“In seraph strains, unpitying, to destroy”:Anne
Bannerman's femmes fatales
Like Charlotte Dacre, the Edinburgh poet Anne Bannerman (1765–1829) situated her writing in the tradition of Mathew Lewis, in this case the Gothic ballads included in The Monk and Tales of Wonder. Dacre had associated her fiction with Mathew Lewis's for maximum sensational effect, leading to high sales and notoriety of name. Dacre's success in the “school of Lewis” came not without scandal, though it seems clear that Dacre herself, familiar with controversy throughout her childhood, had skillfully channeled critics' outrage into publishing success, in part through her sexually charged authorial persona. While Dacre's writing reveled in the sexual and blasphemous excesses of Lewis's writing, Bannerman was interested in different qualities of the Gothic, choosing instead to intensify the obscurity and ambiguity characteristic of Lewis's supernatural poetry and Radcliffe's novels. Perhaps these contrasting qualities of the Gothic, its erotic explicitness and its studied ambiguity, help account for Dacre's publishing success as a novelist, and Bannerman's commercial failure as a poet.
Bannerman's first volume, Poems (1800), published by Mundell in Edinburgh and Longman in London, was dedicated to the influential scholar Dr. Robert Anderson. Poems was highly praised in reviews and contained a series of extended poems such as “The Genii” and “The Nun, ” original odes and sonnets, and two sonnet series based on Petrarch and Werther. 1 Her second volume, the Gothic ballad collection Tales of Superstition and Chivalry (1802), was published anonymously by Vernor and Hood, and received less favorable reviews. Both volumes were revised and reprinted in an 1807 volume, Poems, A New Edition, dedicated to Lady Charlotte Rawdon and published by subscription in the hope of earning enough to allow the income-less author to live off the interest. These three volumes, and a substantial amount of periodical poetry, represent the bulk of Bannerman's literary production.