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Anna Letitia Barbauld

Voice of the Enlightenment

Winner, 2011 Annibel Jenkins Biography Prize, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies2009 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

Winner, 2011 Annibel Jenkins Biography Prize, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

2009 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

Against the background of the American and French revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars, and the struggle for religious equality in Great Britain, a brilliant, embattled woman strove to defend Enlightenment values to her nation. Poet, teacher, essayist, political writer, editor, and critic, Anna Letitia Barbauld was venerated by contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic, among them the young Walter Scott, the young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Boston Unitarians such as William Ellery Channing. After decades in the historical limbo into which almost all work by women writers of her era was swept, Barbauld's writings on citizenly ethics, identity politics, church-state relations, and empire are still deeply relevant today. Inquiring and witty as well as principled and passionate, Barbauld was a voice for the Enlightenment in an age of revolution and reaction.

Based on more than fifteen years of research in dozens of libraries and archives across five countries, this is the first full-length biography of one of the foremost women writers in Georgian England.

About the Author

William McCarthy is professor emeritus of English at Iowa State University. He is the coeditor of The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld and the author of Hester Thrale Piozzi: Portrait of a Literary Woman.


"A superb biography that brings a radical literary figure back into the picture... a thrilling, brilliant book."

"McCarthy establishes Barbauld as a figure of major significance. His magnificent biography will draw many others to her, and give her a new and deserved prominence in Enlightenment and Romantic studies."

"A tour de force... Honest, wise, original."

"The public intellectual, cultural pluralist, 'ecofeminist' and literary innovator we meet in this richly meditated study is a passionately political Anna Barbauld whose concerns speak directly to issues that vex us today."

"Based on two decades of research and a real mastery of Romantic-era literary culture, the book provides authoritative information not only on Barbauld's life and works but also on Romantic-era politics, education, gender relations, dissenting religion, children's literature, radical politics, the booktrade, mental health, and so on... Marked by accessible prose and meticulous documentation, this will be the definitive biography of Barbauld for decades. Essential."

"Some lives intersect with the major events and movements of a time; Barbauld is such a figure.... She deserves the epithet of 'Voice of the Enlightenment.' This is an old-fashioned, magisterial biography."

"William McCarthy's twenty years of work on this author, which includes co-editorship of a fine Poems and Selected Poems and Prose, has now borne fruit in this monumental, quietly magnificent biography, which will surely do as much to promote Barbauld's reputation as anyone could dream."

"The title makes an extraordinary claim—that Anna Letitia Barbauld was a voice of and for the Enlightenment. How can this be said of a woman who, until this enthralling book was written, was known to so few? [The author] presents a thoroughly convincing case for saying it. He does this thanks to his extraordinary knowledge, not just of the life and work of Barbauld, but also of literature, culture and politics from her time (1743 to 1825) up to today."

"A biography to relish and remember."

"A compendious and admiring new biography."

"One need not be a literary scholar to find this biography engaging, informative, and provocative, for it explores, via the life of a remarkable 18th and 19th century woman writer, still relevant aesthetic, political, religious, and gender issues."

"A definitive account of her life, all the more magnificent for its finely grained detail."

"An excellent introduction not only to Barbauld herself but to the politics and culture of her time."

"Rewards readers whether they are selectively dipping in or perusing the work from cover to cover... McCarthy brings psychology to bear in provocative and insightful ways."

"This extraordinarily packed, fluidly written biography ought to influence scholars across Romantic studies."

"McCarthy is true to both parts of his work's title: he not only gives us a comprehensive portrait of Anna Barbauld, but helpfully and skillfully places her voice within the social, political, and religious movements of her times. It is hard to imagine that his monumental work will be superseded anytime soon."

- Lisa Vargo - Eighteenth-Century Studies

"Richly illustrated, compellingly argued, and elegantly written, McCarthy’s biography of Barbauld reminds us that, despite our lip-service topostmodern cynicism... transformative scholarship continues to be fundamentally 'Enlightenment' in its values, procedures, and rhetorical forms."

"One leaves this biography with an intimate sense not just of how Barbauld navigated her particular worlds but also of how her interventions shaped individuals and movements in Britain and overseas."

- Arianne Chernock - Journal of British Studies

"A review cannot do justice to the range covered by a biography of this magnitude. The biography synthesizes a staggering body of research into a tale well told."

"McCarthy blends Barbauld's private, professional, and authorial lives seamlessly, affording readers a context rare in its comprehensiveness.... He accomplishes all of this with spirit, grace, and eloquence."

- Nichol Weizenbeck - Restoration and Eighteenth Century Theatre Research
Johns Hopkins University Press
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