In Her Place: Ann Yearsley or 'The Bristol Milkwoman'

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    Acknowledging that Yearsley understands place in this poem as a complex interweaving of real and imaginary spaces, social connections, and intellectual exchanges, is important because it challenges the simplistic presentation offered of Yearsley by Hannah More herself when she described her protégée as ‘the Bristol Milkwoman’. This description appeared on the title page of Yearsley’s debut volume, Poems on Several Occasions (1785) which was published only three months or so after Yearsley wrote ‘Lines Addressed to the Revd Mr Leeves on his Visiting Stella to Cowslip Green’. As John Clare, ‘the Northamptonshire Peasant’; ‘the Ayrshire Ploughman’ Robert Burns; or Robert Bloomfield, ‘the Farmer’s Boy’ from rural Suffolk, would find along with Yearsley, being located so specifically by their patrons both ‘geographically and in terms of rank’ significantly shaped how their works were read. Whilst their local areas were undoubtedly important to these poets (all of whom wrote about the environments in which they lived), the imposition of descriptions such as ‘the Bristol Milkwoman’ encouraged responses to them which viewed their ‘poetic proclivities’ as ‘emerging from the soil from which they sprang, rather than from their hard won efforts at literacy.’ Yet, as Yearsley’s poem, ‘Lines Addressed to the Revd Mr Leeves’ indicates, place for Yearsley meant much more than the immediate local environment to which the identification of her as ‘the Bristol Milkwoman’ would seek to reduce her. Furthermore, place is a concept with which Yearsley engages in complex and challenging ways. In this essay I want to pay close attention to the ways in which Yearsley explores ideas of place, from her description of her own home in ‘Clifton Hill’ (published as part of Poems on Several Occasions), to her engagement with Bristol’s involvement in slavery in A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade (1788), and her critique of Bristol’s governing classes in ‘Bristol Elegy’ (1796). By doing so I hope to examine the ways in which Yearsley seeks to understand her own place, not just in terms of physical spaces (such as Clifton or Bristol), but also in terms of her role as a Bristol poet, and as a lower-class poet from Bristol eager to secure for herself a place in literary culture.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLiterary Bristol
    Subtitle of host publicationWriters and the City
    EditorsMarie Mulvey-Roberts
    Place of PublicationBristol
    PublisherRedcliffe Press
    ISBN (Print)9781908326737
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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