"Lactilla Tends Her Fav'rite Cow": Ecocritical Readings of Animals and Women in Eighteenth-Century British Labouring-Class Women's Poetry

"Lactilla Tends Her Fav'rite Cow": Ecocritical Readings of Animals and Women in Eighteenth-Century British Labouring-Class Women's Poetry

"Lactilla Tends Her Fav'rite Cow": Ecocritical Readings of Animals and Women in Eighteenth-Century British Labouring-Class Women's Poetry

"Lactilla Tends Her Fav'rite Cow": Ecocritical Readings of Animals and Women in Eighteenth-Century British Labouring-Class Women's Poetry

Synopsis

This volume brings together issues of gender, class, and species through a study of a selection of poetry by five 18th-century British labouring-class women poets including Mary Collier, Ann Yearsley, and Janet Little.

Excerpt

Mycias, behold this bird! see how she tires—
Breaks her soft plumes, and springs against the wires!
A clown more rude than gracious brought her here
To pine in silence, and to die in snare.
Her haunt she well remembers: ev’ry morn
Her sweet note warbled from the blowing thorn
That hangs o’er yon cool wave; responses clear
Her sisters gave, and sprang through upper air.

These lines, from Ann Yearsley's poem “The Captive Linnet” printed in her third book of poetry, The Rural Lyre (1796), describe the plight of a caged bird who, removed from her natural environment, can neither communicate with her sister birds “who sit and call her near her fav’rite spray” (11) or fulfill the “Delicious toil” (17) of caring for her young. Rather than accept her entrapment, in an assertion of negative agency “she droops” (59), rejects her captor’s offer of food, and “dies resign’d” (59–60), a device Yearsley frames as a Christian “VICTORY for the SOUL” (72).

Even as I offer Yearsley’s captive linnet as an emblem of this book, which brings together animals and women in the work of five laboringclass women poets—Mary Collier (1690–1762), Mary Leapor (1722– 46), Elizabeth Hands (1746–1815), Ann Cromartie Yearsley (1752– 1806), and Janet Little (1759–1813), I wonder if Yearsley’s conclusions are the same as the ones I will draw or even the same ones she herself pursued in her own life and career. a fairly direct symbolic relationship can be traced, for example, between the captive linnet and the situation of the eighteenth-century natural genius circumscribed by a patron, often physically and mentally isolated from the natural landscape so important to her apparently natural poetry. Though these poets express a . . .

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