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Selected poems - Charlotte Turner Smith

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Selected poems
Charlotte Turner Smith
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Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) was a prolific writer whose independence of outlook marks her out as a strikingly modern figure. Her poetry was admired by Wordsworth, and although her work was later neglected, she is now being recognised as a major poet whose Romantic sensibility was an expression of specifically female experience. This selection reveals Charlotte Smith as a moving, memorable poet, her responses to natural and emotional landscapes marked by vividly particular observation.

This selection provides an ideal introduction to the full range of Charlotte Smith's work. Her influential sonnets and her poems for children, extracts from her French Revolution poem 'The Emigrants' and the full text of her astonishing 'Beachy Head' are included here. Judith Willson's introduction and notes give the background to Smith's life and clarify the detail of her poems.

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Charlotte Smith was born in 1749 in London, and spent much of her childhood at the family's estate at Bignor Park in Sussex. Her mother died when she was three, and the family's fortunes changed as a result of her father's gambling debts. At the age of fifteen Charlotte Smith married the twenty-three-year-old son of an East India Company merchant. The marriage proved to be a disaster; her husband's profligacy led to seven months' imprisonment in debtors' prison, during which Charlotte Smith accompanied him. The family lived in France for a time following his release, so as to be safe from creditors, but in 1784 Charlotte Smith left her husband. From that point she supported herself and her nine children by her writing. Her Elegiac Sonnets were immensely popular and influential, eventually reaching eight editions, but she was also a prolific writer of gothic novels and works for children, a translator and the author of a play. Charlotte Smith died in 1806. Her greatest poem, Beachy Head, was published posthumously in 1807.

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