Vol. 64 No. 4 (2016)

Why Should Hester Lynch Piozzi Be “Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale?”

Published 2016-10-01


Our subject lived for 20 years as Hester Lynch Salusbury, and more than 40 years as the wife, then widow, of Gabriel Piozzi. Her bestselling literary works appeared under the name Hester Lynch Piozzi and yet she is recognized for her 20 years as Mrs Thrale: friend, confidante, amanuensis, and muse of Samuel Johnson. Upon her second marriage, “Piozzi” became a hostile signifier for a woman who defied her family and social opinion to choose a new husband and a new name; later biographers would recast her as “Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale,” the wife of one man, the possession of another. Meanwhile, modern critics have employed more than 20 different names, variously signaling emotional loyalty, theoretical affiliation, political correctness, or sensitivity to the academic marketplace. The naming of Hester Lynch Piozzi continues to complicate our understanding of one of the eighteenth century’s most distinguished and inscrutable figures.


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