“Free from drear decays of Age”: Construction and Reception of the Authorial Self in Anna Seward’s Later Career Writings (1786-1809)"

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


Anna Seward (1742-1809) was an English intellectual, poet, and literary critic. Once celebrated as “th’immortal muse of Britain” (1811:147), she held a central position both within her native Lichfield’s thriving cultural life and amongst a nationwide network of intellectuals, artists, and scientists in the second half of the eighteenth century. This thesis examines Seward’s sense of authorial self at the intersection between gender, age, and singlehood, and investigates how these identity markers both informed the author’s self-presentation and affected her critical reception in old age. Seward’s intellectual contributions have been overlooked in favour of her poetical works and of her relationships with the male literarians in her circle. This thesis addresses this critical gap by approaching Seward’s contributions and role as a central figure in the changing literary landscape at the turn of the century, and focuses on a corpus comprising a trans-genre selection of her later-career works that includes misattributed, unpublished, and understudied material. The close-reading analysis and contextualisation of this corpus showcases the author’s public self-assertion as a writer and literary critic in contemporary key debates; her ability to retain control over her public image against a literary market that was hostile against elderly women writers; and her enduring impact in the last segment of her career, situating her as an influential figure for the Romantic generation. Using a critical framework that combines literary studies, gender studies, and (old) age studies, this analysis seeks to bring to the fore the relationship between Seward’s self-presentation and the experience conferred both by her advanced age and her life-long involvement in the literary arena. In addition, this thesis contributes to the study of Romanticism suggesting a critical lens through which addressing the construction, evolution, and representation of identity from old age; as well as its reception and impact in mature and elderly women’s reputations and their literary afterlife. Tackling these critical mechanisms of bias and cultural exclusion from literary studies enhances our understanding of these authors’ critical disappearance.
Date of Award22 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)
SupervisorCarme Font Paz (Director), Joan Curbet Soler (Thesis board secretary), Amy Culley (Vocal) & María Jesús Lorenzo Modia (Thesis board president)

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