A summary of the contemporary critical reception regarding The Diary of the Ennuyee and The Loves of the Poets by Anna Jameson
Anna Jameson was a significant literary presence within Victorian society, who gained her reputation through the meticulous detail and research that she was prepared to dedicate to her work. Her career spanned from the her first publication The Diary of an Ennuyee, which was published in 1826 when Anna was 32, until after her death, when Lady Eastlake completed Jameson’s final piece of work and published it posthumously in 1864.
Henry Colburn published her first publication The Diary of an Ennuyee anonymously. The Westminster Review commented that The Diary of an Ennuyee was ‘Well written and interesting but still an imposture, and not of a kind which is admissible’ (Westminster Review, 1826:339). The Monthly Review assessed The Diary of an Ennuyee in April 1826 and the critic was uncertain as to how the piece should be reviewed because it was not clear whether the piece was fact or fiction:
‘We confess that we have felt some embarrassment how to treat this little volume. If it be what it professes, the genuine diary of a young and broken hearted woman… it is scarcely matter for cold and fastidious criticism’ (Monthly Review, 1826:414).
However, the critic appears to be aware that the diary may be intended for publication noting that there are ‘suspicious traces of bookmaking’. The reviewer appears to feel that the subject matter of The Diary was clichéd but that on the occasions when the author is lifted from her melancholic manner, ‘her narrative exhibits flashes of animation and gaiety’ (Monthly Review, 1826: 419). With regard to the poems that Jameson inserted within the text, the critic observes that none ‘rise at all above mediocrity.’
Victorian values are evident from the critic’s response to Jameson’s freedom of expression. He appears to be offended by it, commenting that:
‘There is at times in the Diary rather more freedom of expression than is usually found in the untravelled English woman of five and twenty... When the characteristics of Titian’s genius are examined in the Diary we are told of his “love of pleasure and his love of women”... Most true; but we could have forgiven less accurate description from the pen of a young English woman’ (Monthly Review, 1826: 461).
Although at this stage his disdain is clear, the reviewer seems to become absorbed by the tragedy and romance of The Diary of an Ennuyee towards the end of the text: ‘there is something affecting and mournful in these closing pages, written as it were, between time and eternity and yet nothing the habitual current of time filled to the last with the daily occurrences of a journey which conducted the young and heartsicken traveller only to a tomb’ (Monthly Review, 1826:462). The Diary of an Ennuyee was not a bestseller, but Clara Thomas observed that it did become ‘part of “la mode” of the day’ (Thomas, 1967:39), and female illness is thought to have become a literary vogue partly as a result of the influence of The Diary of an Ennuyee.
Jameson’s second book The Loves of the Poets was published in 1829 and was reviewed by September in Blackwood’s by the critic John Wilson writing under the name of ‘Christopher North’. The review is confusing and complex, but Wilson, though patronising, does seem at times to praise The Loves of the Poets. He writes for fifteen pages on the text, although he often seems to deviate from the subject matter. ‘But we must come to the book in hand. About the loves of some of the true poets, the fair writer knows more than we do – about some less – and about others pretty much the same; but we shall be happy to be led by so sweet a conductress through scenes of such enchantment. She shall wave us on with her own white arms – she shall, in her own silver voice “tell the story of their loves”’(Blackwood’s, 1829:528).
He also praises her choice of subject:
‘Nothing is a surer proof of genius than the choice of a subject at once new and natural and “The Loves of the Poets” is of that character.’
However tongue-in-cheek the review itself, Blackwood’s prestige as a publication was certainly significant enough to ensure that people would buy The Loves of the Poets simply because Blackwood’s saw it as worthy of a review. Although Anna Jameson did not attain a significant literary reputation with either of her first two books, the fact that an unknown female writer could receive two reviews for her first publication (The Diary of an Ennuyee), followed by a review in a important publication like Blackwood’s for her second, was a significant achievement.