Speaking with/of the Dead: Hester Thrale Piozzi and Swift

In: Reading Swift

Abstract

The work of the prolific writer, diarist, and salonnière Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741-1821), also known by her first husband’s name as ‘Mrs Thrale’ and as Samuel Johnson’s close friend and hostess, is no exception to the phenomenon described by Margaret Anne Doody that “much … written by Englishwomen during the middle and later eighteenth century exhibits an awareness of Swift and a sense of his importance as a model.” In addition to searching and securing traces of Swift in Thrale Piozzi’s library and reading, this essay focuses on “Three Dialogues on the Death of Hester Lynch Thrale” (written in August 1779), a witty homage to the Dean’s Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift. In the three true-to-life dialogues between the members of her Streatham circle, Thrale Piozzi skilfully amalgamates her admired predecessor’s tone and content with the Dialogues of the Dead genre, much in fashion at the time, paradoxically creating an (authorial) presence in her own absence.

Reading Swift

Papers from The Seventh Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift

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