Mary Leapor An Essay On Woman

Mary Leapor, a Northamptonshire kitchen maid, produced a substantial body of exceptional poetry that was only published after her early death at the age of twenty-four. This is a timely examination of the work of a poet who has remained almost forgotten for 200 years. Leapor is one of many gifted poets, mainly women and labourers, whose work stands outside the traditional canon of eighteenth-century verse. This book draws on extensive primary research to present substantial new information about Leapor's life. It discusses her protests against the injustices suffered by women and the poor, her ... More

Mary Leapor, a Northamptonshire kitchen maid, produced a substantial body of exceptional poetry that was only published after her early death at the age of twenty-four. This is a timely examination of the work of a poet who has remained almost forgotten for 200 years. Leapor is one of many gifted poets, mainly women and labourers, whose work stands outside the traditional canon of eighteenth-century verse. This book draws on extensive primary research to present substantial new information about Leapor's life. It discusses her protests against the injustices suffered by women and the poor, her attempts to gain an education, and the influence that illness and the expectation of an early death had upon her writing. Throughout, Leapor is seen in relation to both the mainstream poets of her time and to those whom literary history has consigned to obscurity. The book thus provides insight not only into the work of a single neglected woman poet, but offers a sometimes surprising perspective on the literary history of the ‘Ages of Pope and Johnson’.

Keywords: women, poetry, women poets, eighteenth-century poetry, Mary Leapor, Northamptonshire

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 1993Print ISBN-13: 9780198119883
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198119883.001.0001

Small Battle for Women’s Rights

Nowadays no one is surprised when women become presidents or prefer to earn money, while their husbands stay at home with children. Nevertheless, women in England in the 18th century could not even dream of proper education, not to mention such liberties. Though, of course, some of them were indignant at such unfairness and wanted changes.

Mary Leapor was born in a working-class family and during her short life – she died at 24 – got a feel for social injustice since women of all social classes were believed to be “too soft for Business and too weak for Power”. In spite of all difficulties, she learnt to read by 10 and while working as a kitchen maid got access to a library with classical works, which influenced her subsequent verses.

Her An essay on woman, in which a feminine creature, half skeleton and half flesh, represents women as a whole, is regarded as one of early examples of feminist poetry. Some critics consider it to be a response to Alexander Pope’s Of the Characters of Women: An Epistle to a Lady, where he described women as unserious and helpless human beings. In reply Mary Leapor sharply emphasizes the social conditions and views, which lead to the general unhappiness and frustration of women regardless of their social class, though as a member of a working-class she sympathizes the poor more. Poetess was perturbed that women were judged by their beauty and were “despised if ugly”, though in her work she claims that even external beauty and smartness do not ensure female happiness. Moreover, while getting older, women understand the loss of their beauty, which cannot be hidden with the help of clothes, and so to speak ‘power on men’ and fall into depression.

Between the lines we can read…

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