I have recently been thinking about the name of our project, “The Stainforth Library of Women Writers,” and the emphasis and authority that the project name places on the collector. Special Collections archives often name a certain collection within their archive after the person who donated it and/or provided funding to acquire more pieces for that collection. In this sense, Stainforth’s name should title his collection. In fact, I often abbreviate the title of the project, as a whole, to “the Stainforth project” because part of what intrigues us is the lack of research available on the curate F. J. Stainforth who acquired this very large library of books written by women. Why did he gather such a tremendous collection of books, as well as portraits and other items, of women authors? How and where did he collect the books? These questions and lines of thinking make the project turn on the biography and methodologies of Stainforth.
In order to encourage study of the works he collected as well as their authors, I am beginning a series of posts that feature a single author and at least one work by her that appears in the catalog we’re transcribing, which lists all the books in Stainforth’s library as well as the wish list of those that he wanted to acquire. Stainforth only collected work by women poets and playwrights; he was not interested in novelists. Therefore, this is a singular opportunity to draw attention to others besides the novel-writing familiars: Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, the Brontës, and other household-name women writers of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is also a chance to move beyond those select women authors that have more recently been canonized and anthologized. For example, Mellor and Matlak’s popular anthology of Romantic-era literature includes Charlotte Smith, L. E. L., Felicia Hemans, Amelia Opie, Dorothy Wordsworth, Hannah More, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann Yearsly, Anna Barbauld, Mary Robinson, Joanna Baillie, Helen Maria Williams, Maria Edgeworth, Austen, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), Lucy Aiken, Jane Taylor, Mary Prince, Mary Shelley, and more. Romanticists know these writers–in addition to Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Dacre, Frances Burney, and a few others who have gained popularity in the classroom–but by and large they receive a great deal less attention than male authors of the era (e.g., Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, William Blake, John Hazlitt, Robert Southey, and others.)
I aim to spend a little time regularly blogging about the many unanthologized and non-canonized women writers whose work Stainforth owned; right now, we (the catalog transcribers) come across many names and titles on a daily basis that are unfamiliar to us. Posts will be quite the opposite of exhaustive; they will provide a teaser or a peek into the author’s life and writing, as well as some authoritative sources relating to her or her work that can be found online. If you’d like to join us and contribute a post on a less-well-known Stainforth author, comment here, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet @KLeuner.