Synopsis of The Loves of the Poets
Henry Colburn published Anna Jameson’s second book, The Loves of the Poets, in 1829. In contrast to The Diary of the Ennuyee, The Loves of the Poets comprises a series of biographical sketches of a number of very different poets and the women who inspired them. Jameson begins her work with a quotation from Mme de Stael, the creator of Corrine, the work Jameson imitated in The Diary of the Ennuyee. In her address to the Reader she refers to her research as ‘sketches’ and claims that she wants little personal praise. Jameson also asserts that she aims to show the influence that the beauty and virtue of women has on men’s writing.
Many readers felt that Jameson had deceived them by publishing The Diary of the Ennuyee anonymously and pretending that the heroine had been heartbroken and fragile, and died as a result. So in the introduction to The Loves of the Poets she defends the publication of The Diary of the Ennuyee, claiming that she never wanted it to be published and was ‘betrayed into authorship’; and that the publisher chose the name of the book and was not aware that Anna Jameson was the author.
The Loves of the Poets consists of two volumes. In the first volume the author focuses on amatory poetry, the loves of the troubadours, the classical poets, Spenser and Shakespeare. The second volume focuses on conjugal poetry, looking at Donne, Pope and his love Martha Blount, and Swift and his lovers Stella and Vanessa; and then goes on to focus on the heroines of modern poetry.
In The Loves of the Poets Jameson states that she believes that poetry is significant because poetry is truth and that ‘Truth is the golden chain which links the terrestrial with the celestial’ (Jameson, 1829:15). She also asserts that no woman has ever been truly and lastingly defined in poetry without it being in the spirit of truth and of love. Jameson reveals, for example through her use of footnotes, a scholarly approach. However, the very personal attitudes she adopts towards the poets shows that at this stage she has not attained the professional stance that she later adopts as a writer. The Loves of the Poets was significant because it was the first of several biographical works that Jameson would write, all of which largely focused on the depiction of female characterisation in the work of male artists.