elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Anna Seward & Honora Sneyd

Dubbed the "Swan of Lichfield," Anna Seward was eldest daughter of Thomas Seward, canon residentiary of Lichfield Cathedral. Encouraged to write by Erasmus Darwin, Seward became one of the best known English women poets of her time. She also published in the Gentleman's Magazine, sometimes under the pseudonym "Benvolio," and engaged in debates with other critics. (Picture: Anna Seward, Tilly Kettle, 1762)

Widely connected to writers and clergy, Seward lived her entire life at Lichfield and never married. She seems to have been liked and admired for her liveliness and generosity though criticized for self-importance, outspokenness, and unconventionality. (P: ©James Hopwood Sr. (1745 or 1754-1819). Serena Reading (called Honora Edgeworth (née Sneyd)), published 1 October 1811 (©4))

Although most of Seward's intense attachments were to women, scholars have focused on her deep involvement with John Saville, vicar choral at Lichfield and a renowned vocalist who was separated from his wife. Their relationship subjected them to censure though Seward insisted it was "pure and disinterested." She was grief-stricken by Saville's sudden death in 1803.

Biographers have also noted Seward's passion for her foster sister Honora Sneyd, who came to live in the Seward household at the age of five when Anna was thirteen. After the death of Anna's sister Sarah in 1763, Honora became her closest companion, and the attachment grew more intense. Seward expressed her passionate devotion through her involvement in Honora's romantic life as well as in poetry dedicated to her.

She was devastated and outraged by Honora's marriage to Richard Lovell Edgeworth in 1773 and literally went into mourning. Even after her death in 1780, Honora remained an important figure in Seward's interior life.

It appears, however, that this relationship was not Seward's sole experience of romantic female friendship. She had charged relationships with at least three other women, Penelope Weston (later Mrs. Pennington), a Miss Mompesson, and Elizabeth Cornwallis, whom Seward named "Clarissa."

Of these three, the relationship with Cornwallis, which Seward refers to as the "unpartaken and secret treasure of my soul," is the most interesting: It was conducted through secret correspondence and surreptitious meetings because Cornwallis's father abhorred female friendships and controlled his daughter's contacts with women.

In addition to these romantic friendships, Seward was associated with circles of literary and intellectual women. She regularly attended Lady Anna Miller's gatherings at Bath Easton. Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the famous "Ladies of Llangollen" who had eloped together and settled in Wales, were her dear friends and correspondents. She wrote several poems in their honor, the longest and best known of which, Llangollen Vale, was published in 1796.

Seward's poetry is often sentimental and ornate, but some poems are quite powerful. Much of Llangollen Vale, for example, could be described as mythic pastoral verse, but the poem also includes a surprisingly forthright celebration of the "Sisters in love" and places the two women in a heroic lineage.

The poems dedicated to Honora are marked by a similar excess, but they testify to Seward's deep attachment. Seward memorializes their "plighted love" at first joyously and then later, after Honora's marriage, with deep lament.

Additional poems dedicated to other women might also lend themselves to lesbian reading. Seward's public and private writings, as well as her extensive connections with women, make her a fruitful figure for further study.

Citation Information
Author: Urquilla, Marian ; Lanser, Susan S.
Entry Title: Seward, Anna
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated July 11, 2011
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/seward_a.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date March 25, 2013
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
: English
ISBN-10: 1500563323
-13: 978-1500563325
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=elimyrevandra-20
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=elimyrevandra-20

Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher

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