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Mrs. Smith, Charlotte Smith, and West Indian Property in Persuasion: A Note

In the second volume of Persuasion, Jane Austen widens the circle of Anne Elliot’s acquaintance and embellishes her history by introducing the character of “an old school-fellow,” Mrs. Smith, who has “the two strong claims on her attention, of past kindness and present suffering” (165).  Despite being “almost excluded from society” (166), Mrs. Smith helps populate Bath for us—in much the way Admiral Croft does as he walks the streets with Anne:  “Every body of any consequence or notoriety in Bath was well known by name to Mrs. Smith” (209), and we hear the names of the Wallises, the Durands, the Ibbotsons, Lady Mary Maclean.  Mrs. Smith also expands the novel’s geography.  Suddenly, as she opens “the history of her grievances” against Mr. Elliot, we learn of “some property of her husband in the West Indies, which had been for many years under a sort of sequestration for the payment of its own incumbrances, [and which] might be recoverable by proper measures; and this property, though not large, would be enough to make her comparatively rich” (227).  Mrs. Smith’s West Indian property—though introduced so late in the novel as to seem an afterthought—is apparently significant enough to be the centerpiece of Persuasion’s penultimate paragraph; Mrs. Smith herself takes up the bulk of the final paragraph (274–75). 

What should we make of the sudden invocation of the West Indies and the dominance of Mrs. Smith in the novel’s concluding paragraphs?  Collins Hemingway sees the use of the West Indies as a matter of “creat[ing] a plausible situation” necessary for realist fiction (216); the West Indies is far enough (but not too far) for help to be indispensable (217–18).  For Hemingway, the West Indies as it appears in Persuasion has nothing to do with slavery.  Erin Goss, however, recenters the identity of the West Indies as slave colonies critical to England’s domestic economy.  Goss argues that by invoking the West Indies in Persuasion and through her use of Mrs. Smith, “Austen signals the essential imbrication of white women’s dependence and their complicity in oppression.”  

smith charlotte

Charlotte Smith (1792), by George Romney.

I’m increasingly persuaded by Goss’s argument, but I’d like to consider an additional layer to Mrs. Smith that might add further resonance to the emphasis on the West Indies.  In her 1998 biography of Charlotte Smith, Loraine Fletcher suggested, in a chapter on Austen, that the character Mrs. Smith might be “a private tribute, a private joke even” (317).  Elaine Bander has recently discussed the connections between Austen’s Mrs. Smith and Charlotte Smith (79–81).  Stephen Derry and Jacqueline Labbe have also suggested a connection (70; 111), and, in their introduction to the Cambridge edition of Persuasion, Janet Todd and Antje Blank submit that the parallels “are too striking to be coincidental” (liv).  Persuasion’s Mrs. Charles Smith, like Charlotte Smith, is poor and debilitated by illness.  Mrs. Smith reveals that her husband was “‘careless and immethodical, like other men’” and “led . . . into expenses much beyond his fortune” (219, 226); Charlotte Smith’s husband, Benjamin Smith, was financially improvident, as well as predatory and abusive.  Todd and Blank point out that both Mrs. Smiths “know how to spin a yarn” (liv).  Austen’s Mrs. Smith cannot afford legal representation; Charlotte Smith continually complains in the prefaces to her novels that her access to the fortune left in trust for her children is hampered by the machinations of lawyers.  Mrs. Smith, of course, can’t realize the income from her husband’s West Indian property.  Charlotte Smith’s children inherited West Indian property, specifically two plantations in Barbados, one producing sugar and the other, cotton, which she is not able to realize for them.  And, of course, “property” in the West Indies almost certainly includes not only land but also the enslaved people who work on it.  Given these connections, it’s significant, I’d argue, that Charlotte Smith—a writer with whom Austen certainly engaged throughout her career—wrote about slavery. 

What if we consider, then, the identification of Austen’s Mrs. Smith and Charlotte Smith specifically in terms of the West Indian connection and the questions it raises about slavery?  I will confess up front that in considering Charlotte Smith’s writing and life in relation to Austen’s character, this essay does not arrive at a clear picture of a character who has often provoked readerly discomfort.  Examining the complexities of Charlotte Smith’s relationship with slavery, however, raises questions about how to think about her that might shed some light on how we think—or don’t think—about Austen. 

Charlotte Smith, of course, was a figure in Jane Austen’s literary imagination from a young age.  Smith’s first novel, Emmeline, The Orphan of the Castle (1788), is cited in Austen’s The History of England, written in 1792, just before she turned seventeen (Juvenilia 175, xxix).  Smith’s second novel, Ethelinde, or, The Recluse of the Lake (1789), is discussed by Kitty and Camilla Stanley in Austen’s Catharine, or the Bower, written in 1793 (J 249, xxix).  Part of Charlotte Smith’s fame—integral to her poetry, prose, and children’s books—was her family situation.  Married at age fourteen to a profligate, predatory, and abusive husband, in 1784, when she was thirty-four, Charlotte Smith took on the responsibility of supporting their nine surviving (of twelve) children.  Richard Smith, Benjamin’s father, had attempted to provide for his grandchildren by leaving his plantations in Barbados in trust for them, but he muddled the will by writing it himself, launching a case that was in Chancery for more than forty years.  Smith’s difficult life was made more so by her husband’s attempts to attach the money that she earned from her writing; poverty; the death of three more of her children; the responsibility of helping to support grandchildren; and her own illnesses.  Through those difficulties she kept writing and earning and waiting for her children to be awarded their West Indian inheritance.1 

Among the political and moral issues tackled in her career was slavery in the colonies of the West Indies.  Most substantial are the representations and discussions of slavery in The Wanderings of Warwick (1794), “The Little West Indian” in Rambles Farther (1796), and “The Story of Henrietta” in Letters of a Solitary Wanderer (1800).  The Wanderings of Warwick spins off two characters from The Old Manor House, Smith’s novel of the American Revolution, following them in their journey around the West Indies and Europe.  Rambles Farther is the follow-up to Smith’s Rural Walks, a collection of dialogues for children, centering on the widowed Mrs. Woodfield, her two daughters, and her niece Caroline; “The Little West Indian” is the first dialogue in the book and introduces the young Ella, who has been brought from Jamaica to keep her from her mother’s influence, and her servant Mimbah.  “The Story of Henrietta,” the second volume of Letters of a Solitary Wanderer, tells the story of a young woman who, though engaged to Denbigh with the deathbed approval of the aunt who raised her, allows herself to be persuaded by her aunt’s friend to return to Jamaica (with Denbigh on another ship) to seek the approval of her tyrannical, slave-holding father.  Henrietta writes to Denbigh from her ship: 

You were displeased with me, my friend; I saw uneasiness and resentment beneath the forced kindness of your last adieu. . . . Yet how often has it been inculcated how often have you enforced the maxim, that when we feel we have done right we should be at peace with ourselves!  And surely, when you will allow yourself to reflect coolly on my situation, you will acknowledge that I have acted with propriety.  (2: 37) 

Jacqueline Labbe traces some of the connections between Smith’s story and Persuasion (108–11), chiefly centering on the misguided reliance on duty and propriety.  (There’s even a Miss Hamilton who is defined as a “monster” [257, 270]!)  In Jamaica, the story focuses on the father’s attempt to force a marriage—which Henrietta defines as “the most dreadful of all slavery” (77)—and a rebellion of slaves and Maroons, in which both the heroine and hero are caught up, as well as on the inset story of Henrietta’s hermit uncle, who has come to understand the evils of slavery and, finding them impossible of remedy, has withdrawn, in despair, from society. 

Charlotte Smith uses these fictions to represent the horrors of slavery.  In The Wanderings of Warwick, the main character recounts seeing, while in Jamaica with his regiment, “droves of black people going into the fields under the discipline of the whip” and “turn[ing] with horror and indignation from such a spectacle” (45).  Another episode recounts the hideous contrast existing between the appurtenances of sensibility and the violence of slavery, as the seventeen-year-old Marianne Shaftesbury, all “female softness and tenderness” (53), whom her horrified fiancé has “seen weep over the fictitious distresses of a novel, and shrink from the imaginary sorrows of an imaginary heroine” (53), directs the beating of “a mulatto girl of ten or eleven years old.”  “I heard the shrieks of the miserable little victim,” he reports.  “I saw her back almost flayed; and Miss Shaftesbury seemed to me to enjoy the spectacle” (54).  As a way of educating girls in a truer sensibility, the lessons of Rambles Farther connect such horrors even to natural history.  A discussion of sea creatures mentions sharks, leading Mrs. Woodfield to the slave trade:  “These hideous monsters follow the ships which we send to Guinea to convey slaves to our colonies; for of these unhappy men, women, and children, a great number die on their passage, and are thrown into the sea.”  Caroline’s response exemplifies the combination of reason and feeling Smith tries to inculcate:  “And what right have we to do this?  It is shocking even to think of it” (13).  Mrs. Woodfield provides the pro-slavery arguments and then demolishes them.2

In each of these books, Charlotte Smith suggests that the acceptance of slavery is to a great degree based on habit.  Even for the anti-slavery Warwick, familiarity leavens the moral horror:  “Gradually I became habituated to the sight, yet it still disgusted and distressed me” (45–46).  As Mrs. Woodfield explains to Caroline, “A person brought up there, and accustomed to it, has not the least idea, that these unhappy men are of the same species; they no more feel hurt at seeing them compelled to labour or suffering punishment, than persons in this [country], not accustomed to think, do, when they see a team of horses, or a yoke of oxen, and the driver exercising his whip” (Rambles 9).  And the force of habitual ways of thinking, for Smith, extends even to the enslaved.  When Mimbah complains of the English cold and expresses a desire to return to Jamaica, Mrs. Woodfield points out “how strong is that habit which attaches even slaves to their native country,” adding that “our ideas of the horrors of that state we call slavery, cannot all be well founded, since this negro woman, who knows that she is free here, who is mistress of her time, and has every thing found for her, without any other work than the little attendance such a child requires, prefers her own country where she was a slave, and liable to be beaten or turned into the field on the caprice of her mistress” (7–8). 

But Smith also temporizes.  Warwick asserts that “[t]he condition . . . of the negroes is certainly in some respects even preferable to that of the English poor” (62)3 and that “dreadful as the condition of slavery is the picture of its horrors is often overcharged” (65).  Smith also seems to engage in some special pleading for the island in which her family’s slave plantations are located: 

In Barbadoes . . . it appears to be, and certainly is, so much the interest of the planters to be careful of the lives of their slaves, on whose labour their incomes depend, that in general they are not ill-treated;—and if there are some masters whose malignant disposition even avarice cannot control, there are others whose humanity is not lessened even by the perverse and savage tempers of some of those unhappy beings who are their property.  (59–60) 

Here Smith finds herself congratulating the Barbadian owners for dealing humanely with their “perverse and savage” human property.  In fact, when she’s specific about the violence of slavery, she usually displaces her examples onto Jamaica. 

Smith does dismantle some of the eighteenth-century stereotypes around race.  As Peter J. Kitson points out, Amponah, who rescues Henrietta from death only to announce that he is now her master as well as his own (Solitary Wanderer 2: 303), “reflects Smith’s rejection of the eighteenth-century noble Negro trope” and “a pointed reversal of the grateful slave trope” (121, 122).  George Boulukos characterizes “The Story of Henrietta” as “the most complex treatment of plantation slavery in the late eighteenth-century novel” (87). 

Despite her abolitionist views, Charlotte Smith characterizes the Black servants and slaves she depicts in terms of racial stereotypes.  Warwick presents them as simple creatures: 

the idea of their being the property of their master makes them take a peculiar interest in whatever relates to him.—They are pleased if his house is better—his equipage finer—and his property greater than that of his neighbours; and seem to derive consequence themselves from the consequence of him to whom they belong, . . . and indeed an infinite deal of pride and vanity is a principal ingredient in the temper of negroes.  (61) 

In Letters of a Solitary Wanderer Henrietta is horrified to find “three young women here, living in the house, of colour, as they are called, who are, I understand, my sisters by the half blood!”  The slow and incremental development of this sentence, each new realization interrupted by a comma, presents her perspective at the “awkwardness” of her own situation.  The emotional distance she maintains from them is combined with judgment of “their odd manners, their love of finery, and curiosity about my clothes and ornaments, together with their total insensibility to their own situation,” which she finds “very distressing” (2: 57–58).  Boulukos suggests that Henrietta responds in horror to “hybridity” and that Smith “reflects common conceptions of ‘Creole degeneration’ which imagine European Creoles as being influenced to degenerate by both the tropical climate and by contact with their slaves” (95). 

There are uglier racial stereotypes to come.  The mother of the Maroon chief is described as a grotesque version of femininity that looks forward to the racist British prints of Sarah Baartman, the African woman branded “the Venus Hottentot.”  Henrietta perceives her as a “fearful wretch”:  “I never beheld so hideous, so disgusting a creature; . . . and though there was an affectation of European dress, she was half naked, and her frightful bosom loaded with finery was displayed most disgustingly” (2: 309).  Her femininity, her exaggerated resemblance to Henrietta, is what inspires so much “dread”—a telling response, but whether Smith is in control of or distanced from it (since the narrative voice is first person) is unclear.  Further, both Amponah, the slave who helps Henrietta escape, and the Maroon general, who rescues her from Amponah, are would-be rapists.  As Carrol L. Fry points out, Denbigh is more concerned with the possibility of sexual contamination than he is that she might be dead—though Fry acknowledges that in melodrama “sexual threat to the heroine is conventional to the romance” (“Misery” 51–52). 

How then do we place Charlotte Smith in terms of abolition and race?  Fry sees Smith as to some degree typical of her time:  “despite her philosophical opposition to the institution, she reveals the same racial prejudice shared by many others committed to the abolition movement” (“Misery” 46).  Despite the opposition she and her characters express to the slave trade and slavery, there seems to be little hope of either abolishing or ameliorating the established system.  “The Story of Henrietta” presents manumission as politically impossible and rebellion as a logical outcome.  Boulukos sees Smith’s presentation of the future of plantation slavery as “pessimistic, even gloomy”:  “hers is the only compelling consideration of the actual problems presented by the political context in which reform must take place, an effect particularly notable in the tense and polarized atmosphere of the late-century abolition debate” (87, 91).  Denbigh sells his plantations at a loss and returns to England—an act that merely maintains the status quo.  The possibility of freeing his slaves isn’t even discussed.  For Kitson, “Smith’s troubled and pessimistic representation of slave empowerment . . . demonstrates a more realistic understanding of the realities of the violent and brutal regime of the slave system” that “acknowledges that black resistance will be the force which will end its present form” (123).  But there’s no real imagining of racial harmony, much less racial equality in her fictions. 

Charlotte Smith’s engagement with slavery, then, however complex, is at least directly articulated in her public writing, especially over the course of the 1790s.  How much, however, could Austen have known about Smith’s personal and legal engagement with slavery?  Sarah Zimmerman argues that “Smith recognized that her success was partly due to the believability of her self-portrait” and that her “writings deliberately confuse conventional distinctions between autobiography and fiction” (“Charlotte Smith’s Letters” 66, 65).  In the prefaces to her works Smith frequently mentions her dependent children, the difficulties of composition, and what she’s suffered from the mismanagement of her children’s affairs from “the weazles, wolves, and vultures” of the legal profession (Banished Man 1: ix).  She doesn’t, however, specify the nature of the contested property.  That information, however, is available from other sources.  The annual publication Public Characters—an effort to provide “the public and secret history of the present times” by publishing biographies of “the distinguished personages who now fill up the drama of public life in the British empire”—in its third volume, the 1800–1801 edition, included a biography of Charlotte Smith, now attributed to the radical writer Mary Hays.4  Given Austen’s interest in celebrity culture, documented especially by Janine Barchas and Jocelyn Harris, it seems likely that she would have looked into these volumes, which include biographies of politicians, churchmen, actors, writers, and scientists, among others.5  After Smith’s death in 1806, obituaries and biographies also mention the West Indies property (or Barbados), among them Francis William Blagdon’s biography in The Flowers of Literature, published by Benjamin Crosby, the publisher to whom Austen sold Susan; a memoir by Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, the brother of Austen’s great friend Anne Lefroy, in his Censura Literaria; and an entry in Alexander Chalmers’s General Biographical Dictionary

Mary Hays’s biography in Public Characters makes clear that Richard Smith maintained his management of his West India business until his death in 1776 (37).  In her essay on Smith, the West Indian property plays a recurrent role, and its origins are underscored without comment on the issue of slavery. 

His will, though fortunately it provided for all her children then born, was complex and confused; and the trustees, who were also appointed, refusing to act, great inconvenience ensued, and whoever was to blame, Mrs. Smith and her children, now nine in number, were finally the victims.  (38) 

Years passed on; but the persons entrusted with the property made no progress in disembarrassing the estate of her children’s grandfather; they, on the contrary, gave it up to the plunder of West Indian agents.  (49) 

Artificial delays protracted the business yet eighteen months; it was at length, with all the certainty of which West Indian affairs are capable, finally determined, when Mrs. Smith had the satisfaction of seeing her children restored to their rights.  (50)6

 Surely it’s no coincidence that Mr. Elliot, at the commencement of his friendship with the Smiths, has “‘chambers in the Temple’” (P 216); in other words, he is on his way to being a barrister, though, according to Mrs. Smith, his object is “‘to make his fortune, and by a rather quicker process than the law’” (217).  Since he has been named executor of his friend’s will (226), Mr. Elliot’s refusal to act on behalf of Mrs. Smith and his “hard-hearted indifference”—“Mr. Elliot would do nothing”—form “a dreadful picture of ingratitude and inhumanity” (227), the heightened nature of Austen’s language recalling both Smith’s and Hays’s.  Wentworth’s behavior forms a contrast to those connected to the law:  “by putting her in the way of recovering her husband’s property in the West Indies; by writing for her, acting for her, and seeing her through all the petty difficulties of the case, with the activity and exertion of a fearless man and a determined friend” (274). 

The public writing by and about Charlotte Smith, all of it accessible to Jane Austen, makes her engagement with slavery clear.  What Austen couldn’t know was Smith’s private response to her family’s financial involvement.  On 9 July 1800, four or five months before Letters of a Solitary Wanderer was published,7 Smith wrote to the earl of Egremont, enclosing a letter from William Prescod, a potential purchaser of Gay’s, a sugar plantation and “the single largest holding of the Smith trust in Barbados” (Collected Letters 344n1).  The enclosure sets out the appraised value of 171 Negroes, 257 acres of land and buildings, and 1 horse, cattle, sheep, and hogs (344n8).  On 4 August 1800, Smith replied to Prescod, contesting his valuation of Gay’s: 

The valuation last year was £22,048.15.0.  Your present Proposal is near 1,000£ less.  It is true that the value of the Negroes is by death lessen’d; but only three of considerable value have died:  a Man worth (as pr valuation of 1798) 70£ called Kit James, a young Woman called Catharina, stated to be worth £100, and a Woman called Sarah or Sareey worth £80.  The three other Girls or Women were of inferior value, and one Slave named Bennah, tho stated in the Managers Account to be a Man, was a very old Woman worth nothing; her death therefore & that of the old Men is rather a relief than a disadvantage to the Estate. 

While on the other hand I am informed there are Men on the Estate now worth two hundred Pounds, and two hundred & fifty Pounds Sterling & might be sold for that money at any time.  The highest valued in the Estimate of 1798 put on any Male Slave is £130 Currency & there are but four so valued.  (353) 

For readers of Charlotte Smith’s morally and politically conscious poetry, fiction, and children’s books—especially in light of her frequent reference to herself as a slave—the coldness of the arithmetical calculation is shocking. 

How do we reconcile these paragraphs with the humane though humanly complex Charlotte Smith found elsewhere?  The hero of The Wanderings of Warwick avows, 

The slave merchant studies nothing but his profit and loss; and if at any time something like a qualm of conscience should disturb the felicity he finds in acquiring wealth, he reconciles himself to his pursuit with reflecting, that if he did not drive this trade somebody else would—an argument which I have often heard used to justify every folly and every vice.  (59) 

Of course, Smith, though here studying that profit and loss, never finds that felicity in wealth.  According to Fletcher, “In her last decade she was too obsessed by the minutiae of the will to consider its larger context much.”  Fletcher posits an “unease like Denbigh’s” in “The Story of Henrietta” that may have prompted her to try to sell Gay’s (Charlotte Smith 292).  Perhaps, as Susan Wolfson speculates, “While it seems that the references to slavery in her novels are crucibles for a range of oppressions, the nagging of the specific question in Smith’s writing, even for young people, suggests a troubled conscience” (646). 

In any case, Charlotte Smith was poor, ill, concerned about her children, determined to try to get some money for them from the trust.  Wolfson suggests that while her practice here does not live up to her principles, there’s an explanation if not an excuse:  “This may seem morally foreshortened, an unreflective instance of her comment in 1789 that ‘[v]irtue of all sorts is a mighty perishable commodity.’  But it registers panic” (639).  Dolan explains the brutality of this letter in terms of Smith’s business acumen: 

A master of discursive register, Smith wisely speaks the planter Prescod’s own language in her negotiations with him.  Nonetheless, this passage makes it clear that Smith understood that a monetary value was assigned to people, and she hoped that her children would benefit from an advantageous valuation of the slaves. . . . In the end, she chooses her children’s well-being over other options she might have considered, such as freeing the slaves on the Barbados plantation.  (66–67) 

Dolan’s explanation is that Smith sees herself as slave, “sold—‘as a slave’ not ‘like a slave’—into marriage” (67).  Although to us today the moral failing may be clear, certainly the circumstances in which Charlotte Smith found herself did not allow a good choice. 

This complex portrait of Charlotte Smith—particularly on the issues of slavery and race—does little to clarify and might further mystify our understanding of Austen’s Mrs. Smith.  But even setting aside her implication in slavery, Mrs. Smith is a problematic feature of Persuasion.  Is she an admirable model of hopefulness and perseverance?  A cheerful realist?  A manipulator out for her own gain?  Anne’s attitude toward her—unresentful as she is toward everyone in her world—seems particularly uncomplicated.  Anne “could not but express some surprise at Mrs. Smith’s having spoken of [Mr. Elliot] so favourably in the beginning of their conversation.  ‘She had seemed to recommend and praise him!’”  But after raising this mild objection, she immediately accepts a pretty thin explanation:  “‘I considered your marrying him as certain, though he might not yet have made the offer, and I could no more speak the truth of him, than if he had been your husband’” (228).  What is Jane Austen’s evaluation?  Throughout the novel, the narrative hews closely to Anne’s perspective.  Free indirect discourse can be a treacherous narrative tactic—at least for a reader looking for certainties.  What I’m left with is a large measure of uncertainty about what to make of Jane Austen. 

Whether we have too much or too little information about Charlotte Smith’s perspective, it’s clear that we have much less information and insight into Austen’s views since she never writes directly about slavery, abolition, or race.  And although there are Austen family connections to Empire and slavery, Jane Austen’s fingerprints aren’t on them in the same way that Smith’s are.8  In some ways, then, the question is left to our imaginations.  Erin Goss provides one answer: 

If Austen has herself learned about abolition and an increasing recognition of slavery’s horrors, as many critics claim she has done, her novels show that she has also learned that slavery as a topic is best buried and kept fully off the page.  White women’s goodness makes for a much more palatable topic. 

Perhaps so.  And yet, though not discussing it, Austen raises these issues—in Mansfield Park, in Emma, in Persuasion, and of course in Sanditon.  She writes them onto pages from which their absence might not have been particularly remarked.  That she invokes the slave trade and mentions slave colonies and introduces a character who is “half mulatto” (Later Manuscripts 202) serves as an invitation.  But we need to be careful not to rush either to judgment or excuse. 

At the end of Jacqueline Labbe’s book on imagining the conversation between Charlotte Smith and Jane Austen, she describes “Two writers who walk together and think alike.  Two authors who interrogate, together if separately, the constructs and constraints of their society”: 

Who holds certain roles and who deserves to?  Is birth shorthand for character?  Can beauty deceive?  What does it mean to be a woman or a man?  Is a person born or bred?  What about money and standing?  Does one lead to the other, or depend on the other, or indicate the other? 

Et cetera.  She continues: 

These questions are not tangential for either Smith or Austen.  They continually pose them, speculate on answers, reach conclusions, and try again.  Their fiction is meaningful because of this.  Their works withstand interrogation because of this.  We read their books and greet them as friends because of this.  They make us think and think again because of this.  (123) 

In introducing Miss Lambe, was Austen moving to tackle the questions surrounding slavery and racism head on?  What would have been her answers?  And would she, in the novels that would have followed Sanditon, have asked and asked again?



1For more on Smith’s life see Sarah M. Zimmerman’s entry on Smith in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Fletcher’s Charlotte Smith: A Critical Biography

2For a discussion of “The Little West Indian” and Smith’s treatment of slavery in another of her books for children, A Natural History of Birds (1807), see Elizabeth A. Dolan. 

3Carrol L. Fry argues that this comparison “should be read as Smith’s sympathy for the British laborer rather than as a defense of slavery” (Charlotte Smith 100). 

4These quotations are taken from the preface to the first volume, British Public Characters of 1798 (v, vii).  In the subsequent years, the title was changed to Public Characters; the last volume was 1809–1810.  These biographies are sympathetic.  In the first volume, the editor announces his intention “to apply to some friend of the party, whose intimate knowledge of the relative facts and circumstances qualified him to do ample justice to the character” (ix). 

5The 1798 edition begins with the Earl of Moira, to a large degree responsible for the failure of Henry Austen’s bank (Bennett), and includes the Bishop of Winchester, Dr. Burney, Mrs. Siddons, and Lord Nelson, all of interest to Austen.  Public Characters 1799–1800 includes Austen’s favorite poet William Cowper; the novelist and dramatist Elizabeth Inchbald, author of Lovers’ Vows; the Rev. Mr. Graves (whose novel Columella Austen refers to in both Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion); Warren Hastings, closely connected to the family of Rev. George Austen’s sister Philadelphia Hancock and thereafter to the Austens as well; and the Earl Fitzwilliam.  The third volume (1800–1801), includes, besides Charlotte Smith, the abolitionist William Wilberforce, and Dr. James Gregory, author of A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters (1774).  In fact, the biography of Smith (33–51) immediately follows that of Wilberforce. 

6Loraine Fletcher in her edition of Emmeline points out that although “there were some payouts from the trust” at the time Hays wrote this biography, the estate wasn’t settled until 1813, seven years after Charlotte Smith’s death (518n1). 

7The preface is dated “October 20th, 1800” (1: vii). 

8It’s clear from her letters that Austen admired Thomas Clarkson, probably based on her reading of his 1808 History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade (24 January 1813).  Jane’s father, the Rev. George Austen, was co-trustee in the marriage settlement of James Langford Nibbs, which involved the Nibbs family plantation in Antigua.  Jane’s brothers Francis and Charles Austen, both in the navy, were engaged at various times in preventing the continuance of the slave trade.  Devoney Looser has recently discovered that Henry Austen, yet another brother, was a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840).  See Looser’s TLS essay for a cogent, recent summary of the family connections. 

Works Cited
  • Austen, Jane.  The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen.  Gen. ed. Janet Todd.  Cambridge: CUP, 2005–2008.
  • Bander, Elaine.  “‘Cheerful beyond Her Expectation’: Mrs. Smith, Adam Smith, and Austen.”  Persuasions 40 (2018): 76–92.
  • Barchas, Janine.  Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012.
  • Bennett, Stuart.  “Lord Moira and the Austens.”  Persuasions 35 (2013): 129–52.
  • Boulukos, George.  “The Horror of Hybridity: Enlightenment, Anti-slavery, and Racial Disgust in Charlotte Smith’s Story of Henrietta (1800).”  Slavery and the Cultures of Abolition: Essays Marking the Bicentennial of the British Abolition Act of 1807.  Ed. Brycchan Carey and Peter Kitson.  Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2007.  87–109.
  • Blagdon, Frances William.  “Life of Mrs. Charlotte Smith.”  Flowers of Literature, for 1806; Or Characteristic Sketches of Human Nature and Modern Manners.  To Which Are Added, A General View of Literature During That Period; Portraits and Biographical Notices of Eminent Literary, and Political Characters; With Notes, Historical, Critical, and Explanatory.   London: Crosby, 1807.  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31822033794330&view=1up&seq=31
  • Brydges, Samuel Egerton.  “Memoirs of Mrs. Charlotte Smith.”  Censura Literaria 4 (1807): 69–84.
  • Chalmers, Alexander.  “Charlotte Smith.”  General Biographical Dictionary 28 (1812–1817): 104–07.  http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/BiographyRecord.php?action=GET&bioid=34566
  • Derry, Stephen.  “The Ellsmeres and the Elliots: Charlotte Smith’s Influence on Persuasion.”  Persuasions 12 (1990): 69–70.
  • Dolan, Elizabeth A.  “Financial Investments vs. Moral Principles: Charlotte Smith’s Children’s Books and Slavery.”  Time of Beauty, Time of Fear: The Romantic Legacy in the Literature of Childhood.  Ed. James Holt McGavran, Jr., and Jennifer Smith Daniel.  Iowa City: UIP, 2012.  56–71.
  • Fletcher, Loraine.  Charlotte Smith: A Critical Biography.  Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.
  • Fletcher, Loraine, ed.  Emmeline, The Orphan of the Castle.  Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2003.
  • Fry, Carrol L.  Charlotte Smith.  New York: Twayne, 1996.
  • _____.  “‘Misery Is . . . the Certain Concomitant of Slavery’: The British Anti-Slavery Movement in Charlotte Smith’s Novels.”  PMPA: Publications of the Missouri Philological Association 27 (2002–2003): 45–54.
  • Goss, Erin.  “Characterized by Violence: On Goodness and the Profits of Slavery in Persuasion.”  Persuasions On-Line 41.2 (2021).
  • Harris, Jocelyn.  Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen.  Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2017.
  • [Hays, Mary.]  “Mrs. Charlotte Smith.”  Public Characters of 1800–1801 (1801): 33–51.
  • Hemingway, Collins.  “When a Slave Island Does Not Mean Slavery: An Audit of Mrs. Smith’s Encumbered Funds.”  Persuasions 40 (2018): 213–20.
  • Kitson, Peter J.  “Fictions of Slave Resistance and Revolt: Robert Southey’s Poems on the Slave Trade (1797) and Charlotte Smith’s ‘The Story of Henrietta’ (1800).”  Race, Romanticism, and the Atlantic.  Ed. Paul Youngquist.  Farnham: Ashgate, 2013.  107–23.
  • Labbe, Jacqueline M.  Reading Jane Austen after Reading Charlotte Smith.  Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.
  • Looser, Devoney.  “Breaking the Silence: Exploring the Austen Family’s Complex Entanglements with Slavery.”  Times Literary Supplement 21 May 2021.  https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/jane-austen-family-slavery-essay-devoney-looser/
  • Smith, Charlotte Turner.  The Banished Man.  4 vols.  London, 1791.
  • _____.  The Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith.  Ed. Judith Phillips Stanton.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003.
  • _____.  Letters of a Solitary Wanderer.  1800.  Introd. Jonathan Wordsworth.  New York: Woodstock, 1995.  [facs.]
  • _____.  Rambles Farther: A Continuation of Rural Walks: In Dialogues Intended for the Use of Young Persons.  2 vols. in one.  Dublin, 1796.
  • _____.  The Wanderings of Warwick.  1794.  Introd. Caroline Franklin.  London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1992.  [facs.]
  • Wolfson, Susan J. “Charlotte Smith: ‘To Live Only to Write & Write Only to Live.”  [Rev. essay.]  Huntington Library Quarterly 70 (2007): 633–59.
  • Zimmerman, Sarah M.  “Charlotte Smith’s Letters and the Practice of Self-Presentation.”  The Princeton University Library Chronicle 53.1 (1991): 50–77.
  • _____.  “Smith [née Turner], Charlotte (1749–1806), Poet and Novelist.”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Oxford UP, 2007.  Web.
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