Essays in Romanticism

Mary Robinson’s Female Vagrant

Essays in Romanticism (2017), 24, (1), 53–68.

Abstract

Mary Robinson’s Traveller, the narrator of Lyrical Tales, is actually a female vagrant and a response to William Wordsworth’s “The Female Vagrant” in Lyrical Ballads. Through this narrator, Robinson makes two revisions to Wordsworth’s volume. First, she frees the objectified female vagrant from stereotyping inherited from balladry to make her a more naturalistic subject who interrelates with her community—an important effort at a point in history when vagrant women outnumbered men two to one. In addition, the female vagrant works as an analogue for the female poet, who contests the male poet’s strategy of self-isolation as a means to genius. If men need solitude to reach heights of genius, why wouldn’t women rejected into solitude also be capable of similar accomplishments? Robinson argues through this character-narrator that true isolation may not be fully possible let alone necessary.

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Author details

Hurwitz, Melissa