Philobiblon: Professional women

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Professional women

The last report from the holiday reading is on Nelson's Women, by Tom Pocock (Andre Deutsch, London, 1999).

It left me musing on - aside from how abominably he treated his wife Fanny - how often professional women pop up in the apparently oddest places and times, yet somehow this is never acknowledged.

The Admiral's last sitting for a portait was joint one, for the miniaturist Robert Bowyer and Catherine Andras, who modelled in wax. (p. 215.) After Trafalgar, she produced a full-size figure of Nelson that stood in Westminster Abbey, dressed in one of his uniforms.(p. 225.)

Also, how so many women had the most dramatic lives, but left so little record. In 1803 Nelson spoke for Edward Despard at his trial for treason over a plot to kill the King and take over the government the year before.

"All Nelson was able to do for his old friend was to have his sentence of death commuted from one of hanging, drawing and quartering to hanging and decapitation after death. But he was able to recommend some financial help for Despard's black wife, who had accompanied him from the Caribbean. After Nelson spoke of the case to Lord Minto, the latter noted, 'Mrs Despard, he says, was violently in love with her husband. Lord Nelson solicited a pension, or some provision for her, and the Government was well disposed to grant it.'" (p. 196-7)
What a life that must have been.


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