Lyric Modes: The Soliloquy Poems of Mary Leapor and Ann Yearsley

William J. Christmas, San Francisco State University
Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 2015), 33-50

This essay is built on the premise that there are still interesting poems buried in the collected works of both Mary Leapor and Ann Yearsley that are worthy of critical attention. It focuses on the “soliloquy” poems that both laboring-class women produced and argues that each exploits the lyric potential inherent in the soliloquy form by engaging in generic modulation to both protect and enable the self-that-speaks. In “The Pocket-Book’s Soliloquy” (1751), Leapor succeeds in masking her lyric voice by presenting her soliloquy poem as something else, a “thing poem” in which a typically inanimate object serves as speaker. In this way, Leapor finds a ventriloquizing method for her own lyric voice. Yearsley’s two poems titled “Soliloquy” (1785; 1796) reveal that she is far more comfortable expressing her lyric voice in her soliloquy poems, though she too engages in generic modulation, making use of the fragmentary and extempore modes to create the lyric space necessary to accommodate different poetic purposes in each of her poems.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]