London: Henry Colburn, 1843. First edition. Contemporary half calf over marbled boards with ornate gilt and morocco labels to spines. All edges speckled red. Brown endpapers. Some gentle rubbing to binding extremities. Armorial bookplates of Lord Farnham to pastedowns of each. Light scattered foxing to frontis and title page of each, else a surprisingly fresh copy internally. Collating vi, , 331, [1, blank]; , 347: complete, including frontis and title page to front of each volume. A difficult book to get with both volumes present and in pleasing condition.
The author of two non-fiction books, Elwood's literary reputation continues to rest on the better-known Memoirs of the Literary Ladies of England. It was released at a time when "printers typically commissioned professional authors to compile anthologies and biographies representing the latest fashionable style," but the market was only just beginning to include and recognize women within those books (Peterson). Seeking to fill this gap, Elwood became one of the earliest women to produce such a work that focused not on women of the distant past, but emphasized those of women alive during the readers' lifetimes. Further distinguishing her contribution from those of her contemporaries (mostly men), she included "women writers of all genres, not just poetesses" and thus it not only "differed in aim but in audience, assuming a particular interest of women in women...In Elwood's partiality to the literary performances of her own sex lay a different and new way of anthologizing women" (Peterson). The result is a text that feels alive -- often drawn from the papers of the very women she biographies, and touched with her own personal knowledge of them, their unique genius, and their family lives. Bluestockings like Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Hester Chapone, and Hannah More appear in the pages with poets like Felicia Hemans, L.E.L., and Anna Seward, and the first woman in English to publish a world history Hester Piozzi. (Item #4078)