Communities of Women: Developing as Persons

  • Anya Taylor


In the midst of sorrow the buoyant Coleridge develops new flirtations, makes new jokes, and learns to go on living in the absence of the one beloved person. His recuperation is astonishing, as he turns his attentive eyes and ears to new pairs of sisters and to new young friends who are choosing partners to love. Coleridge enjoyed the resemblances and differences of living with pairs of women who illustrated his aesthetic principles of sameness in difference and stirred his desire with their piquant similarities to each other. Women who resemble Sara Hutchinson make him dizzy. In Malta 1804 breakfasting with Sir Alexander Ball, he “saw a Lady with Hair, Complexion, and a certain cast of Countenance that on the first glance of her troubled me inconceivably—after a while I perceived the likeness to S. H. & was near fainting—O what an inconceivable faintness with fondness” (CN 2, 2137). In four intermittent years living with the Morgans (1811–1813, 1814–1816), he came to love Mary Morgan and her younger unmarried sister Charlotte Brent, who also resembled Sara Hutchinson, and even to behave tempestuously with them, frightening them with his passions and his addictions. Recovering on their couch in Bristol, Coleridge publishes “The Two Sisters” in The Courier of December 10, 1807, a poem about their kindness to him and their resemblances to Mary and Sara Hutchinson, broadcasting his tangled emotions to the world.


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  1. 1.
    I discuss this poem in connection with Laetitia Elizabeth Landon’s poem “The Improvisatrice” in “Romantic Improvvisatori: Coleridge, L. E. L, and the Difficulties of Loving,” PQ 79 4 (Fall, 2000), 501–522, in the context of Coleridge’s knowledge of the women poets of his day.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Graham Davidson, “‘The Garden of Boccaccio’: Coleridge’s Recovery of Romance,” Coleridge Conference 2004 paper. Davidson cites the introduction to the poem “Work without Hope”—“THE ALONE MOST DEAR: a complaint of Jacob to Rachel as in the 10th year of his Service he saw or fancied that he saw Symptoms of Alienation” (headnote to PW #606). Davidson has found that Anne Gillman wrote beside this phrase: “it was fancy.” She is thus privy to his notebooks and she frankly acknowledges her role as his Rachel as well as his devotion as her Jacob. She ushers him into a world of “joyaunce” and glee.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Venetia Murray, An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England (New York: Penguin, 1998), p. 165.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Thomas G. Bergin, Boccaccio (New York: Viking Press, 1987), p. 87, see for questions of love, pp. 78–81.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    David Hume popularized the fragmentation of person; subsequent philosophers and poets from Kant and Coleridge on, struggled to reconstitute its cohesion. For discussion of personal identity in relation to Coleridge, see Thomas McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 289–297; Thomas McFarland, “Prolegomena,” to Opus Maximum, ed. Thomas McFarland with Nicholas Halmi, pp. cxiv–cxix;Google Scholar
  6. Anya Taylor, Coleridge’s Defense of the Human (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1986), pp. 13–33;Google Scholar
  7. Mary Anne Perkins, Coleridge’s Philosophy: The Logos as Unifying Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 223–254, with an emphasis on the Divine Man, the person as Christ. The fragile personhood of women is rarely discussed. I do so briefly in “Coleridge on Persons and Things,” European Romantic Review 1, 2 (Winter, 1991), 163–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 11.
    Anthony John Harding, “Coleridge as Mentor and the Origins of Masculinist Modernity,” European Romantic Review 14, 4 (Dec. 2003), 453–466, describes Coleridge’s mentoring as exclusively for young males as a means of passing along political power, but in fact Coleridge’s female households in this late period of his life included many young women whose intellects and life choices he discussed and guided.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 13.
    Julie Carlson, “Gender,” in The Cambridge Companion to Coleridge, Lucy Newlyn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 210.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Bridget Hill, Women Alone: Spinsters in England 1660–1850 (New Haven: Yale, 2001), shows that despite the “scoffs that are thrown on superannuated virgins” (pp. 8–9), many women lived as spinsters and pursued work in agriculture, manufacture, business, and education, thus preserving their properties.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Kathleen Coburn’s Inquiring Spirit (1957)—now revised to Inquiring Spirit: A New Presentation of Coleridge from his Published and Unpublished Prose Writings (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), pp. 304–310—proved the groundbreaking pedecessor or to all her later delving.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Anthony John Harding, Coleridge and the Idea of Love: Aspects of Relationship in Coleridge’s Thought and Writing (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), p. 90.Google Scholar

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© Anya Taylor 2005

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  • Anya Taylor

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