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This review is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

EVERYTHING BUT MUSIC CATHERINE BRENNAN, Angers, Fantasies and Ghostly Fears: Nineteenth-Century Women from Wales and English Language Poetry (University of Wales Press) £14.99

This is a study of seven nineteenth-century poets, all female and connected with Wales. The connection varies. Three, Jane Cave, Maria James and Emily Pfeiffer, were born there, though Cave and Pfeiffer became emigrées to England on marriage and James emigrated to the USA as a child. Felicia Hemans, born in Liverpool, was brought up in Wales. Sarah Williams was a Londoner who was sentimentally attached to her father's birthplace and sometimes visited it, while Ann Julia Hatton and Anna Walter Thomas adopted Wales as their home. Hatton was exiled there by her embarrassed relatives, but Thomas married a Welsh divine and assimilated even to learning Welsh.

Socially they ranged from Maria James, domestic servant, through Hatton, a racy scion of the Kemble theatrical dynasty, to Anna Thomas, brought up amongst Oxbridge scholars and respected as one herself. Their experiences were very different, encompassing happy and unhappy marriage, privilege and poverty and, in the case of Williams, chronic illness and early death. Most were devout, but Pfeiffer is more secular in her concerns and Hatton refreshingly frivolous.

Only two things unite them all. First, they were interesting women with ideas and plenty to say. Second, they were unfortunately singularly ill-equipped to say it in verse. Brennan takes issue with Roland Mathias's `sweepingly negative' view of Jane Cave's work, and then proceeds to justify him by quoting it. How can anyone be positive about a poet who, mourning the loss of a friend, can find no ...

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