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Life Writing In The Midlands Dissenting Circle Of Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831) And Susanna Watts (1768-1842): ‘We Preserve The Best Part Of Departed Friends’

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posted on 19.02.2019, 11:55 by Rebecca E. C. Shuttleworth
Close friends Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831) and Susanna Watts (1768-1842) were active members of a dissenting network that spread across the midlands during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As political activists their writings represented a powerful voice in the campaign to abolish slavery, providing a rallying point for the direction of women’s anti-slavery networks. Their writings encompassed a range of genres, from poetry and religious texts through to political pamphlets and works against animal cruelty. The dissenting families and communities they were part of held strong life writing traditions, recording their histories across generations, and as both public and private figures, Heyrick and Watts were the subjects of various contemporary accounts. In this thesis I situate Elizabeth Heyrick and Susanna Watts firmly within their social, cultural, religious and geographical milieu, looking not so much at how they fashioned themselves in their writings, as the processes by which their identities were crafted and created for posterity by their families, friends and admirers. The starting point of the research is a collection held in the Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, which comprises an eclectic and remarkable selection of documents, from published material to manuscript memoirs. By examining the collection itself, how it came to be preserved and the cultures and traditions that led to its creation, we are able to uncover the processes by which Heyrick and Watts’ lives were shaped by their community; both how they were remembered and how they were forgotten. In these records, Heyrick as rebellious daughter looms just as large as the famous abolitionist campaigner of public record. In the life writing practices of this dissenting circle, we find not only a portrait of life within the community at this period, but a model of the complex ways in which diverse forms of life writing can work together to craft a form of communal identity.



James, Felicity; Sweet, Rosemary

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Department of English

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University of Leicester

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