Monarchy, Meritocracy, and Tragic Realism in the Work of Mary Leapor

Anne Chandler, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 2015), 65-87

Recovery work on the British laboring-class poet Mary Leapor (1722-1746) has familiarized many people with her alter-ego Mira, a sardonic observer and visionary aspirant who champions meritocracy over inherited privilege. This side of Leapor resonates strongly, by her own design, with the influence of Alexander Pope. Another, less familiar side of Leapor lies in her focus upon mythic and biblical kings as vehicles for literary-critical and devotional reflection; this aspect of her career reveals the quieter influence of John Dryden, especially in her experiments with tragic interiority. This essay examines Leapor’s recurring treatments of Apollo and David as influenced by Dryden’s typological approach to myth and his analyses of the kingly soul in stage tragedy. It goes on to observe how motifs of divine kingship inform Leapor’s own two tragedies. It asserts that tragic realism as a literary mode was important to Leapor on artistic, devotional, and feminist grounds, and it attempts to re-map Leapor’s career by emphasizing the degree to which monarchy and meritocracy were, for her, two parts of a sociocritical conundrum.

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]