Library member and writer, Charlotte MacKenzie, has written this short piece about her latest book –
Mary Wollstonecraft’s youngest sister Everina was appointed in 1797 as governess to the family of the second Josiah Wedgwood. The events which followed affected the lives of five women writers three of whom had close family associations with Cornwall. In February Everina stayed with Mary in London before travelling to the Wedgwoods. During her visit Everina went out for the day with a friend, the poet Anne Batten Cristall who had been born in Penzance.
Mary was three months pregnant and married William Godwin in March. After Mary gave birth to her second daughter the placenta failed to deliver. The novelist Eliza Fenwick, who was the daughter of a Methodist itinerant preacher from Newlyn, nursed Mary. Godwin then asked Eliza to write to Everina with the news that Mary had died. Everina made plans with her sister Eliza Bishop to adopt Mary’s two daughters. After visiting her sister in Ireland Everina did not return to the Wedgwoods. Fanny Imlay and Mary Godwin, the future author of Frankenstein, continued to live with William Godwin.
In October the Wedgwoods arrived at Mount’s bay in Cornwall where they had taken a house for the winter and their daughter Charlotte was born. By the spring the Wedgwoods were searching for a new governess. They appointed Thomasin Dennis who later wrote and published a gothic novel while she was living at Trembath near Penzance.
Fifteen years later the families of a Cornish Admiral’s widow and a banker who was a widower were part of the same social circle in Truro. These families included at least four female members who later published novels or verses. Two of the banker’s daughters, Charlotte Champion Pascoe and Jane Louisa Willyams, published a novel together in 1818 after Walter Scott sent their manuscript to his publisher. Louisa and Charlotte both later separately published their individual writing.
The Michell family had returned to Truro after living in Portugal. Charlotte’s friend Anna Maria Michell, whose married surname was Wood, published verses in magazines and in 1838 printed a volume of verse including some of her translations from Portuguese and Italian. The youngest and most prolific writer was Emma Caroline Michell, who had been born at Lisbon, and who many years later started to write when aged in her 60s and published thirteen sensation novels which were mostly set in Cornwall; initially using the pseudonym ‘C. Sylvester’ and later in her own married name Lady Wood. She also published a volume of verses with her daughter Anna Caroline Steele who was a writer; as was another of her daughters Emma Barrett-Lennard who was also a composer who set songs to music.
When I discovered the writing of these women and others like them who had strong associations with Cornwall, I wanted to tell their life stories. Women writers and Georgian Cornwall (2020) is available from online retailers as a paperback or EPUB. Readers are welcome to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
You can watch Charlotte’s online talk for Kresen Kernow here.