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Author: Smith, Charlotte


SMITH, Charlotte formerly TURNER (1749-1806: ODNB)

Born at London, she was the eldest child of Anna (Towers) and Nicholas Turner. The family was prosperous and owned Bignor Park, Sussex, and Stoke Place, Surrey, in addition to the London house where she was born. Her younger sister, Catherine Ann Dorset (q.v.) was born in 1753 but their mother died soon after the birth, and the children were raised by their aunt, Lucy Towers. Charlotte attended school in Chichester and Kensington but, when her father married an heiress in 1765, she entered society. In the same year, she married Benjamin Smith, the son of a West India merchant and plantation owner whose family income depended on slave labour. Charlotte had twelve children with Benjamin (only six survived her), but her husband turned out to be irresponsible and dissolute. It was to Charlotte rather than his son that her father-in-law increasingly turned for assistance with his business ventures. Benjamin’s imprisonment for debt in 1783 first prompted her to publish her verse (Elegiac Sonnets) which, after being rebuffed by publishers, she did at her own expense and with the encouragement of William Hayley (q.v.). The book’s enduring success was encouraging although she largely turned from poetry to more lucrative novel-writing particularly after her separation from Benjamin in 1787. Her prefaces made no secret of her situation and her need through writing to earn enough to support her large family. She was criticised for this (and addressed the criticisms in her prefaces), but her works were popular and positively reviewed, and she earned the admiration and friendship of numerous other writers. Her correspondence with Cadell and Davies, her publishers, reveals her keen business sense and awareness of the financial aspects of publishing. After her father-in-law’s death in 1776, she was involved in a long-standing chancery suit (unresolved at her death) when his complex will, intended to safeguard his grandchildren’s inheritance, proved open to challenge. Her period of greatest popularity was 1787-98, but she successfully responded to changes in the literary marketplace by branching into other genres—tales, a comedy (What Is She?, issued anonymously in 1799), and books for children. Having suffered from increasing ill-health for several years, she died at Tilford. (ODNB 30 Oct. 2020; Yale [Beineke], Letters to Cadell and Davies; Judith Phillips Stanton, Letters of Charlotte Smith [2003])


Other Names:

  • Mrs. Smith

Books written (29):

London: J. Dodsley, 1784
2nd edn. Chichester/ London: printed by Dennett Jaques/ Dodsley, Gardner, Baldwin, and Bew, 1784
4th edn. London: J. Dodsley, H. Gardner, and J. Bew, 1786
3rd edn. London: J. Dodsley, H. Gardner, and J. Bew, [1786]
New edn. Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1787
6th edn. Dublin: printed by Bernard Dornin, 1790
1st Worcester edn. from the 6th London edn. Worcester [ MA]/ Boston: Isaiah Thomas/ Thomas and Andrews, 1795
7th edn. London: T. Cadell, Jr., and W. Davies, 1795
London: T. Cadell, Jr., and W. Davies, 1797
London: T. Cadell, Jr., and W. Davies, W. Davies, 1797
8th edn. London: T. Cadell, Jr., and W. Davies, 1797
2nd edn. London: T. Cadell, Jr., and W. Davies, and R. Noble, 1800
3rd edn. [uniform with the 9th edn. of Volume I] London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1806
London: for the author by J. Johnson, 1807
10th edn. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1811
4th edn. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1811
London: Whittingham and Arliss, and I. Bumpus and Sharpe and Son, 1819
London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1828