How does Anna Jameson construct and perceive female identity?
This essay will look at how Anna Jameson’s construction and response to female identity evolved from the publication of her first book, the fictional travel journal The Diary of an Ennuyee (1826), to the techniques she adopted with her second publication, the biographical volumes The Loves of the Poets (1829), and finally at how the style and attitude towards female identity visible within her first two publications developed throughout her life and career.
Biographical work constituted a major part of Anna Jameson’s bibliography and within the formative years of the Victorian era Jameson was a presiding force attempting to affirm the multiple female identities within public print. To an extent Jameson does seem to have catered to public taste. However, as a professional writer with several members of her family to support as well as herself, how could she afford not to? Within the 1840s and 1850s Jameson did on occasion deviate from what was considered socially acceptable for woman writers to discuss, in particular when she focused on social employment issues. I will discuss this topic in more detail in the final section of this essay.
The Diary of an Ennuyee was Jameson’s first book and was published anonymously in 1826 and originally named A Lady’s Diary. The book was published under the pretence that the diary was non-fiction and had been discovered by the editor who then decided to publish the memoirs of the young lady, who had died of a broken heart while travelling on the Continent. It appears that Anna Jameson, writing her first piece of work, was unable to decide exactly how to structure the text. As a result the reader is presented with what has been described as an ‘odd hybrid’ (Mores, 1978:231). A piece of literary fiction that pertains to be a diary, it is also in part a guidebook to Italy which makes detailed reference to Italian museums and art history, In the nineteenth century published diaries and travel writing were regarded as low-status genres that were suitable for female authorship. They were clearly not the genre to help one achieve respectable literary status. The literary mix of fantasy and fiction had been an acceptable eighteenth-century mode, but by the date of publication this was regarded as very dated. The writer suppresses her actual status as a governess and instead becomes a wealthy parentless spinster touring Italy, staying with rich patrons and discovering its art for herself.
There is a strong conflict within The Diary of an Ennuyee, because on the one hand the reader is presented with an obviously very distressed melancholic female character, which forms a strong contrast with, on the other, the interrupting voice of the author, who gives detailed and passionate accounts of the sights she encounters. There is a continual shift between these two very different female voices; this creates a tension because of the two different female identities that the reader is presented with. It seems as if Jameson cannot find a believable balance between the female character she has constructed and her own passionate accounts of her experience on the Continent. For example, frequently when the narrator is enjoying a view, she claims that she cannot do justice to what she is experiencing: ‘I have resolved to attempt no description of the scenery’ (Jameson, 1826:41), then goes on to give a lengthy elaborate and descriptive account of her surroundings:
‘But my pen is fascinated. I must note a few of the objects, which struck me Today and yesterday, that I may at will combine them hereafter ...the swollen and turbid Rhone, rushing and roaring along; the gigantic mountains in all their endless variety of fantastic forms...their summits now robed in curling clouds,...the little villages perched like eagles nests on the cliffs far, far above our heads. (Jameson, 1826:41)
It also seems odd that someone like Jameson, who seemed to be an extremely rational person, thought it was plausible to depict a heroine who is so weak that she often has to delay her travels for days until she is well again, but when in better health is depicted as spending hours, roaming through art galleries, exploring Italian cities, and enjoying several operas. At one point in Naples the Ennuyee not only climbs Mount Etna but does so during an eruption:
I have just seen a most magnificent sight; one which I have often dreamed of, often longed to behold, and having beheld never shall forget. Mount Vesusvis is at this moment blazing like a huge furnace: throwing up every minute. columns of fire and red-hot stones, which fall in showers and bound down the side of the mountain... Half- past twelve --I have walked out again: the blaze from the crater is less vivid. (Jameson, 1826:226-227)
It also appears as if Jameson made her heroine suffer from her ailments when in areas that did not interest the governess (such as Milan), only to recover to enjoy the delights of major cities such as Florence, Venice and Rome.
The diary charts a time span from 21st June to 24th July of the following year, and appears to follow the fashionable route taken by the English on the Continent. The Ennuyee begins her travels in Calais, and briefly visits Paris before heading south for Italy via Geneva. Once in Italy the heroine visits the major cities. Starting in Milan, the party then travels to Verona before visiting Venice; they then travel through the Apennines to Florence, and then Rome, before arriving in Naples. She then follows a similar route on her return and bids farewell to Italy in Genoa. The heroine ends her tour in Lyons and when are led to believes she dies and is buried at Autun.
The text was inspired by Mme de Stael’s Corinne, and can be seen as one of many English imitations. Corinne had been a very influential text since its publication in 1807; the romance of Mme de Stael’s life was seen as blending ‘with the myth of her heroine’ (Moers, 1978:178). Other important female authors of the nineteenth century had admired and been influenced by Corinne: Elizabeth Barrett Browning had read the text three times and recorded her response to it in her own work Aurora Leigh, in which her own heroine is of Italian descent. She revered Corinne as ‘an immortal book’ that ‘deserves to be read three score and ten times that is once every year in the age of man’ (Moers, 1978:173). By 1808 Jane Austen had read and was recommending the English translation of Corinne to friends. At one stage in The Diary, whilst visiting Florence the heroine refers specifically to Corinne:
Corinne I find is fashionable vade mecum for sentimental travellers in Italy; and that I too might be a la mode, I brought it from Molini’s today with the intention of reading it on the spot (Jameson, 1826:116).
She then acknowledges how deeply the Ennuyee empathises with the heroine of Corinne:
‘I know myself weak I find myself unhappy and to find my own feelings reflected from the pages of a book in a language too deeply and eloquently true is not good for me... I kindle my enthusiasm at the torch of another’s mind I can suffer enough, feel enough, think enough without this’ (Jameson, 1826:116).
At stages in the text she is clearly imitating Mme de Stael in Corinne. For example, Corinne’s heroine bids a dramatic farewell to Rome by the Coliseum in the moonlight. In The Diary, Jameson inserts a poem into the diary entitled A Farewell to Italy. She also entitles a section of the text Paris by Moonlight and a later section Florence by Moonlight. A Farewell to Italy was actually published separately in London Magazine shortly after her return from the Continent in 1822, which suggests that Anna Jameson was not as she later termed it ‘Betrayed into authorship’ (Jameson, 1829:ix) with the publication of The Diary of an Ennuyee.
Both texts provoked powerful responses from female readers. Fanny Kemble remarked that The Diary of an Ennuyee had ignited in her ‘this desire for isolation and independence such a passionate longing to go to Italy, that my brain was literally filled with chimerical projects of settling in the south of Europe and there leading a solitary life of literary labour’ (Thomas, 1967:39), evidence that both Mme de Stael and Anna Jameson were responsible for inspiring their young female readers to desire independence and want to travel and explore the beauty of Italy so vividly depicted within The Diary. In Henry James’s short story Daisy Miller the American heroine travelling through the Continent shows the international influence Corinne and its imitations had when she remarks in Rome ‘Well I have seen the Coliseum by moonlight! That’s one good thing’ (James, 1878:68). The fact that James’s heroine, towards the end of the nineteenth century, makes a reference to the beautiful imagery depicted in Corinne, later imitated by Jameson in The Diary of an Ennuyee, is evidence of the impact of this literature.
Like Mme de Stael’s heroine, the Ennuyee is largely a mystery to her readers although we are told her nationality. The text begins with the author bidding farewell to her English homeland, although her past and even her name are concealed. The editor does reveal the heroine’s age she is twenty-six at the time of her death; it may be coincidental but this is also the age of Mme de Stael’s heroine and it is one of the few details revealed within Corinne. The Ennuyee never attempts to divulge information about her companions and instead throughout the text Jameson disguises the characters’ names, frequently deleting the last letters and leaving only the first letter of their names for identification. However, occasionally she reveals identities, for example Lord Byron (although the account of meeting Byron in Venice may be part of the fabrication within The Diary; I have not come across any sources claiming that Jameson met Byron while travelling the Continent). It seems ironic that the idealistic governess romantically including Byron in her text would later go on to have an extremely close friendship with his wife Lady Byron. There are many strong indications of why Jameson would have felt the need to imitate Corinne and would have empathised with both the heroine and her creator. Ellen Moers believes that through Corinne Mme de Stael helped to open the discipline of art history for women ‘when there were no academic or curatorial posts available to them’ (Moers, 1978:187). Clara Thomas observes that Mme de Stael would be the perfect idol for Jameson, being ‘a governess with a romantic imagination, intellectual leanings and a degree of writing talent’ (Thomas, 1967:30).
Clara Thomas described The Diary of an Ennuyee as a ‘Fictionalised travel-biography, dressed up with Graveyard sentimentality’ (Thomas, 1969:29). The frail figure that Jameson presents to her readers demonstrates many of the qualities one would expect to find in a lady of sensibility. She is extremely susceptible to emotional outbursts, very passive and demonstrates a ‘propensity to the tender passions’ (Todd, 1986:111). The Ennuyee also suffers from all the physical responses expected from a sentimental heroine, ‘tears, blushes, palpitations, hysteria and even death’ (Todd, 1986:110).
The definition of sensibility given in the 1797 Encyclopaedia Britannica is a ‘nice and delicate perception of pleasure or pain, beauty or deformity, seems to depend on the organisation of the nervous system’ (Todd, 1986:7); this certainly applies to Jameson’s heroine: ‘The whispered voices and hard breathing of the men who slept in the corridor, from whom only a slight door divided me, disturbed and fevered my nerves’ (Jameson, 1826:88). Sensibility appears to be physically connected with a state of the nerves that turns easily to illness, exemplified by Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice who constantly complains about her nerves and consequently asks for delicate treatment: ‘Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty for heaven's sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces’ (Austen, 1813:8).
With reference to the Ennuyee this description is very accurate as her nerves and frail condition rendered her often unable even to appreciate her surroundings. This is one of the Ennuyee’s diary entries in Florence:
I have not written a word since we arrived at Sienna. What would it avail me to keep a mere Journal of suffering? Oh that I could change as others do, could forget such things that have been which can never be again. That there were not this tenacity in my heart and soul; which clings to this shadow though the substance be gone (Jameson, 1826: 310).
This shows how deeply the Ennuyee’s melancholy affects her and often stops her from enjoying her surroundings; her sadness rarely lifts, and increases towards the end of the text as illness consumes her. These last pages are carefully constructed: as the Ennuyee grows more and more frail she appears unable to write more than a few lines at a time and longs to return to Italy. Her last lines relay the physical pain at heartbreak she is experiencing.
No letters from England Now that is past, I may confess that till now a faint a very faint hope did cling to my heart. I thought it might have been possible but it is over now – all is over (Jameson, 1826:354).
At this stage the heroine appears to be completely broken-hearted with the realisation that she has been totally rejected by her lover, and when she states that ‘it is over’ it appears as if she is talking about more than just her relationship: with this knowledge she clearly loses the will to live and fight, and instead prepares herself for death. ‘Yet if they would but lay me down on the roadside and leave me to die in quietness is all I ask’ (Jameson, 1826:354).
The reader is then informed of the Ennuyee's death through another insertion by the editor, who claims that ‘four days after the date of the last paragraph the writer died at Autun in her 26th year and was buried in the garden of the Capuchin Monastery, near that city’ (Jameson, 1826:354). The cult of sensibility is described as delivering ‘the great archetypal victims’ (Todd, 1986:9) and presenting the suffering woman who is either happily rewarded for her pain through marriage or in the case of Jameson’s heroine ‘elevated into redemptive death’ (Todd, 1986:9), and in this instance this appears to be the case: the Ennuyee has prepared herself for death as she is both too weak and too miserable to endure life and the heartbreak that it brings with it.
The clever use of the insertions by the editor, and the skilful language and structure that Jameson uses, demonstrate why contemporary readers may have been convinced that this was a autobiographical diary. At no point does the writer imply that this is fiction, and although there is a contrast between the melancholic Ennuyee and the narrator who clearly revels in what she sees around her, readers could easily have believed that this was the Ennuyee’s genuine reaction to her surroundings on occasions when her illness was not as painful. Jameson referred to The Diary of an Ennuyee in two of her later publications. When The Loves of the Poets was published in 1829, Jameson was acknowledged on the front page as the author of The Diary of an Ennuyee. She clearly felt the need to rectify her reputation as an author and the misapprehension that she had caused with the anonymous publication of The Diary of an Ennuyee. So in the introduction to The Loves of the Poets Anna addresses her reader claiming that she had written The Diary of an Ennuyee with no intention of publishing, that she had been tricked into publishing The Diary of an Ennuyee, that the editor had chosen the title of the book and she had been ‘betrayed into authorship’. This was obviously a lie attempting to make amends with readers who had felt deceived by the author. Famous figures who felt they had suffered such a deception included Henry Crabb Robinson and Fanny Kemble. Fanny Kemble, who first met Anna Jameson at a London party in 1828, remarked ‘The Ennuyee one is given to understand dies and it was a little vexatious to behold her sitting on a sofa in becoming state of blooming plumpitude; but it was some compensation to be introduced to her’ (Thomas, 1969:38).
Jameson demonstrates with this publication that her construction and perception of a female heroine are quite dated and they contrast very effectively with the construction of female identity within the novels of Jane Austen. Though writing at least twenty years before Jameson, Austen contrasts with Jameson, presenting the reader with a satirical approach to sentimentality. Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is clearly an example of a woman of sensibility, particularly in regards to its physical implications. However, she is often made to look absurd to the reader through the author’s contrast of her character with her wry husband and also with her far more logical elder daughters Elizabeth and Jane. Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen's favourite heroine, rarely displays any of her mother’s sensibility, and it is instead her lively wit, her individuality and frankness that endear her to readers.
Within Sense and Sensibility we are presented with the contrast that the title conveys, Marianne Dashwood is presented as a sentimental heroine: ‘her sorrows, her could have no moderation...she was everything but prudent’ (Austen, 1811:6), but she is continually juxtaposed throughout the text with her elder sister Elinor who represents a far more sensible female figure. Marianne says:
And Elinor in quitting Norland and Edward cried not as I did. Even now her self-command is invariable. When is she dejected or melancholy? (Austen, 1811:35).
Marianne's passionate nature and conviction in the importance of love is initially more appealing than Elinor’s reserved manner:
Marianne burst forward with indignation –
As the story develops Marianne’s character slightly loses her appeal and romance, partly due to narrative intrusion but also because the reader becomes aware that the hurt and embarrassment Marianne causes for herself, is primarily due to her sentimental tendencies. Subsequently Elinor’s refined and measured manner becomes a more attractive trait. Elinor also deserves the readers’ respect, because it is she who holds her family together after their father’s death, taking care of the practical matters such as organising the family’s very limited finances. Austen thus implies that in real life sensibility is not a quality that makes your life easier, but rather in Marianne’s case that it can be a very destructive force Her sentimentality is the cause of her embarrassment, particularly when at a London ball:
Her face was crimsoned all over and she exclaimed in the voice of greatest emotion “Good god Willoughby, what is the meaning of this? Have you not received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?” (Austen, 1811:149).
Austen also uses the description of Colonel Brandon’s first love Eliza as a negative illustration of the potential demise of the sentimental heroine. Although Brandon loves Marianne and admires her spirit, the story he tells Elinor describing Eliza (who he likens to Marianne) implies that he is aware that a spirited woman can often destroy herself if she is left to her own will. The girl he speaks of was separated from Brandon when he was forced into the army; when he returned the girl was pregnant and living in the poor house; and died shortly afterwards, leaving Brandon to care for her orphaned daughter. The message is clearly that sensibility is often detrimental.
Marianne’s sensibility becomes more detrimental towards the end of the novel when it is feared that she will let heartbreak and illness destroy her, when, consumed by her melancholy, she neglects her health. The event of this illness stifles her romantic sensibility. Mary Poovey describes this illness as ‘not only a result but also a purgation of her passion’ for Willoughby ( Poovey, 1984:189). Marianne compromises her sentimental nature at the end of the novel by marrying ‘silent and grave’ Colonel Brandon (Austen, 1813:30) and trying to forget Willoughby and his ‘manly beauty’(Austen, 1811:38). Jane Austen’s last satirical remarks regarding Marianne’s new attachment to Colonel Brandon illustrate her attitude regarding sensibility within female characters:
Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate... She was born to overcome an affection formed so late as seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily give her hand to another ( Austen, 1811:321).
Anna Jameson displays a complex but ultimately negative female identity within The Diary of an Ennuyee. We are shown a heroine who is to an extent a positive figure for female readers, as the Ennuyee is intelligent, articulate and independent. However, the heroine’s sensibility ultimately destroys her spirit and because of the structure of the text the reader is only ever presented with the diarist’s perspective, so when she dies there is no narrative intrusion to observe that a young girl dying of a broken heart is both tragic and futile. It is understandable why sentimentality fared so badly with women who wished to improve their position of their sex within society. In 1792 in A Vindication of the Rights of women Mary Wollstonecraft argued that rationality within women was the way to reform and condemned sensibility, observing that:
Soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment and refinement of taste are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness...those beliefs are only objects of pity will soon becomes objects of contempt. (Wollstonecraft, 1792 citied in Todd, 1986:135).
Jameson, writing over thirty years after Wollstonecraft, was responsible for representing to men a literary portrait of women as irrational and sentimental creatures, who die if they have their hearts broken. This served to give men a justification to keep women confined to the domestic sphere, as this irrationality would be inappropriate within the public sphere of nineteenth-century society.
The Loves of the Poets, Jameson’s second publication, also explored feminine identity but in contrast to The Diary of an Ennuyee the book was biographical, producing insights into the lovers of famous male poets ranging from the Greeks and Romans to the heroines of nineteenth-century contemporary poetry. The Loves of the Poets was published in 1829, again with Henry Colburn. It begins with a Mme de Stael quotation, showing the influence that the author held on Jameson. On the title page Jameson is introduced to the reader as the author of The Diary of an Ennuyee. She had obviously by this stage felt some embarrassment as regards her first publication, and attempted to make amends in a note at the beginning of the book entitled Author to the Reader. She claims that the new book is merely a collection of sketches and is written for a female audience, claiming that all she wants is to illustrate the influence which the beauty and virtue of women have exercised over the characters and writings of men of genius. She says that she deserves little praise or reputation and sees herself as the compiler of this historical information rather than a critic, but also claims that ‘the pleasure of the task has compensated its difficulty’. The author continues to insist that her role is insignificant and plays down any importance ‘this little book’ may have. Jameson once again showed that she was a writer who adapted her work to meet public taste.
Jameson did establish a respectable literary reputation within the Victorian era. However, she was never a maverick writer: she wrote to publish and to meet contemporary literary demands, in order to support financially not only herself but also her parents and unmarried sisters. She also provided for her niece Geraldine and undertook the supervision of her education, when her father experienced financial problems. Jameson and her husband Robert Sympson Jameson decided to separate after she visited him in Toronto in 1838, where he was Attorney General. Robert agreed to provide his wife with three hundred pounds a year, but he failed to provide this money and when he died in 1854 in Canada, Anna Jameson discovered she had been excluded from his will, and that his property had been bequeathed to a married couple whom Anna had never met. Although her literary friends provided her with an annuity of a hundred pounds to supplement her income, and later she was given a yearly pension of one hundred pounds a year from Queen Victoria, throughout her life Jameson was never in a position where she could retire from working. Judith Johnston comments that Anna Jameson ‘never failed to turn every journey into a financial account’ (Johnston, 1997:101). This financial need could explain her need to comply with the demands of readers
She demonstrated a tendency to save herself from criticism by claiming that she was simply writing for women and claiming that she was not a critic or a scholar. However, she then went on to use academic referencing and footnotes when it was not expected, especially from a female writer, and as Clara Thomas phrases it: ‘It was quite accepted for lady writers of her day to romp happily through any and every source plagiarizing as they would’ (Thomas, 1967:51). Therefore, Jameson had made quite a clever move as she had presented the books in a way that would ensure they would be assessed with low expectations, only to surpass critics’ expectations when they examined the contents and appreciated her detailed research. ‘Her attitudes were those which society in her day expected of her they assured of admirers and readers and of a market for all that she could produce. Most important, they aligned the weapons for, and not against her’ (Thomas, 1967:51).
The content of the volumes shows Jameson taking a personal interest in European poetry, but also reflects contemporary interest by examining in great detail several Italian poets. In the first volume of The Loves of the Poets there are 22 chapters. Within these chapters, Jameson looks at eight Italian poets, three French, one Classical, and focuses the rest of her attention on poetry from English authors. In the second volume, she focuses even more on the work of Continental artists, the volume comprising ten chapters, one of which focuses on Classical poetry, one on German, four on Italian and four on English.
In the first chapter of the first volume Jameson discusses the significance of female muses for male poets. She believes that the inspiration that these woman give should be rewarded with their fame. Although she does not say explicitly that this is her aim in writing The Loves of the Poets, it would seem that supplying that fame is an appropriate motivation for Jameson to focus so closely on the female inspiration for poetry. Jameson asserts that the power of immortalising the subject of your affection is the highest of ‘all the heaven-bestowed privileges’ (Jameson, 1829:11). A theory that she develops and reiterates throughout the volume is that when a woman has been bestowed with the privilege of being immortalised by her lover through art she is subsequently exalted above the rest of her sex.
Jameson romantically believes that ‘no woman has ever been truly eternally defined within poetry without the spirit of truth and of love’ (Jameson, 1826:12). When discussing the Classical poets Jameson again states that she is writing not as a scholar but instead with reference to both her subject and to her sex. The writer demonstrates the effect Victorian Christian sensibility has had on her perception of the Greeks and the Romans. She evidently believes that because of what she regards as the immorality of the period the women were as a consequence degraded by their lovers.
Jameson seems far more comfortable discussing the depiction of women within amatory poetry, believing that with the rise of Christianity in the twelfth century and the institution of chivalry there was consequently a change in the moral condition of woman; and that it was then, with the poetry of the troubadours, that ‘in that era of love war and wild adventure, that the sex began to take their true station in society’ (Jameson, 1829:16).
Jameson often credits women as helping men to develop their genius, referring to Spenser ‘and since we know that this development of his genius was owing to female influence, his Rosalind ought to have been deified for what her beauty achieved’(Jameson: 1829: 219). However, she never acknowledges these women with the capacity to develop their own genius. Her style is biased and she often raves about poets without displaying any objectivity:
At the very name of Sir Philip Sydney, – the generous gallant, all accomplished Sydney, the roused fancy wakes, as at the sound of a silver trumpet, to all the gay and splendid occasions of chivalry and romance (Jameson, 1826:249).
However, she is on occasion very critical, particularly with Dryden:
His ideas of our sex seem to have been formed from a profligate actress and a silly, wayward, provoking wife: and we have avenged ourselves, – for Dryden is not the poet of women: and, of all our English classics, is the least honoured in a lady’s library (Jameson, (vol II), 1829:40).
Although Jameson is obviously condemning Dryden’s low opinion of women, the explanation given for his negative viewpoint is that the women he has encountered (whom she criticises far more than the poet himself) are ‘silly’ and ‘wayward’. On the whole, Jameson presents a far more positive interpretation of the male poets than their loves. This is mainly because the women are regarded as the poets’ muses, who are rewarded for their love by their immortalisation in verse. Jameson seems to feel that this should be enough of a trophy for any woman. Therefore, this perception of female identity is not overwhelming positive, as it does not really give the loves of the poets’ their own individuality. However what is positive is that Anna Jameson was attempting to explore female identity within literature in the nineteenth century.
After the publication of The Diary of an Ennuyee and The Loves of the Poets, Jameson’s career really began to flourish and she wrote and travelled extensively until her death in 1860. The next section of the essay will focus on the later stage of her career and look at how her perception of female identity developed.
After The Loves of the Poets Jameson went on to write another book focusing on female characters within literature. On this occasion she focused on Shakespeare’s female characters, publishing Shakespeare’s Heroines: Characteristics of Women, Moral, Poetical and Historical in 1832. The volume included essays focusing on Helena, Hermione, Ophelia and Portia .The book was significant because it was the first detailed study of Shakespeare’s female characters as a subject in themselves, and it was also the origin of subsequent studies of Shakespeare’s heroines. It was also important because it was literary criticism about women by a female writer. It was with this publication that Jameson attained real literary acclaim and a European reputation.
Jameson’s criticism evolved from the passionate and very personal responses that were frequently documented within The Diary of the Ennuyee, to adopt a more sophisticated and critical approach. Initially, Jameson became famous as an art historian for examining both public and private collections within England. (Handbook to the Public Galleries of Art in or near London (1842) and the Companion to the Private Galleries of Art in London (1844)). She then focused on writing a series of commentaries on European art, (Memoirs of early Italian Painters (1845), Sacred and Legendary Art (1848)) that accompanied many Victorians on their travels to Italy. Her art books became very successful in both the United Kingdom and America, and her opinions were influential for the formation of Victorian taste (Moers, 1978:179). Jameson’s main career focus from the 1840s was art history, and she was working on her major piece of work The History of Our Lord as exemplified in works of art at the time of her death in 1860. The work was completed by Lady Eastlake and published posthumously in 1864. The commitment of her friends to publish her last piece of work is an indication of their confidence in her ability.
Jameson also went on to write more travel literature, but she never repeated the odd hybrid approach adopted for The Diary of the Ennuyee. Instead she wrote strictly non-fictional travel journals. Winter Studies and Summer Rambles is probably her most famous travel journal, and was written about her experiences in Canada in 1836 when she went to visit her husband. The book is considered to be important because it was one of the first accounts of Canadian society given by a woman. Jameson is regarded as looking at Canadian colonial society with the degree of snobbery that would be expected from an Englishwoman, but that her satirical treatment of society is Toronto is still important as a historical account. Jameson was the first white woman to make the arduous trip around Lake Huron, which falls under the Rambles section of the journal. The publication of this book established Jameson’s reputation as a professional travel writer.
As Jameson’s literary reputation increased she became involved with many significant literary figures and key movements of the nineteenth century. She was involved in the anti-slavery movement in the 1840s and also was closely associated with Harriet Martineau, who wrote Jameson’s obituary for The Express. It was Jameson and Martineau who first realised from observing the situation within America that there was a single woman problem, that the emigration of men to frontier areas had lead to an artificial surplus of women within the UK and New England. Also, middle-class men could often not really afford to marry or if they could they could they often had to wait until they were in their thirties. Men were conscious that they would be able to enjoy a higher standard of living if they remained single as if they married they would have to provide for their financially dependant wives and for any children the marriage might produce. In Britain in 1851 men and women were on a ratio of 100:96, and on average for every 100 women aged over 20 only 57 were married. This meant that Victorian women could spend a large part of their adult life single and without financial support. Immigration was a popular but limited option, usually to areas such as frontier societies where there were an unequal ratio in favour of men. The single women problem led to questions concerning women and the prospect of their employment.
On 18th March 1843, Jameson first published a piece of direct social criticism Condition of the Women and Female Children anonymously in the Athenaeum series. Jameson had observed that women were being forced into tiring and degrading work and as a result, could not fulfil the romantic ‘mission’ at home that other writers had written of. She wrote ‘The women’s mission of which people talk so well and write so pretty is irreconcilable with women’s positions, of which no-one dares to think and much less to speak’ (Helsinger, E. 1983:40). As a result, Jameson refused to accept the poor conditions that working-class women were subjected to and urged for these women to be given the legal, financial and moral support that they needed.
Jameson seemed to have a gift for forming friendships with young women, especially the daughters and nieces of her female friends. In her later years, she grew close to the early feminist circle that included Adelaide Procter, Anna Mary Howitt, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, and Bessie Parkes Belloc. It was Jameson who encouraged Parkes and Bodichon to proceed with the English Woman’s Journal, and she critiqued each number as it appeared until her death. Jameson also insisted that these women should use wherever she was residing in England as the base for their meetings. She referred to these younger women as her ‘adopted nieces’, ‘good and gifted girls’ ( Johnston, 1997:219). It was this second wave of feminists who would go on to re-evaluate the proposals of Jameson and her peers concerning female employment.
Towards the last years of her life Jameson gave lectures concerning important social issues, particularly the social employment of women, and was regarded as holding views that corresponded with the first generation of reformers. Her first public lecture, Sisters of Charity, Catholic and Protestant at Home and Aboard, was delivered on 14th February 1855 at the home of Elizabeth Jesser Reid, and it was published later that year by Longman. In this speech Jameson addressed what she hoped might be a ‘wiser future’; she stated her belief that middle-class women had the right to work for society outside the domestic sphere, and that the creation of new jobs for these women when they were not needed at home was a positive thing. She felt that there should be a shared ethic of work and that it was the duty of men and women to contribute directly to the larger social good.
Jameson asked in her 1856 lecture The Communion of Labour (which was also delivered at Elizabeth Reid’s home) for the professional legitimisation of women’s service within hospitals, prisons and reformatory schools. These areas had previously being regarded as refuges for prostitutes, and therefore not respectable. The typical image of the nurse was the Dickensian caricature of Sairey Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit: poor, uneducated and always morally suspect. Jameson wanted middle-class women to extend their interests outside their domestic sphere and to be able to work in these fields. She felt that different kinds of work were suitable for men and women, and that the primary importance for women was their domestic duties. ‘The man governs, sustains and defends the family; the woman cherishes, regulates and purifies it’ (Johnston, 1997:220). She referred to domestic life as ‘the communion of love and communion of labour’ (Helsinger, (vol 20) 1983:132), and argued that the essential truth of life was that all facets of life ‘will prosper and fulfil their objects in so far as we carry out this principle in proportion of the masculine and the feminine element’ (Helsinger, (vol 2) 1983:129). Jameson’s middle-class female social worker became a dramatic reality in the Crimean War and the American Civil War. Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix all visited the wounded soldiers in the hospital and also on the battlefield. Capturing the Victorian imagination with this image of the ministering angel, the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ working outside of the domestic sphere made nursing a respectable career for middle-class women.
Jameson was also involved in the 1856 parliamentary petition that was created through the work of Barbara Bodichon. The petition was against the inequalities of the property laws and was signed by 26,000 women. Signatories included significant literary figures such as Elizabeth Gaskell and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as Jameson (Helsinger, (vol 2) 1983:134). This petition was extremely significant as its presence led politicians to re-evaluate the laws concerning women, and in 1857 Sir Thomas Perry introduced a bill that enabled married women to hold their own property, sign contracts and make wills. This bill reflected the more significant role women had attained within society; one MP remarked that the bill would place women in a ‘strong minded individual position’ (Helsinger,(vol 2) 1983: 40).
There is a clear evolution from Jameson’s attitude towards female identity in The Diary of an Ennuyee, although there are positive elements to the story because nineteenth-century women were able to sees a contemporary exploring the Continent and enjoying its history and culture as an individual. The central focus of The Diary of an Ennuyee is negative, as the reader is presented with a sentimental heroine who cannot face life because she has been abandoned by her lover, and after a year of melancholy and regret her grief completely destroys her human spirit and she dies heartbroken at only twenty-six years of age. Here Jameson is conveying the image of a female who cannot conceive of living her life without her loved one and does not recover after she is discarded. This message contradicts the events of Jameson’s own life as she too failed in her relationship but in contrast to her Ennuyee went on to live a productive and colourful life without a male companion from her separation in 1838 until her death in 1860. In fact it was not until after her husband’s departure for Dominica in 1829 that Jameson’s literary career really flourished, and from then on she both wrote and travelled extensively. In reality Jameson benefited from her married title because it gave her the respectability she needed as a writer, and also enabled her to travel independently. In The Loves of the Poets Jameson only covers the work of male poets and although she discusses women in depth they are never individuals but always attached to they men they love. Their fame comes not because they have earned it through individual merit but because their lovers have immortalised them through their verse. Although Jameson portrays these women as beautiful and fortunate muses they are not at any stage throughout the volumes given greater depth.
Both of these depictions of women contrast with Jameson’s own thoughts on female identity towards the end of her career. In her last speeches Jameson was asserting the need for women to live outside the domestic, private sphere that they had been confined to and that through ‘The communion of love and the communion of labour’ they could achieve a balance between their home life and their career. Jameson believed that it was an ‘essential law of life’ that women worked even after they were married to contribute to the greater social good. Jameson not only spoke of this potential within women but she also exemplified it herself, providing a living not only for herself but also for her siblings and establishing herself as a multi-faceted professional writer within the confines of the Victorian era, and as a result her proposals were regarded with more merit. Thus Jameson clearly demonstrated within herself an extremely positive female identity.