25 September 1793|
Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Great Britain
|Died||16 May 1835
Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland, UK
Felicia Heman's paternal grandfather was George Browne of Passage, County Cork, Ireland; her maternal grandparents were Benedict Paul Wagner (1718–1806), wine importer at 9 Wolstenholme Square, Liverpool, Lancashire, and Elizabeth Haydock Wagner (d. 1814) of Lancashire. Family legend gave the Wagners a Venetian origin; family heraldry an Austrian one. The Wagners' country address was North Hall near Wigan; they sent two sons to Eton College. Of three daughters, only Felicity married; her husband George Browne joined his father-in-law's business and succeeded him as Tuscan and imperial consul in Liverpool.
Early life and works
Felicia Dorothea Browne was the fourth of six Browne children (three boys and three girls) to survive infancy. Of her two sisters, Elizabeth died about 1807 at the age of eighteen and Harriett Mary Browne (1798–1858) married first the Revd T. Hughes, then the Revd W. Hicks Owen. Harriett collaborated musically with Felicia and later edited her complete works (7 vols. with memoir, 1839). Her eldest brother, Lt-Gen. Sir Thomas Henry Browne KCH (1787–1855), had a distinguished career in the army; her second brother, George Baxter CB, served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers 23rd Foot, and became a magistrate at Kilkenny in 1830 and Chief Commissioner of Police in Ireland in 1831; and her third brother, Claude Scott Browne (1795–1821), became Deputy Assistant Commissary-General in Upper Canada.
Felicia was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, a granddaughter of the Venetian consul in that city. Her father's business soon brought the family to Denbighshire in North Wales, where she spent her youth. They made their home near Abergele and St. Asaph (Flintshire), and it is clear that she came to regard herself as Welsh by adoption, later referring to Wales as "Land of my childhood, my home and my dead". Her first poems, dedicated to the Prince of Wales, were published in Liverpool in 1808, when she was only fourteen, arousing the interest of no less a person than Percy Bysshe Shelley, who briefly corresponded with her. She quickly followed them up with "England and Spain"  and "The domestic affections", published in 1812, the year of her marriage to Captain Alfred Hemans, an Irish army officer some years older than herself. The marriage took her away from Wales, to Daventry in Northamptonshire until 1814.
During their first six years of marriage, Felicia gave birth to five sons, including Charles Isidore Hemans, and then the couple separated. Marriage had not, however, prevented her from continuing her literary career, with several volumes of poetry being published by the respected firm of John Murray in the period after 1816, beginning with "The Restoration of the Works of Art to Italy" (1816) and "Modern Greece" (1817). "Tales and Historic Scenes" was the collection which came out in 1819, the year of their separation.
From 1831 onwards, she lived in Dublin, where her younger brother had settled, and her poetic output continued. Her major collections, including The Forest Sanctuary (1825), Records of Woman and Songs of the Affections (1830) were immensely popular, especially with female readers. Her last books, sacred and profane, are the substantive Scenes and Hymns of Life and National Lyrics, and Songs for Music. She was by now a well-known literary figure, highly regarded by contemporaries such as Wordsworth, and with a popular following in the United States and the United Kingdom. When she died of dropsy, Wordsworth and Walter Savage Landor composed memorial verses in her honour. She is buried in St. Ann's Church, Dawson Street.
Felicia Hemans' works appeared in nineteen individual books during her lifetime. After her death in 1835 they were republished widely, usually as collections of individual lyrics and not the longer, annotated works and integrated series that made up her books. For surviving women poets, like Britons Caroline Norton and Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Americans Lydia Sigourney and Frances Harper, the French Amable Tastu and German Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and others, she was a valued model, or (for Elizabeth Barrett Browning) a troubling predecessor; and for male poets including Tennyson and Longfellow, an influence less acknowledged. To many readers she offered a woman's voice confiding a woman's trials; to others a lyricism apparently consonant with Victorian chauvinism and sentimentality. Among the works she valued most were the unfinished "Superstition and Revelation" and the pamphlet "The Sceptic," which sought an Anglicanism more attuned to world religions and women's experiences. In her most successful book, "Records of Woman" (1828), she chronicles the lives of women, both famous and anonymous.
Hemans' poem The Homes of England (1827) is the origin of the phrase stately home in English. The first line of the poem runs, "The stately Homes of England".
Despite her illustrious admirers, her stature as a serious poet gradually declined, partly due to her success in the literary marketplace. Her poetry was considered morally exemplary, and was often assigned to schoolchildren; as a result, Hemans came to be seen a poet for children rather than taken seriously on the basis of her entire body of work. A jocular reference by Saki in The Toys of Peace suggests simultaneously that she was a household word and that Saki did not take her seriously. Schoolchildren in the U.S. were still being taught The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England ("The breaking waves dashed high/On a stern and rock-bound coast...") in the middle of the 20th century. But by the 21st century, The Stately Homes of England refers to Noël Coward's parody, not to the once-famous poem it parodied, and Felicia Hemans was remembered popularly for her poem, "Casabianca".
However, Hemans' critical reputation has been re-examined in recent years. Her work has resumed a role in standard anthologies and in classrooms and seminars and literary studies, especially in the U.S. It is likely that further poems will be familiar to new readers, such as "The Image in Lava," "Evening Prayer at a Girls' School," "I Dream of All Things Free," "Night-Blowing Flowers," "Properzia Rossi," "A Spirit's Return," "The Bride of the Greek Isle," "The Wife of Asdrubal," "The Widow of Crescentius," "The Last Song of Sappho," and "Corinne at the Capitol."
First published in August 1826 the poem Casabianca (also known as The Boy stood on the Burning Deck) by Felicia Hemans depicts Captain Louis de Casabianca and his 12-year-old son, Giocante, who both perished aboard the ship Orient during the Battle of the Nile. The poem was very popular from the 1850s on and was memorized in elementary schools for literary practice. Other poetic figures such as Elizabeth Bishop and Samuel Butler allude to the poem in their own works.
"Speak, father!' once again he cried, 'If I may yet be gone!" And but the booming shots replied, and fast the flames rolled on.
The poem is sung in ballad form (abab) and consists of a boy asking his father whether he had fulfilled his duties, as the ship continues to burn after the magazine catches fire. Martin Gardner and Michael R. Turner made modern day parodies that were much more upbeat and consisted of boys stuffing their faces with peanuts and breads. This contrasted sharply with the solemn image created in Casabianca as Hemans wrote it.
England and Spain, or, Valour and Patriotism
Her second book, England and Spain, or, Valour and Patriotism, was published in 1808 and was a narrative poem honouring her brother and his military service in the Peninsular War. The poem called for an end of the tyranny of Napoleon Bonaparte and for a long lasting peace after the war. The poem is very patriotic towards Great Britain as seen in Heman's multiple references to "Albion" which is an older name for the isles of Great Britain.
"For this thy noble sons have spread alarms, and bade the zones resound with BRITAIN's arms!"
It is seen throughout this poem that Felicia Hemans is alarmed with the thought of war but her overall pride of nationality overcome this fear. She saw all of the fighting as useless bloodshed and a waste of human life. "England and Spain" was used by her to spread her message across Europe, that the wars were senseless and that peace should resume.
Female suicide in Hemans' works
In many of Hemans' works, a choice is made by several female characters to take their own lives rather than suffer the social, political and personal consequences of their compromised situations. The social context in which Hemans was writing was not largely conducive to the writing of women, as many modern readers might assume according to the poet's success. Instead, women writers were often torn between a choice of home or the pursuit of a literary career. Hemans herself was able to balance both roles without much public ridicule, but left hints of discontent through the themes of feminine death in her writing. The suicides of women in Hemans' poetry dwell on the same social issue that was confronted both culturally and personally during Hemans' life: the choice of caged domestication or freedom of thought and expression.
'The Bride of the Greek Isle', 'The Sicilian Captive', 'The Last Song of Sappho' and 'Indian Woman's Death Song' are some of the most notable of Hemans' works involving women's suicides. Each poem portrays a heroine who is untimely torn from her home by a masculine force - such as pirates, Vikings and unrequited lovers - and forced to make the decision to accept her new confines or command control over the situation. None of the heroines are complacent with the tragedies that befall them, and the women ultimately take their own lives in either a final grasp for power and expression or means to escape victimisation. The true reasons for the recurring femicide in Hemans' poetry collections can only be found in readers' personal interpretations, giving speculation to Hemans' life and cultural context.
- On the Restoration of the Works of Art to Italy
- Hymns on the Works of Nature, for the Use of Children
- Records of Woman: With Other Poems
- The Better Land
- Corinne at the Capitol
- Evening Prayer at a Girls' School
- A Farewell to Abbotsford
- The Funeral Day of Sir Walter Scott
- Hymn by the Sick-bed of a Mother
- Kindred Hearts
- The Last Song of Sappho
- Lines Written in the Memoirs of Elizabeth Smith
- The Rock of Cader Idris
- Stanzas on the Late National Calamity, The Death of the Princess Charlotte
- Stanzas to the Memory of George III
- Thoughts During Sickness: Intellectual Powers
- To the Eye
- To the New-Born
- Woman on the Field of Battle
- "Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature," 3rd ed., 4: 351-60 (2000)
- "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography," 26: 274-77 (2004)
- "Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials," ed. Susan J. Wolfson (2000)
- "Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Prose, and Letters," ed. Gary Kelly (2002)
- Emma Mason, "Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century" (2006)
- "Felicia Hemans: Reimagining Poetry in the Nineteenth Century," ed. Nanora Sweet & Julie Melnyk (2001)
- Paula Feldman, "The Poet and the Profits: Felicia Hemans and the Literary Marketplace," "Keats-Shelley Journal" 46 (1996): 148-76
- Peter W. Trinder, "Mrs Hemans," U Wales Press (1984)
|Library resources about
|By Felicia Hemans|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Felicia Hemans|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Felicia Hemans at The Victorian Web
- Felicia Hemans at A Celebration of Women Writers
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Felicia Hemans
- Her life in Liverpool and how she is forgotten in her home city
- Archival material relating to Felicia Hemans listed at the UK National Archives
- Works by Felicia Hemans at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Songs with text by Mrs Hemans