SHERWIN, Elizabeth


SHERWIN, Elizabeth Poems

Joseph Bridgen, 1851.

First edition. 12mo. Original brown pebble-grain cloth, decorated in blind and titled in gilt. All edges gilt. List of subscribers to rear. A near fine copy, the cloth, save for a small rectangular mark of adhesion, is clean and bright. Hinges sound. Some oxidisation to the coated endpaper. A pleasing, unsophisticated copy of a very rare publication.

Elizabeth Sherwin's only published work, a collection of poetry and three pieces of prose. Her writing concerns itself with the role of women in mid-Victorian society, as well as education and religion. Throughout her work protofeminist themes are evident particularly with reference to domestic violence.
'The Nightingale And The Pig', is a fable of interspecies marriage in which the pig treats the nightingale violently and abusively:
"At each complaint the songster uttered, / Pig only grunted, kicked and sputtered / Quickly the gentle creature's song / Was hushed, and as time rolled along, / She grieved alone, unseen, unheard, / A drooping solitary bird."
In her analysis of the poem, Fabienne Moine has commented that the use of "animal poetry gives strength to [the] denunciation of domestic oppression and violence." (Blog post 15 May 2015, Baylor website). The same subject recurs in the introspective 'The Drunkard's Wife' in which the narrator (seemingly autobiographically) waits at home "forlorn and solitary", for her husband to return from drinking "... with maddened brain, / Whilst I, in sorrow, pale with woe, / Hear with a shudder the wild curse profane, / Or trembling, shrink beneath the unmanly blow".
These little known poems are some of the earliest overt references to domestic violence in literature, but this is presented, not as the dramatic plot device in Richardson's Clarissa or Dickens' Oliver Twist, but as a plain, seemingly first hand account.
Very little biographical information about Sherwin exists. The 1851 census shows she was born in Kenwick Park, Shropshire in 1809, and at the time of writing was living as a lodger with John and Anne Oates in Wolverhampton. Her status as "lodger" is perhaps explained by the prefatory note explaining that at the time of publication Sherwin was "labouring under a series of bereavements". It seems she had been married and was now living estranged from her husband. Mrs Oates is listed as a subscriber at the end of the book. By 1881 she was living just north of Rochdale with her niece Catherine Perkins, whose mother (the poet's sister) subscribed for 8 copies of the book on publication.
The book is exceptionally rare. On the basis of the subscription list, approximately 260 copies of the book were printed. There is only one copy held institutionally in the UK (British Library), three further copies worldwide (Virginia, Baylor, UCLA) and we can find no record of it appearing in commerce.

PROVENANCE: The oxidisation to the endpapers partly conceals the inscription, informing that the book was "a gift of affection" given by one Sarah Tomlinson (one of the subscribers) to Mary Tomlinson.

Stock ID: 39019


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