Angles of Refraction: The Letters of Mary Delany

Eleonora Chiavetta


Mary Delany (1700-1788) is particularly famous for her paper-cuttings or ‘mosaicks’ based on botanical subjects. A very lively woman of fashion, she was close to Queen Charlotte and one of the Bluestocking Ladies. She left a vivid portrait of life and society in eighteenth century England and Ireland in the six volumes of her Autobiography and Letters, edited in 1861 by her descendant Lady Llanover. Her autobiography is made up of 18 letters sent to her most intimate friend, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Portland. The first letter is dated 1740, but in this, as in the following ones, Mrs. Delany narrates her past life to her friend, starting from the early years of her life, describing her unhappy marriage, financial difficulties as a widow, and family relationships. Along with these ‘autobiographical’ letters, other letters written by her to her sister Ann are introduced, which date to the periods of life Mrs. Delany is dealing with. The aim of this paper is to focus on the textual, linguistic and content differences between the two letter types, and analyse how the identity of Mary Delany is differently constructed and perceived in the explicit autobiographical letters addressed to the Duchess of Portland, and the ones written to her sister. 


Autobiographical Letters, Familiar Letters, Identity Construction, Mary Delany

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