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Tag Archives: John Constable

A while back, I picked up Kisses on Paper at a library book sale. It’s a collection of love letters by women, edited by Jill Dawson, and contains a number of letters from our period. They certainly bust any stereotype that ladies of the period were meek, demure and lacking in sex drive.

Jane Clairmont, also known as Claire Clairmont, spent a summer with the Shelleys and Byron and conceived a strong passion for Byron. Here she writes to him to arrange and overnight tryst and awaits nearby for his answer.

“Have you then any objection to the following plan? On Thursday Evening we may go out of town together by some stage or mail about the distance of ten or twelve miles. There we shall be free and unknown; we can return early the following morning. I have arranged every thing here so that the slightest suspicion may not be excited. Pray do so with your people.”

“Will you admit me for two moments to settle with you where? Indeed I will not stay an instant after you tell me to go. Only so much may be said and done in a short time by an interview which writing cannot effect. Do what you will, or go where you will, refuse to see me and behave unkindly, I shall never forget you. I shall ever remember the gentleness of your manners and the wild originality of your countenance. Having been once seen, you are not to be forgotten.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer in women’s rights, engages in an affair with Gilbert Imlay, with whom she had a daughter, Fanny. A few romance novels have mentioned her (usually as an inspiration for the heroine) but I wonder how many romance readers know about this original and passionate woman.

“You can scarcely imagine with what pleasure I anticipate the day, when we are to begin almost to live together; and you would smile to hear how many plans of employment I have in my head, now that I am confident my heart has found peace in your bosom. Cherish me with that dignified tenderness, which I have only found in you; and your own dear girl will try to keep under a quickness of feeling, which has sometimes given you pain. Yes, I will be good, that I may deserve to be happy; and whilst you love me, I cannot again fall into the miserable state which rendered life a burthen almost too heavy to be borne.”

“But, good night! God bless you! Sterne says that is equal to a kiss—yet I would rather give you the kiss into the bargain, glowing with gratitude to Heaven, and affection to you. I like the word affection, because it signifies something habitual; and we are soon to meet, to try whether we have mind enough to keep our hearts warm. I will be at the barrier a little after ten o’clock tomorrow.”

Some of these letter writers showed their strength in more conventional ways, by asserting their rights within their relationships.

For financial reasons, Maria Bicknell and the painter John Constable had to wait five years to marry. Although she apologizes for the advice she gives him, I suspect the apology is more a matter of form.

“Believe me, I shall feel a more lasting pleasure in knowing that you are improving your time, than I should do while you were on a stolen march with me round the Park. Still I am not heroine enough to say, wish, or mean that we should never meet. I know that to be impossible. But then, let us resolve it shall be but seldom; not as inclination, but as prudence shall dictate. Farewell, dearest John—may every blessing attend you, and in the interest I feel in your welfare, forgive the advice I have given you, who, I am sure are better qualified to admonish me. Resolution is, I think, what we now stand most in need of, to refrain for a time, for our mutual good, from the society of each other.”

Here Charlotte Carpenter writes to Sir Walter Scott, early in their relationship:

“Before I conclude this famous epistle, I will give you a little hint—that is, not to put so many musts into your letters—it is beginning rather too soon; and another thing is, that I take the liberty not to mind them much, but I expect you [to?] mind me.”

And here is an excerpt from a sweet letter from Mary Wordsworth to William, delicately alluding to their first night together.

“Dearest William! I am sorry about thy eye—that it is not well before now, & I am sorry for what causes in me such pious & exulting gladness—that you cannot fully enjoy your absence from me—indeed William I feel, I have felt that you cannot, but it overpowers me to be told it by your own pen I was much moved by the lines written with your hand in one of D’s letters where you spoke of coming home thinking you ‘would be of great use’ to me—indeed my love thou wouldst but I did not want thee so much then, as I do now that our uncomfortableness is passed away—if you had been here, no doubt there would have existed in me that underconsciousness that I had my all in all about me—that feeling which I have never wanted since the solitary night did not separate us, except in absence…”

I rather love this picture of the two of them!

Who are some of your favorite women of the Regency? Any favorite couples who might (or might not) be inspiration for romance?


It’s the birthday of the great English landscape artist John Constable, born this day in 1776 (died 1837). He was born and grew up in Suffolk, the son of a corn merchant who owned Flatford Mill (now an environmental center), and it was expected that he would take over the family business. But while still quite young he sketched the Suffolk countryside and eventually in 1799 persuaded his father to give him an allowance so that he could attend the Royal Academy.

In 1802, he turned down the position of drawing master at Marlow Military College and around this time seems to have had a breakthrough regarding his art, realizing that his calling was as a professional landscape painter and rejecting the classical conventions of his training:

For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand. I have not endeavoured to represent nature with the same elevation of mind with which I set out, but have rather tried to make my performances look like the work of other men…There is room enough for a natural painter. The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth.

Although he visited the Lake District his first love, and the landscape that spoke most strongly to him, remained that of Suffolk. Unlike his literary contemporaries, he did not seek or find the sublime in “romantic” landscapes. In the words of his biographer, Charles Leslie,

His nature was peculiarly social and could not feel satisfied with scenery, however grand in itself, that did not abound in human associations. He required villages, churches, farmhouses and cottages.

In his lifetime his paintings were far more successful in France than in England although he refused to travel abroad to promote his work.

In 1809 he met his future wife, Maria Bicknell, but her family opposed the match; they considered Constable a poor, unsuccessful artist from an inferior social background. Constable painted this portrait of Maria in 1816, the year they finally married.

During their long engagement, ten months before their marriage, he wrote her this letter:

East Bergholt. February 27, 1816

Let us…think only of the blessings that providence may yet have in store for us and that we may yet possess. I am happy in love–an affection exceeding a thousand times my deserts, which has continued so many years, and is yet undiminished…Never will I marry in this world if I marry not you. Truly can I say that for the seven years since I avowed my love for you, I have…foregone all company, and the society of all females (except my own relations) for your sake.

I am still ready to make my sacrifice for you…I will submit to any thing you may command me–but cease to respect, to love and adore you I never can or will. I must still think that we should have married long ago–we should have had many troubles–but we have yet had no joys, and we could not have starved…Your FRIENDS have never been without a hope of parting us and see what that has cost us both–but no more.

Sadly, Maria weakened by tuberculosis and giving birth to seven children, died in 1828. Constable mourned her for the rest of his life and raised their children alone.

Constable was fascinated by clouds and skies, and if you visit Constable Country you’ll see those same huge skies. He was the first artist to paint oil sketches out of doors, with free, vivid brushstrokes. (Left: Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, painted in 1824 at Brighton, where the Constables had gone for Maria’s health.)

Check out this site from the Tate Gallery, UK, where you can compare modern landscapes with Constable’s interpretations.

And here’s a lovely interpretation of Constable landscapes:

What are your favorite Constable paintings? Here’s a list of paintings worldwide and a link to an exhibit of his huge landscapes that was on exhibit in the US a couple of years ago.

And now, in a blatant burst of self-promotion:
New website and contest at and a chance to win a signed copy of A Most Lamentable Comedy in Pam Rosenthal’s latest contest.
Plus today I’m blogging over at the History Hoydens about Jane Austen’s letter of June 11, 1799, and talking about Immortal Jane at Austenprose and Jane Austen Today.

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