Elizabeth Singer Rowe

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Elizabeth Singer Rowe (born Elizabeth Singer) (1674–1737) was an English poet and novelist.

Life[edit]

She was the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Portnell and Walter Singer, a dissenting minister. Born in Ilchester, Somerset, England, she began writing at the age of twelve and when she was nineteen, began a correspondence with John Dunton, bookseller and founder of the Athenian Society.

Between 1693 and 1696 she was the principal contributor of poetry to The Athenian Mercury, and many of these poems were reprinted in Poems on Several Occasions, also published by Dunton. This, her first collection, contains pastorals, hymns, an imitation of Anne Killigrew, and a "vehement defence of women's right to poetry,"[1] in which she defends women, "over'rul'd by the Tyranny of the Prouder Sex." The Thynnes, friends of Anne Finch, became her patrons. Courted by several men, notably Matthew Prior and Isaac Watts, she married poet and biographer Thomas Rowe, thirteen years her junior, in 1710. Their marriage was reportedly happy, but short: Thomas died of tuberculosis in 1715 and Elizabeth was inconsolable. She wrote the impassioned "On the death of Mr Thomas Rowe," said to have been an inspiration for Pope's Eloisa to Abelard (1720).[2] In it, she wrote "For thee at once I from the world retire, / To feed in silent shades a hopeless fire," and indeed, made good her word and retired to her father's house in Frome.

Her father died in 1719 and left her a considerable inheritance, half the annual income of which she gave to charity. Her literary production during these years was high, and most of the texts she published were devotional or moral. Though modern tastes may find these writings overly didactic, they were popular: her Friendship in Death went into sixty editions through the eighteenth century. At various times Pope, Richardson, and Johnson each praised her work. Despite the reputation of being a bereaved recluse, Singer Rowe maintained a wide and active correspondence and was closely involved in local concerns until she died of apoplexy at the age of sixty-two.

After her death, other writers and the public at large fixated on her virtuous reputation. In 1939 The Gentleman's Magazine wrote on Rowe in a three-part work, calling her the “Ornament of her Sex," [3] and John Duncombe's Feminiad (1754) praises both her character and her writing.[4] People held up Rowe and her chaste behaviour as an example of ideal femininity for other female writers to follow. Even in 1803, an anonymous writer suggests that Rowe represented “Virtue and all her genuine beauty [that should] recommend her to the choice and admiration of a rising generation." [5]

Rowe's works continued to be popular well into the nineteenth century, went through multiple editions, circulated on both sides of the Atlantic, and were frequently translated. Though her writings have not regained popularity among modern readers, scholars have recently given Rowe's work credit for being stylistically and thematically radical for her time.[6][7]

Works[edit]

  • Poems on Several Occasions: Written by Philomela (John Dunton, 1696)
  • Contributor, Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies: the Fifth Part (1704)
  • Divine hymns and poems on several occasions ... by Philomela, and several other ingenious persons (1704; second edition, A Collection of Divine Hymns and Poems [1709])
  • "On the death of Mr Thomas Rowe," Lintot's Poems on Several Occasions (1717); appended to the second edition of Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard (1720)
  • Friendship in Death: in Twenty Letters from the Dead to the Living (1728)
  • Letters Moral and Entertaining (1729–32), a three-part series
  • The History of Joseph (1736, 8 books; expanded 10 books edition published posthumously in 1739)
  • Philomela: Poems by Mrs. Elizabeth Singer [now Rowe] of Frome (1737 [i.e. 1736]), pub. by Edmund Curll without consent
  • Devout Exercises of the Heart in Meditation and Soliloquy, Prayer and Praise (1737)
  • The Miscellaneous Works in Prose and Verse of Mrs Elizabeth Rowe (2 vols., 1739)

Etexts[edit]

Resources[edit]

  • Backscheider, Paula. Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2013.
  • Blain, Virginia, et al., eds. "Rowe , Elizabeth (Singer)." The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990. 925.
  • Greer, Germaine, et al., eds. "Elizabeth Singer." Kissing the Rod: an anthology of seventeenth-century women's verse. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988. 383-95.
  • Lang, Bernhard. Libertine Libido – Mrs Rowe, in: Lang, Bernhard. Joseph in Egypt: A Cultural Icon from Grotius to Goethe. New Haven: Yale University Press 2009. 123-137.
  • Lonsdale, Roger ed. "Elizabeth Rowe (née Singer)." Eighteenth-Century Women Poets. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. 45-52.
  • Pritchard, Jonathan. “Rowe , Elizabeth (1674–1737).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 7 Apr. 2007.
  • Stanton, Kamille Stone. "The Friendship Poetry of Elizabeth Singer Rowe (1674-1737): Usurping a Poetic Tradition on behalf of a Usurping Monarch." Interactions Spring, 2006: 105-119.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Virginia Blain, et al., eds. "Rowe , Elizabeth (Singer)." The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990. 925.
  2. ^ Germaine Greer, et al., eds. "Elizabeth Singer." Kissing the Rod: an anthology of seventeenth-century women's verse. Farrar Staus Giroux, 1988. 383.
  3. ^ Richetti, John J. “The Novel as Pious Polemic.” Popular Fiction Before Richardson: Narrative Patterns 1700-1739. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969
  4. ^ Backscheider, Paula R. Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
  5. ^ Lady’s Monthly Museum. 1803.
  6. ^ Walmsley, Peter. “Whigs in Heaven: Elizabeth Rowe’s Friendship in Death.” Eighteenth-Century Studies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
  7. ^ Backscheider, Paula R. Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

External links[edit]