Mary Robinson and Radical Politics: The French Connection
A Female Philosopher who continued to praise Wollstonecraft in print after the publication of the latter’s scandalous Memoirs, Mary Robinson remains a chameleon figure in modern accounts of Romanticism, radicalism and feminism. Robinson’s numerous pseudonyms and generic versatility contribute to the current critical emphasis on her performative literary personas; she cultivated a ‘Romantic theatricality’ and aesthetic of sensibility that as Judith Pascoe, Stuart Curran, Jerome McGann and others have persuasively argued, invites us to reconsider William Wordsworth’s Romanticism of authenticity as an alternative to Robinson’s powerful precedent.1 Robinson published widely: newspaper poetry in the Delia Cruscan circle, popular Gothic romances, an ambitious sonnet series in Sappho and Phaon (1796), poems of social and existential crisis in Literary Tales (1800). Robinson’s political reputation is as diffuse as her literary identities are numerous: having campaigned for Fox in the Westminster election of 1784, she also defended Marie Antoinette in Monody to the Memory of the Late Queen of France (1793), and faced conservative ire in such ‘Jacobin’ novels as Walsingham (1797) and The Natural Daughter (1799). The author of poems in favour of abolition, Robinson also had a lengthy relationship with Banastre Tarleton, a prominent Whig supporter of the Liverpool slave trade, for whom she may have written antiabolition speeches. A friend of Edmund Burke who studied at Hannah More’s academy, Robinson publicized these elite connections even while she cultivated the friendships of notorious radicals like Wollstonecraft, Godwin and Robert Merry.
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