ROMANTIC FICTIONS AND CASUALTIES
Marguerite Gérard, Artist Painting a Portrait of a Musician, c. 1803. Oil on panel.
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Image source: WGA
One autumn long ago, while Britain was at war with revolutionary France, whose armies under Napoleon had conquered most of mainland Europe, and the people at home were rejoicing at Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile that saved the Middle East, while Irish rebels were fighting their English oppressors with the help of the French, while Jenner’s findings on vaccination against the mass killer small-pox were newly in print, while Haydn completed Die Schöpfung, inspired by hearing Handel’s oratorio’s in England, and Beethoven, gripped by fears of deafness, composed his ‘Pathétique’ Piano Sonata, while quietly in a Hampshire village Jane Austen was writing Northanger Abbey, while readers were being introduced to a new kind of poetry in Coleridge and Wordsworth’s collection of Lyrical Ballads, and to a new kind of woman in a novel called Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft; in that autumn of 1798 while the world was turning upside down, the eldest daughter of the Tragic Muse renounced forever the man she loved.
The Art of Loving or The Pleasant Lesson, furnishing fabric, Favre Petitpierre et Cie (possibly, maker), ca.1785-1790, detail © Victoria and Albert Museum, London