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Corvey 'Adopt an Author'

Elizabeth Le Noir

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University


Biography of Elizabeth Le Noir by Laura Ridley


Elizabeth Anne Le Noir (née Smart) was born about 1754/5, in Islington, London. She is not widely mentioned in literature on the romantic period. As a result only limited biographical information could be found on her, though she is mentioned in The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, and The Dictionary of National Biography.

She is probably better known as the daughter of the famous religious poet Christopher Smart, and Anna Maria Carnan. Smart spent a great majority of his life battling poverty, insanity and drink, and for a period in the 1760's he was unable to maintain his wife and children. As a result his wife took refuge in Ireland, with the two daughters, Mary Anne, and Elizabeth Anne. In 1763 Smart was imprisoned for insanity, and was visited by Dr. Johnson in his cell, in the summer of this year. In 1768 Smart was confined permanently in the king's bench by his creditors. He died here in 1771.

The Smarts settled in Reading, Berkshire in 1762. Her mother's step-father was John Newbery, a publisher and owner of a printing firm in Reading, for whom her father had worked as a journalist. Smart had been introduced to Newbery by Dr. Burney, father of Frances Burney, who was a friend to Smart throughout his troubled career. Le Noir continued this friendship with Dr. Burney, and her novel Village Anecdotes is dedicated to him.

After the death of Smart, Newbery gave employment to the widow and the two daughters in the offices of the Reading Mercury which belonged to him. The Mercury was in turn edited by Le Noir's grandmother, mother and sister. Le Noir and her sister, Mrs Cowslade, eventually inherited the Reading Mercury .

In 1795 she married a French émigré, Jean Baptiste Le Noir de la Brosse, chevalier of the royal and military order of St. Louis. Most of his property and land being lost in the upheaval of the French revolution he came to England. He settled in Reading and worked as a teacher of French. Elizabeth lived at a house within the precincts of the Abbey of Reading. The couple had no children of their own, but Elizabeth undertook the task of educating two female relations. Her husband died January 1833, aged 80, at Herne Hill. Elizabeth died 6 May 1841, aged 86, at the Priory, Caversham.

Le Noir seems to have begun her career as a writer during married life, as her works are all published under her married name of Le Noir, thus prompting the idea that she began writing as a means of bringing money into the household. The income from her husband's job as a French teacher would not have been much. Le Noir was discouraged from writing by her mother, but despite this published a number of works:

1803 Village Annals, a Scene in Domestic Life, a novel in two volumes.

1804 Village Anecdotes, or the Journal of a Year, from Sophia to Edward, in three volumes. A second edition was published in 1807, and dedicated to Dr. Burney. A third was published in 1821.

1804 Victorine's Excursion's.

1808 Clara de Montfier, a Moral Tale, in three volumes. Dedicated to Lady Charlotte Greville. A second edition was published in 1810, under the name of 'The Maid of La Vendée.'

1812 Conversations, interspersed with Poems, for the Amusement and Instruction of Youth, in two volumes.

1825 Miscellaneous Poems, in two volumes. Dedicated to Viscountess Sidmouth.

Le Noir's novels, which have poems interspersed, are set in restricted, picturesque backgrounds. They were admired by Dr. Burney, who praised Village Anecdotes and Clara de Montfier very highly. Mary Russell Mitford was also an admirer of Le Noir's work, writing that her "books when taken up one does not care to put down again". Village Anecdotes also had subscriptions from Elizabeth Carter and Walter Scott.

Both Le Noir's husband and step-daughter had work published in French. Her husband publishing many educational works throughout his career, such as, The Logographical ...French Spelling Book, 1799, 8th edition 1839, and Practique de L'Orateur François, 4th edition 1812. Le Noir's step-daughter published Les Promenades de Victorine, 1804, a translation of Le Noir's Victorine's Excursions, Le Compagne de la Jeunesse and L'Instructice et son Elève. She died in September 1830, at Leamington.


1)Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy, The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, Batsford, 1990.

2)The Dictionary of National Biography, volumes XI, and XVIII, Stephen, L. & Lee, S.(eds), London, Oxford University Press.

3)The London Review and Literary Journal, 45, March 1804.

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