Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea - Biography - Poetry Rediscovered

Poetry Rediscovered

The only major collection of Anne Finch's writings that appeared in her lifetime was Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions. Nearly a century after her death her poetic output had been largely forgotten, until the great English poet William Wordsworth praised her nature poetry in an essay included in his 1815 volume Lyrical Ballads.

A major collection titled The Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchilsea, edited by Myra Reynolds, was published in 1903. For many years it was considered the definitive collection of her writings. It remains the only scholarly collection of Finch's poetry, and includes all of the poems from Miscellany Poems and poems retrieved from manuscripts. Further, Reynolds's impressive introduction did as much to re-establish Finch's reputation as Wordsworth's previous praise.

Later, The Wellesley Manuscript, which contained 53 unpublished poems, was released. Literary scholars have noted Finch's distinctive voice and her poems' intimacy, sincerity, and spirituality. They also expressed appreciation for her experimentation as well as her assured usage of Augustan diction and forms.

According to James Winn (The Review of English Studies, lix, 2008, pp. 67–85) Anne Finch is the librettist of Venus and Adonis, music by John Blow. Bruce Wood, in his critical edition of the opera for the Purcell Society, agrees with Winn.

In 1929, centuries after the Countess' death, in the classic essay A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf both critiques Finch's writing and expresses great admiration for it. In Woolf's examination of the "female voice" and her search for the history of female writers, she argues that Finch's writing is "harassed and distracted with hates and grievances," pointing out that to Finch "men are hated and feared, because they have the power to bar her way to what she wants to do--which is to write." However, Woolf excuses the flaws she perceives in Finch's work by claiming that Finch surely had to "encourage herself to write by supposing that what she writes will never be published." She goes on to acknowledge that in Finch's work, "Now and again words issue of pure poetry...It was a thousand pities that the woman who could write like that, whose mind was turned to nature, and reflection, should have been forced to anger and bitterness." Woolf goes on in defense of her as a gifted but sometimes understandably misguided example of women's writing. It is evident that Woolf sympathizes deeply with Finch's plight as a female poet, and though she takes issue with some of the content in Finch's writing, she expresses grief that Finch is so unknown: "...when one comes to seek out the facts about Lady Winchilsea, one finds, as usual, that almost nothing is known about her." Woolf wishes to know more about "this melancholy lady, who loved wandering in the fields and thinking about unusual things and scorned, so rashly, so unwisely, 'the dull manage of a servile house.'"

Read more about this topic:  Anne Finch, Countess Of Winchilsea, Biography

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