1660 - 1800
"Melancholy Amusements: Women, Gardens, and the Depression of Spirits"
Dr. Stephen Bending
This paper explores the importance of retirement and gardening in the lives of three prominent eighteenth-century women whose letters and journals reveal their ongoing struggles with bouts of low spirits. Starting from the seemingly endless literary accounts of happy rural life and the joys of retirement, I explore the far more problematic experiences of Caroline Holland, Mary Coke, and Henrietta Knight when faced by the kind of melancholic debility that we might now recognize as forms of depression. Drawing on their letters and journals I suggest some of the ways in which the garden might offer relief from dejection but also how the eighteenth-century's problematic, and gendered, language of retirement could itself create and reinforce the sense of failure, guilt and debility with which all three women struggled.