Reading the past: women writers and the afterlives of Lady Rachel Russell

Culley, Amy (2014) Reading the past: women writers and the afterlives of Lady Rachel Russell. In: Historical writing in Britain, 1688-1830: visions of history. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 34-52. ISBN 9781137332639

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Recent scholarship has shown the ways in which biographical history could be used by eighteenth-century women writers in order to challenge women’s marginalisation within narratives of the past and contribute to contemporary debates regarding femininity and historiography. Lady Rachel Russell (1636-1723), wife of the Whig martyr Lord William Russell who was executed in 1683 for his suspected role in the Rye House Plot to assassinate Charles II and James, Duke of York, provides an ideal case study through which to consider questions of gender and genre. She was frequently discussed by women writers from the 1770s to the 1840s in political histories, poetry, biographies, editions of letters, and collective biographies. The posthumous publication of her letters in 1773 provided a more intimate and complex portrait of a woman traditionally celebrated for her symbolic political value as a model of wifely devotion, piety, and maternal duty. Subsequent narratives by Mary Scott, Catharine Macaulay, Mary Hays, Matilda Betham, Mary Pilkington, Lucy Aikin, and Mary Berry among others retained some of these elements, but at the same time recognised the ways in which Lady Russell complicated ideas of domestic virtue, female heroism, and women’s public participation. Her life also prompted reflections on sympathy, identification, and exemplarity, and the interactions between history, biography, and fiction, which were central to debates regarding historical discourse in this period. By examining a range of genres and sources, and considering the reception of these works by reviewers and readers, this chapter explores the significance of Lady Russell for women writers, and provides a context for her subsequent popularity in the Victorian era.

Keywords:Biography, Historical Writing, Lady Rachel Russell, Mary Berry, Lucy Aikin, Collective biography, Letters, Women historians, Mary Hays, Catharine Macaulay, Mary Scott, Mary Pilkington
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V143 Modern History 1700-1799
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q323 English Literature by topic
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V144 Modern History 1800-1899
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q321 English Literature by period
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
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ID Code:16078
Deposited On:28 Nov 2014 21:32

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