'Their lives spoke more than volumes': friendship, community, and collaboration in Methodist women's life writing, 1760-1840
The life writing of the women preachers of early Methodism provides rare insights into friendships, communal identities, collaborations, and textual sociability within a network of women writing in both youth and age. Mary Fletcher (née Bosanquet) (1739-1815), Sarah Ryan (1724-1768), and Mary Tooth (1778-1843) played a central role in Methodism’s early development and there is an extensive manuscript archive of their personal writings still extant.
These works complicate conceptions of spiritual autobiography as an individualistic practice and invite comparison with the writing of other eighteenth-century female coteries. The life writing of this circle preserves a communal history that perpetuates the legacy of women preachers into the nineteenth century in the context of increasing hostility to the practice from within the Methodist movement.
In their focus on depicting the interpersonal relations between the living and the dead, and writing an alternative history of a community, these works prompt further reflection on the varied uses of spiritual life writing and its place within a history of women’s self-narration.
Dr Amy Culley is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln and her research interests are in the literature and culture of the eighteenth century and Romantic period, particularly women’s writing and life writing.
She is the editor of Women’s Court and Society Memoirs, volumes 1-4 (Pickering and Chatto, 2009) and co-editor of Women’s Life Writing, 1700-1850: Gender, Genre and Authorship (Palgrave, 2012). Her new book British Women’s Life Writing, 1760-1840: Friendship, Community, and Collaboration will be published by Palgrave in 2014.