Familiar Essay

She was famed for her reticence, abstraction, and asceticism: her social manner was characterized by silence, privacy was a watchword in her relationships, her absent-mindedness was a joke among her children, and Meynell was self-denying in her spending and austere in the running of her house (Badeni, 129, 143–5, 211).1 Meynell’s contemporaries often described her either by using the word “ascetic,” or by resorting to a rubric of monasticism. and yet not of it”; he declared that there was “the charm of a beautiful abbess about her” (Badeni, 145). She published her poetry through the Aesthetic publisher John Lane, and her essays in periodicals and collections, some of which were also brought out by John Lane.

Richard Le Gallienne observed a “touch of exquisite asceticism about her,” of “one quite humanly and simply in this world. Tracy Seeley outlines Meynell’s work as an essayist: , where Meynell’s weekly column, “The Wares of Autolycus,” appeared from 1893–1898, secured her extraordinary fame as an essayist.

The lapidary quality and epigrammatic features of Meynell’s prose firmly identify her essays with Aestheticism; Meynell wrote in what Schaffer describes as a “fundamentally Aesthetic style” (171).

Contemporary critical writing on Meynell’s essays has engaged ambivalently with the tendency towards retreat, withdrawal, and abstention that, I argue, characterises her essays (and is generally acknowledged as a feature of her personality).

Tracy Seeley takes another tack, reading Meynell’s familiar essays against the grain to identify their active and outwardly-oriented impulses.

She argues that although Meynell is rarely openly polemical, she “reshapes the familiar essay to promote feminist ends” (106).Criticism on Meynell’s essays tends to present Meynell in different forms of transport.Vadillo imagines Meynell as a privileged, detached train passenger, separated from the realities of life by the glass of the train window. Google(); req('single_work'); $('.js-splash-single-step-signup-download-button').one('click', function(e){ req_and_ready('single_work', function() ); new c. In this article I present a re-evaluation of the work of the prominent female Aesthete, Alice Meynell.In this sense, Meynell’s prose writings reinterpret and repurpose the genre of the familiar essay to render it a suitable forum for confronting the ethical questions of the 1890s. Lucas wrote that “[o]ne wants a new word to describe [her] aloofness; she was not apart because all their [her children’s] feelings she shared, and yet she carried her own sanctuary with her” (Badeni, 145).Alice Meynell was not only an important fin-de-siècle writer, but also a striking and celebrated personality, known both within Aesthetic circles and to a wider public. Squire described her as “a religious ascetic” who “practiced “art for art’s sake” as ruthlessly as any despairing hedonist of them all” (Badeni, 245). Meynell’s publishing career lasted from the 1870s to the 1920s, but she achieved her greatest prominence during the 1890s.Ana Parejo Vadillo, discussing Meynell’s locodescriptive essay collection , presents Meynell’s withdrawal as the situation of one ensconced in a train, separated from the world by the pane of window glass.Vadillo argues that Meynell struggles to justify this spectatorial subject position, which Vadillo presents as privileged and detached (102).Schaffer imagines Meynell as a bus passenger, gazing out enviously at a woman cyclist, herself hemmed in and entrapped in the bus, a vehicle of ladylike constraint and dependency.3 Those who knew Meynell well, however, pictured a different scenario.Meynell’s children teased her with a story, “untrue but plausible,” that she had once spent “an hour in a cabman’s shelter in the belief that it was a slow-to-start tramcar” (Badeni, 144).


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