British Literary Salons of the Late Eighteenth and Early by Susanne Schmid (auth.)

By Susanne Schmid (auth.)

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Reviews remarked on the aristocratic actors, the sumptuous costumes and 44 Br itish L iter a ry Sa lons designs, the audience, the musical accompaniment, and also on the plays themselves. Parallels between salon sociability and private theatricals certainly existed: both focused on interaction, both occurred at the intersection between the public and the private spheres. When Damer opened a performance space at Strawberry Hill, after Walpole had bequeathed it to her, she may have simply taken her turn in providing the sort of entertainment she enjoyed as actress or member of the audience elsewhere in London.

Since no explicit eighteenth-century accounts of sex between women exist—only derogatory texts like satires, probably by men who aimed to discredit such sexual practices—we cannot be sure what went on behind closed doors and whether Damer had affairs with women or not. If her sculptures prove that she was a successful competitor in a male environment, her one novel, Belmour (1801), lets us glimpse another side of her, the closeted artist, whose desires may have led her astray from the path of heterosexual righteousness.

This lady had knocked at Doctor Johnson’s door; had been intimate with Fox, the beautiful Georgina of Devonshire, and that brilliant Whig society of the reign of George III; had known the Duchess of Queensbury, the patroness of Gay and Prior, the admired young beauty of the court of Queen Anne. I often thought as I took my kind old friend’s hand, how with it I held on to the old society of wits and men of the world. (William Thackeray, The Four Georges)1 A lthough she was not old enough to have met George I, Mary Berry, Thackeray’s “lady,” knew everyone of renown, was a veritable London institution for decades, and lived to a very old age.

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