Author’s Original Manuscript (AOM) Citation: Duquette, Natasha. “Dissenting Cosmopolitanism and Helen Maria Williams’s Prison Verse.” Women’s Writing Journal (2020): 1-17
Helen Maria Williams’s ability to engage in various forms of cosmopolitan conversation – both embodied and imagined – arose from her connections to diverse religious communities. A socially conscious Presbyterian Dissenter, of Scottish and Welsh background, Williams expressed convictions regarding what we would now recognize as human rights. Through her early verse, she advocated for the autonomy of indigenous South Americans and for Africans held in slavery. Once she turned her attention to the French Revolution, she was attracted to its ideas regarding abolitionism, women’s participation in the public sphere, and forms of festivity uniting Protestants and Catholics. When imprisoned along with other British citizens, essentially held hostage at a time of war, she maintained her faith in revolutionary principles through forms of cosmopolitan creativity. Such activity, which included listening to and transcribing a collaboratively composed French hymn, reflected her identity as a religious dissenter. Twenty-first century theories of cosmopolitanism which focus on sociability – such as Kwame Anthony Appiah’s definition of cosmopolitan conversation as imaginative encounter and Elijah Anderson’s attention to cosmopolitan canopies – can help frame Williams’s collaboratively creative activities within her prison cell. Her hospitality, transcription, translation, and poetic composition arose from acts
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