Lessons from the Medieval Convent: Adelaide Procter’s “A Legend of Provence”

  • Christine A. Colón


In 1855, the poet Adelaide Procter joined Barbara Bodichon, Bessie Rayner Parkes, and other women to gather signatures and lobby Parliament to support the Married Women’s Property Act. Even though this petition eventually failed, the process of collecting the signatures proved to have long-term benefits, for, as Bessie Rayner Parkes acknowledges in “A Review of the Last Six Years,” “people interested in the question were brought into communication in all parts of the kingdom, and … the germs of an effective movement were scattered far and wide.”1 The core group of these women became known as the Langham Place Circle, which has been called “the first organized feminist group” in Britain.2 Together, these women (who would also come to include Jessie Boucherette and Emily Faithfull) founded the English Woman’s Journal and the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW). Procter eagerly embraced the activism of the Langham Place Circle. Not only was she a member from its inception, but she also became an important force behind SPEW. According to Jessie Boucherette, “In almost every committee there is a leading person, an animating spirit, some one, in fact, who does more than a fair share of work and does it well, and thus gains influence over the rest; this was the part taken by Miss Procter.”3 As secretary of SPEW, Procter would have become very familiar with the desperate plight of many middle-class women in her society, for the number of women seeking employment quickly overwhelmed their resources.


Romantic Relationship Single Woman Complete Work Romantic Love Young Lady 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Bessie Rayner Parkes [Belloc], “A Review of the Last Six Years,” in Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and the Langham Place Group, ed. Candida Ann Lacey (New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), 217.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Sheila Herstein, A Mid-Victorian Feminist, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 78.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jessie Boucherette, “Adelaide Anne Procter,” The English Woman’s Journal 13 (1864): 19.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Adelaide Anne Procter, The Complete Works of Adelaide Anne Procter (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1902), 195.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    For discussions that explore the development of domestic ideology, see Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London: Hutchinson, 1987);Google Scholar
  6. Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1988);Google Scholar
  7. Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender fom the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1990); andGoogle Scholar
  8. Elizabeth Langland, Nobody’s Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    See Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    See Anna Jameson, Sisters of Charity, Catholic and Protestant Abroad and at Home, 2nd ed. (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1855), 9–10.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    See Penny Kane, Victorian Families in Fact and Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1995);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 41; andGoogle Scholar
  13. Lawrence Stone, Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500–1800 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 390–405.Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    Charles Dickens, “The Haunted House,” All the Year Round 2 (1859): 7.Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    Through reforms in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, convents gradually lost their independence as they were controlled more directly by male supervisors. Rather than concentrating on the tensions that could arise as nuns tried to accomplish their goals under the strict control of male leadership, Procter represents a world in which male authority is absent and seems to focus on a particular time when abbesses and nuns had the freedom to use their talents to the fullest. See Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser, A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, vol. 1 (New York: Harper, 1988) for a discussion of the developments affecting medieval convent life.Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    Susan P. Casteras, “Virgin Vows: The Early Victorian Artists’ Portrayal of Nuns and Novices,” Victorian Studies 24 (1981): 168.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    Frank H. Wallis, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian Britain (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Meilen, 1993), 183.Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    See Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985) andGoogle Scholar
  19. Susan Mumm, Stolen Daughters, Virgin Mothers: Anglican Sisterhoods in Victorian Britain (London: Leicester University Press, 1999) for more information on the Anglican sisterhoods.Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    Susan Mumm, “Not worse than other girls: The Convent-Based Rehabilitation of Fallen Women in Victorian Britain,” Journal of Social History 29 (1996): 527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 38.
    Grace M. Jantzen, “Feminists, Philosphers, and Mystics,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 9, no. 4 (1994): 190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Lorretta M. Holloway and Jennifer A. Palmgren 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine A. Colón

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations