vivacity to the last. She was buried at the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich.

An somewhat sanitized biography of her, A Life, by Miss C.L. Brightwell, was published in 1854.

Principal works[edit]

Novels and Stories

  • Dangers of Coquetry. (published anonymously) 1790
  • The Father and Daughter. 1801
  • Adeline Mowbray. 1804
  • Simple Tales. 1806
  • Temper 1812
  • First Chapter of Accidents. 1813
  • Tales of Real Life. 1813
  • Valentine's Eve. 1816
  • New Tales. 1818
  • Tales of the Heart. 1820
  • Madeline. 1822
  • Illustrations of Lying. 1824
  • Tales of the Pemberton Family for Children. 1825
  • The Last Voyage. 1828
  • Detraction Displayed. 1828
  • Miscellaneous Tales. (12 Vols.) 1845-7

Biographies

  • Memoir of John Opie. 1809
  • Sketch of Mrs. Roberts. 1814

Poetry

  • Maid of Corinth. 1801
  • Elegy to the Memory of the Duke of Bedford. 1802
  • Poems. 1803
  • Lines to General Kosciusko. 1803
  • Song to Stella. 1803
  • The Warrior's Return. 1808
  • The Black Man's Lament. 1826
  • Lays for the Dead. 1834

Miscellaneous

  • Recollections of Days in Holland. 1840

References[edit]

  • "Opie, Amelia". British Authors of the Nineteenth Century H.W. Wilson Co., New York, 1936
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Eberle, Roxanne (1994). "Amelia Opie's 'Adeline Mowbray': Diverting the Libertine Gaze; Or, The Vindication of a Fallen Woman". Studies in the Novel 26 (2): 121–52. 
  • Howard, Carol (1998). "'The Story of the Pineapple': Sentimental Abolitionism and Moral Motherhood in Amelia Opie's Adeline Mowbray". Studies in the Novel 30: 355–76. 
  • Howard, Susan K. "Amelia Opie", British Romantic Novelists, 1789–1832. Ed. Bradford K. Mudge. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.
  • Kelly, Gary (1980). "Discharging Debts: The Moral Economy of Amelia Opie's Fiction". The Wordsworth Circle 11: 198–203. 
  • Kelly, Gary. English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789-1830. London: Longman, 1989.
  • King, Shelley and John B. Pierce. "Introduction", The Father and Daughter with Dangers of Coquetry. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2003.
  • Simmons, Jr., James R. "Amelia Opie". British Short-Fiction Writers, 1800–1880. Ed. John R. Greenfield. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.
  • Spender, Dale. Mothers of the Novel: 100 Good Women Writers Before Jane Austen. London: Pandora, 1986.
  • St. Clair, William. The Godwins and Shelleys: The Biography of a Family. London: Faber and Faber, 1989.
  • Staves, Susan. "British Seduced Maidens", Eighteenth-Century Studies 12 (1980–81):109–34.
  • Ty, Eleanor. Empowering the Feminine: The Narratives of Mary Robinson, Jane West, and Amelia Opie, 1796–1812. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

External links[edit]