Personal Grief and Public Statement: Felicia Hemans's The Siege of Valencia and Records of Woman

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Abstract

Considerations of canonization have led to the reading of Hemans's ambivalence toward the suffering caused by conflict as an indictment of gender relations and national identity: the greater ambivalence, the greater the protest. This reading runs into the problem of the differences between her early period and her middle period. The middle period, more focused on individual suffering, is highly influenced by personal events, and is in many ways detached from historical context, defying the necessary connection between suffering and political subversion. Furthermore, the equation reduces the complexity of the connection in Hemans's work between domestic loss and national sacrifice.

Reading the relation between maternal love and romantic love in The Siege of Valencia and Records of Woman, I argue that Hemans reacts to domestic trauma by deferring to national trauma. While Hemans is usually seen as the poet who examines domestic trauma caused by the political world, it is the latter that is a reaction to the former. Her valorization of death and sacrifice does not simply bolster nationalism; it reflects a desire to turn personal grief into national sacrifice. Domestic grief exists prior to national demands.

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