SARA COLERIDGE, A VICTORIAN DAUGHTER: Her Life and Essays by Bradford Keyes Mudge


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Sara Coleridge (1802-1852) was an exceptional, heroic, and complex human being, In spite of illnesses, addictions, and family losses, she published a collection of children's verses, a fairy tale, 20 brilliantly edited volumes of her father's (Samuel Taylor Coleridge's) works, and several essays of her own. But such a life of triumph, joy, love, success is not the one that Mudge (English/Univ. of Colorado) depicts here. Mudge turns this otherwise deignified and accomplished person into a pitiful, resentful ""cultural stereotype,"" a sickly ""ethereal beauty"" controlling others through her illness; the ""dutiful"" daughter who ""marginalized"" herself, sacrificing her own reputation to rescue her father's; an ""intellectual"" for whom marriage was a ""constraint,"" motherhood ""monotonous,"" and widowhood ""freedom""; a ""victim"" whose hysteria was an ""acting out"" of her frustrated ambitions. To support this thesis, Mudge disregards most of what Sara says, and invents or misinterprets the rest. For example, in her description of ""bliss"" and ""delight"" at the prospect of marrying her first-cousin Henry, Mudge finds ""a tone of willed resignation."" And while she blamed a ""medical attendant"" for her dependence on opium, Mudge claims that Sara blamed the entire ""male medical profession."" Such an interpretation is demeaning to her, for it was in part her favored position as Henry's wife and Coleridge's ""beloved and loveworthy child,"" a position she enjoyed, that saved her from the lonely, tormented, and impoverished life that male drug-addicted writers such as her father endured. And it was this position that allowed her to become that brilliant editor to whom generations of Coleridgeans remain indebted--for her own essays, which Mudge includes here, reveal none of that ""Romantic genius"" that he believes her female ""propriety"" or, variously, ""submissiveness"" and ""modesty"" kept her from expressing. However twisted and curiously motivated this biography is, it does vindicate Sara's own fear that someone else would write it: ""It is politic,"" she wrote, explaining why she wanted to write her brother's memoirs, ""to tell our own story, for if we do not, it will surely be told for us, and always a degree more disadvantageously than the truth warrants.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1989
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press