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Charlotte Lennox

Charlotte Lennox, née Ramsay (c. 1730 – 4 January 1804), was a Scottish author and poet, mostly remembered today as the author of The Female Quixote, and for her association with Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds and Samuel Richardson. However, she had a long career in her own right, writing poetry, prose and drama.


Charlotte Lennox was born in Gibraltar. Her father, James Ramsay of Dalhousie, was a Scottish captain in the British Army, and her mother Catherine, née Tisdall (died 1765), was Scottish and Irish. She was baptised Barbara Charlotte Ramsay. Very little direct information on her pre-public life is available, and biographers have extrapolated from her first novel elements that seem semi-autobiographical. Charlotte and her family moved to New York in 1738; where her father was lieutenant-governor – he died in 1742, but she and her mother remained in New York for a few years. At the age of fifteen she accepted a position as companion to the widow Mary Luckyn in London, but upon her arrival she discovered that her future employer had apparently become "deranged" after the death of her son. As the position was no longer available, Charlotte then became companion to Lady Isabella Finch.[1]

Lennox's first volume of poetry was entitled Poems on Several Occasions, dedicated to Lady Isabella in 1747. She was preparing herself for a position at court, but this was forestalled by her marriage to Alexander Lennox, "an indigenous and shiftless Scot". His only known employment was in the customs office from 1773 to 1782, and this was reported to be as a benefice of the Duke of Newcastle as a reward for his wife. He also claimed to be the proper heir to the Earl of Lennox in 1768, but the House of Lords rejected his claims on the basis of bastardry, or his "birth misfortunes", as Charlotte tactfully described them.[1]

After her marriage, Lennox turned her attention to acting, but without much success. Horace Walpole described a performance at Richmond in 1748 as "deplorable". She did, though, receive a benefit night at the Haymarket Theatre in a production of The Mourning Bride in 1750.[1] That year she also published her most successful poem, "The Art of Coquetry" in Gentleman's Magazine. She met Samuel Johnson around this time, and he held her in high regard. When her first novel, The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself, appeared, Johnson threw a lavish party for Lennox, with a laurel wreath and an apple pie that contained bay leaf. Johnson thought her superior to his other female literary friends, Elizabeth Carter, Hannah More, and Frances Burney. He ensured that Lennox was introduced to important members of the London literary scene.

However, the women of Johnson's circle were not fond of Lennox. Hester Thrale, Elizabeth Carter, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu all faulted her, either for her housekeeping, her ostensibly unpleasant personality, or her bad temper. They regarded her specifically as unladylike and an incendiary.

However, Samuel Richardson and Samuel Johnson both reviewed and helped out with Lennox's second and most successful novel, The Female Quixote, or, The Adventures of Arabella, and Henry Fielding praised it in his Covent Garden Journal. The Female Quixote was quite popular. It was reprinted and packaged in a series of great novels in 1783, 1799, and 1810. It was translated into German in 1754, French in 1773 and 1801, and Spanish in 1808. The novel formally inverts Don Quixote: as the Don mistakes himself for the knightly hero of a Romance, so Arabella mistakes herself for the maiden love of a Romance. While the Don thinks it his duty to praise the platonically pure damsels he meets (such as the farm girl he loves), so Arabella believes it is in her power to kill with a look and it is the duty of her lovers to suffer ordeals on her behalf.

The Female Quixote was officially anonymous and technically unrecognised until after Lennox's death. The anonymity was an open secret, though, as her other works were advertised as being by "the author of The Female Quixote", but no published version of The Female Quixote bore her name in her lifetime. The translator/censor of the Spanish version, Lt-Col. Don Bernardo María de Calzada, appropriated the text, stating "written in English by an unknown author and in Spanish by D. Bernardo," even though he was not fluent in English and had only translated into Spanish a previous French translation, which was already censored. In the preface, de Calzada also warns the reader of the questionable quality of the text, as good British texts were only written by "Fyelding" [sic] and Richardson, the two authors of international fame, in contrast to the often mechanical "romances" produced by various names for shops like Edmund Curll's or the satirical romances appearing under one-off pseudonyms that were not, first and foremost, novels.

Joseph Baretti taught Lennox Italian and several helped her translate The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy,[2] the most influential French study of Greek tragedy in the mid-18th century. In 1755 she translated Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully, which sold well. Learning several languages, Charlotte Lennox took an interest in the sources for William Shakespeare's plays. In 1753, the first two volumes of Shakespear Illustrated – seen by many scholars as the first feminist work of literary criticism – were published by Andrew Millar, and the third volume appeared in 1754. In this work of feminist literary criticism, Lennox discusses Shakespeare's sources extensively, and she is especially attentive to the romance tradition on which Shakespeare drew. Her central critique is that his plays strip female characters of their original authority, "taking from them the power and the moral independence which the old romances and novels had given them."[3] Samuel Johnson wrote the dedication for the work, but others criticized its treatment, in David Garrick's words, of "so great and so Excellent an Author."[4] Though Johnson's patronage protected her reputation in print, the literary world took its revenge upon the presentation of her play, The Sister, based on her third novel, Henrietta. Several groups of attendees concerted to boo the play off the stage on its opening night, though it went on to several editions in print.[4][5]

Her third novel, Henrietta, appeared in 1758 and sold well, but did not bring her any money. From 1760 to 1761 she wrote for the periodical The Lady's Museum material that would eventually comprise her 1762 novel Sophia. David Garrick produced her Old City Manners at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1775 (an adaptation of Ben Jonson's Eastward Ho). Finally, in 1790, she published Euphemia, her last novel, with little success, as the public's interest in novels of romance seemed to have waned. Euphemia is an epistolary novel set in New York State before the American Revolution.

Lennox had two children who survived infancy: Harriot Holles Lennox (1765–1802/4) and George Lewis Lennox (born 1771). She was estranged from her husband for many years, and the couple finally separated in 1793. Charlotte subsequently lived in "solitary penury" for the rest of her life, entirely reliant on the support of the Literary Fund. She died on 4 January 1804 in London and was buried in an unmarked grave at Broad Court Cemetery.[1]

During the 19th century, The Female Quixote remained moderately popular. In the 20th century, feminist scholars such as Janet Todd, Jane Spencer, and Nancy Armstrong have praised Lennox's skill and inventiveness.


Lennox (standing, right, with cittern), in the company of other "bluestockings" (1778)


  • Poems on Several Occasions (1747)[6]
  • The Art of Coquetry (1750)[7]
  • Birthday Ode to the Princess of Wales[8]



  • Philander (1758)[15]
  • The Sister (1762)[16]
  • Old City Manners (1775)[17]

Literary criticismEdit

  • Shakespear Illustrated (1753–54)[18]




  1. ^ a b c d Amory, Hugh (2004), "Lennox, (Barbara) Charlotte (c. 1730/31 – 1804)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/16454, retrieved 29 January 2011 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy, translated by Mrs. Charlotte Lennox (London: Millar, Vaillant, Baldwin, Crowder, Johnston, Dodsley, etc. 1759)
  3. ^ Doody, Margaret Anne (Fall 1987). "Shakespeare's Novels: Charlotte Lennox Illustrated". Studies in the Novel. 19 (3): 306.
  4. ^ a b Lennox, Charlotte (2008). "Introduction". In Perry, Ruth; Carlile, Susan (eds.). Henrietta. University of Kentucky Press. pp. xxi.
  5. ^ Runge, Laura (1997). Gender and Language in British Literary Criticism, 1660–1790. Cambridge University Press. pp. 137–47.
  6. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1747). Poems on Several Occasions. London: S. Paterson.
  7. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (November 1750). "The Art of Coquetry". Gentleman's Magazine. xx: 518–19.
  8. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (November 1750). "Birthday Ode to the Princess of Wales". Gentleman's Magazine. xx: 518.
  9. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1750). The Life of Harriot Stuart. London: J. Payne and J. Bouquet.
  10. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1752). The Female Quixote. London: A. Millar.
  11. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1758). Henrietta. London: A. Millar.
  12. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1762). Sophia. London: James Fletcher.
  13. ^ Schürer, Norbert (2001). "A New Novel By Charlotte Lennox". Notes and Queries. 48 (4): 419–22.
  14. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1790). Euphemia. London: T. Cadell.
  15. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1758). Philander. London: A. Millar.
  16. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1769). The Sister. London: J. Dodsley.
  17. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1775). Old City Manners. London: T. Becket.
  18. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1753–1754). Shakespear Illustrated. London: A. Millar.
  19. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1760–1761). The Lady's Museum. London: J. Newbery.
  20. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1756). Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully, Prime Minister to Henry the Great. London: A. Millar and J. Dodsley.
  21. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1756). The Memoirs of the Countess of Berci. London: A. Millar.
  22. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1757). Memoirs for the History of Madame de Maintenon of the Last Age. London: A Millar and J. Nourse.
  23. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1759). The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy. London: Millar, Vaillant, etc.
  24. ^ Lennox, Charlotte (1774). Meditations and Penitential Prayers by the Duchess of de la Valiere. London: J. Dodsely.

Further readingEdit

  • Carlile, Susan (2018). Charlotte Lennox: An Independent Mind. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Browning, DC; Cousin, John W (1969). Everyman's dictionary of literary biography. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Charlotte Lennox at Wikimedia Commons