Prying into the recesses of history: women writers and the court memoir

Culley, Amy (2012) Prying into the recesses of history: women writers and the court memoir. In: Women's life writing, 1700-1850: gender, genre and authorship. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 133-149. ISBN 9780230343078

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The court memoir combines autobiographical reflections, royal biography, and political history and has an uneasy association with the secret history and roman à clef. The genre has rarely been discussed within studies of women’s life writing, despite fascinating accounts of the Georgian and Regency courts by women writers and important reassessments of women’s contributions to historical writing in recent years. This chapter explores the omission of the court memoir within women’s literary history and examines the possibilities for women writers of this hybrid form. My focus is on two intersecting memoirs of the Regency court: Lady Charlotte Bury’s Diary Illustrative of the Times of George IV (1838) and (Ellis) Cornelia Knight’s Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, Lady Companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales (1861). Both women rose to prominence as ladies-in-waiting and published personal accounts of the turbulent marriage of George IV and Queen Caroline, a royal scandal that captured the public imagination throughout the 1810s. Their narratives establish their intimacy with the court, blending portraits of celebrated figures with conversations and correspondence and providing readers with voyeuristic pleasures in the insights into fashions, décor, and bons mots. Their life writing reveals the complex negotiations undertaken by the court memoirist, who is implicated in royal intrigue and capitalizes on the publication of scandal. However, these works also experiment with historical narrative, function as self-vindications, and draw on the models of authorship that these women writers developed in their fiction. The reception of these works demonstrates mid-nineteenth-century anxieties regarding the court memoir as a historical discourse, the problematic status of the Regency in the cultural imagination, and the difficulties for women attempting to establish themselves as credible witnesses and writers of history.

Keywords:Women's life writing, Queen Caroline Affair, Court memoir, Lady Charlotte Bury
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q323 English Literature by topic
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q322 English Literature by author
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q321 English Literature by period
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
Relation typeTarget identifier
ID Code:6361
Deposited On:28 Sep 2012 12:14

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