The Warrior's Return and Other Poems
London: Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme, 1808.
London: Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme, 1808. First edition. Contemporary full calf with gilt and morocco to spine. All edges brightly gilt. Marbled endpapers. Some gentle rubbing and slight bowing to boards, but pleasing and tight overall. Bookplate of J. O. Edwards to front pastedown. Inoffensive foxing to preliminary and terminal leaves, with text block fresh and unmarked. Measuring 155 x 90mm and collating , 185, : complete, including frontis. The first of two editions released in the same year, and preceding the American first edition, it is scarce institutionally and in trade. One of two copies currently on the market, OCLC reports only 5 institutional copies. The true first has not come to auction, with the three appearances in the modern auction record all being the U.S. printing.
From the start of her literary career, Amelia Opie's work stood out for its fascination with philosophical gray areas. The blurring of gender, the pursuit of desire, and the experience of adventure earned her a reputation for "uniting manly wisdom [with] female gentleness and attractive manners" (Brightwell). Encouraged by her mother to transform fear of the unfamiliar into learning and activism, in her adulthood Opie joined the Godwin circle and collaborated with Mary Wollstonecraft and Sarah Siddons to use her work for social progress. One of her mature works, The Warrior's Return draws together an assortment of poetry that speak to current events in the world; and the title piece in particular participates in a wider poetic dialogue among women about war. Preceding Laetitia Barbauld's Eighteen Hundred and Eleven by four years, Opie "criticized the bloodiness of the wars with France, and the political vanity that had led Britian to enter unnecessary wars" (Saunders). Indeed, while she acknowledges that men in battle face sacrifice, it does not carry real meaning: "He fought like a hero! But VAINLY he fought." A bold move, Opie did provide herself with some protection. Shielding her piece with a thin "medieval screen, and the contemporary references obvious, it nevertheless provided a safeguard that the poem is a romance about the Crusades" (Saunders). Ultimately, "Opie's use of historical distance meant that...she avoided the response Barbauld endured four years later. In doing so, she set a precedent for literary descendants throughout the century. Other women turned to Opie's example in the post Eighteen Eleven backlash, using medievalism to question wars and women's political roles" (Saunders). (Item #4473)