Research Stream


Nicola Parsons (2014-2015)
The University of Sydney

Feeling Influence: Friendship and Patronage in Early Eighteenth-Century Women’s Writing

For eighteenth-century women writers, unlike their male counterparts, literary lineage was bound up with affective exchange and invested with feeling. This project investigates how women writers such as Anne Finch and Elizabeth Rowe, negotiated the emotional dimensions of literary influence.

Feeling Influence: Friendship and Patronage in Early Eighteenth-Century Women’s Writing

Image: Mrs. Richard Alexander Oswald by Sir Henry Raeburn, c. 1794. Gift of Mrs. Paul Moore, 1980. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This project focuses on two overlapping networks of female poets and patrons: that encompassing Anne Finch, Lady Salisbury and the Countess of Hertford, and the later circle that encompassed Elizabeth Rowe. Both Finch and Rowe represented these networks in their poems and letters as affective bonds, and as an intimacy that required complex forms of negotiation. Indeed, Rowe’s letters to Hertford suggest that their friendship is something better experienced through the mediated intimacy of writing rather than the unmediated experience of presence. How are we to understand these forms of connection and modes of affection? In the early part of the eighteenth century, affection had important religious and secular dimensions. As Melanie Bigold has highlighted, affection was associated with Christian ideals of benevolence and with newer ideals of sociability, which placed interpersonal feelings at the centre of community (2013, 13). This project situates Finch and Rowe’s respective literary friendships in this context, attending both to the meaning of affection and the tension between obligation and positive emotion it could engender. It foregrounds the role of religion in female friendships as well as the various ways in which the complex spaces of female intimacy were imagined, mediated and forged.