Hannah Snell: The Famous “Woman In Men’s Cloaths”

[by Laura Boyle and reprinted here with the kind permission of The Jane Austen Centre, celebrating Bath’s most famous resident and reporting the latest Austen-related news. ]

In his diary entry of May 21, 1778, Parson Woodforde (Diary of a Country Parson) notes a trip that he took to Weston in order to see a “Famous Woman in Men’s Cloaths”:


This curiousity was none other than Hannah Snell, subject of The Female Soldier; or The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell, 1750. 

Born in Worcester, England on 23 April 1723, locals claim that she played a soldier even as a child. In 1740, Hannah moved to London and married James Summs on 6 January 1744.

In 1746, she gave birth to a daughter, Susannah, who died a year later. When her husband deserted her, she borrowed a male suit from her brother-in-law James Gray, assumed his name, and began to search for Summs. She later learned that her husband had been executed for murder. According to her account, she joined John Guise’s regiment, the 6th Regiment of Foot, in the army of the Duke of Cumberland against Bonnie Prince Charlie, and deserted when her sergeant gave her 500 lashes. However, the chronology of her life makes it very unlikely that she ever served in Guise’s regiment and this part of the story is likely to have been a fabrication.  (more…)

The Mirror of Graces: the Final Blush of Accomplishment

“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word [accomplished]; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
Pride and Prejudice

The following is an excerpt from  The Mirror of the Graces, by a Lady of Distinction, 1811, reprinted here with kind permission from The Jane Austen Centre.

Title page of The Mirror of the Graces; British Library

When so much has been said of the body and its accoutrements, I cannot but subjoin a few words on the intelligence which animates the frame, and of the organ which imparts its meaning. 

Connected speech is granted to mankind alone. Parrots may prate and monkeys chatter, but it is only to the reasonable being that power of combining ideas, expressing their import, and uttering, in audible sounds, all its various gradations, the language of sense and judgment, of love and resentment is awarded as a gift, that gives us a proud and undeniable superiority above all the rest of the creation.

To employ this faculty well and gracefully, is one grand object of education. The mere organ itself, as to sound, is like a musical instrument, to be modulated with elegance, or struck with the disorderly nerve of coarsene vulgarity.