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This review is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

A LETTERED BRIDE Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, edited by Roger Lonsdale (OUP) £20.00

In their farce, Three Hourse After Marriage, Pope and his friends invented the woman writer Phebe Clinket, ink-stained and with pens in her hair. Whoever they had in mind - Lady Mary Winchilsea or Mrs Centlivre - Roger Lonsdale demonstrates in his splendid new anthology that the women poets of the eighteenth century were by no means merely figures of fun. Once again he extends our sense of the range and vitality of eighteenth-century culture, with verse by ninety-four named writers, together with Anonymous and her sisters, drawn from all walks of life, from aristocrat to agricultural labourer (particularly useful are the concise, carefully-researched biographical introductions).

The earlier years of the century provide, as one might expect, urban sophistication: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu anticipates a secret rendezvous -

But when the long hours of public are past,
And we meet with champagne and a chicken at last,
May every fond pleasure that hour endear;
Be banished afar both discretion and fear.

These are also the years of 'feminist' protest, particularly as to the oppressions of marriage. Mary, Lady Chudleigh, sets a bitter note -

Wife and servant are the same,
But only differ in the name -

while Mehetabel Wright, sister of John and Charles Wesley, after an irregular youth and desperate in an enforced marriage, cries out on Wedlock:

That wretch, if ...

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