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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.63, No.2, 239 ~ 263, 2017
Widening Perspectives on Theodosia`s Legacy: The Divergent Reponses of Three Eighteenth-Century Dissenting Woman Writers to Anne Steele`s Exemplary Authorial Identity
Nancy Jiwon Cho
Baptist poet Anne Steele (1717-1778) is known as the first pre-eminent woman writer of the vernacular English hymn. She has traditionally been viewed as a nonconformist literary heroine, who successfully paved the way for Christian women writers` entry into literary print culture. By assessing eighteenth-century coterie verse, which remained unpublished until the present century, this paper argues that the holy example of Theodosia―the nom de plume used by Steele to publish her critically successful Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional (1760)―established not only an enabling example for other dissenting women writers to follow, but also a problematic model for those whose inclinations and/or ambitions extended beyond religious verse forms. To this end, this study outlines the construction and perpetuation of Theodosia`s exemplary authorial identity and examines the varied poetic responses of three contemporaneous dissenting women―Mary Scott (1751/2-1793), Mary Steele Wakeford (1724-1772), and Mary Steele (1753-1813)―to her powerful, prototype of devotional women`s writing. Comparing the women`s different verse reactions to Anne Steele`s published pattern as the saintly Theodosia, this paper suggests that the response of contemporary nonconformist women to Steele`s exemplary authorial identity was, in fact, multiple and intricate. As such, this paper offers a more nuanced consideration of Anne Steele`s legacy as the “mother” of English hymnody and one of the most successful nonconformist woman writers of the eighteenth century.
Key Words
Anne Steele, hymn, religious dissent, eighteenth-century poetry, women`s writing
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