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Eleanor Anne Porden

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Eleanor Anne Porden

Detail of portrait of Eleanor Anne Porden, by Mary Ann Flaxman

Eleanor Anne Porden (14 July 1795 - 22 February 1825) was a British Romantic poet and the first wife of the explorer John Franklin.

She was born in London, the younger surviving daughter of the architect William Porden and his wife Mary Plowman. (Another sister and brother had died in infancy.) Her mother was an invalid, and after her older sister's marriage, she nursed her from 1809 until her death in 1819.

An intelligent young woman, educated privately at home, and interested in the arts and sciences, Porden attracted attention for her poetry from an early age. Her first major work, the allegorical The Veils; or the Triumph of Constancy, was published in 1815, when she was just twenty - although she had written it at the age of sixteen. She prefaced it with an introduction which gives a clear indication of her interests and education:

The author, who considers herself a pupil of the Royal Institution, being at that time attending the Lectures given in Albemarle-Street, on Chemistry, Geology, Natural History, and Botany, by Sir Humphry Davy, Mr. Brand, Dr. Roger (sic, for Roget), Sir James Edward Smith, and other eminent men, she was induced to combine these subjects with her story; and though her knowledge of them was in a great measure orally acquired, and therefore cannot pretend to be extensive or profound, yet, as it was derived from the best teachers, she hopes it will seldom be found incorrect.

In 1818, she met her future husband, John Franklin, on board his ship, HMS Trent, before his departure on David Buchan's British Naval North Polar Expedition. This inspired a short poem, The Arctic Expeditions.

During Franklin's absence, she researched and wrote a historical Richard I of England on the Third Crusade. Other prominent characters include Guy of Lusignan, Isabella of Jerusalem (portrayed as a femme fatale), and Conrad of Montferrat, whom she depicts as a flawed, tragic Byronic hero, in contrast with the unequivocally hostile treatment by her contemporary Walter Scott in The Talisman. She also depicts Richard's former fiancée, Alasia of France, fighting for the Saracens as the female knight Zorayda, and being mortally wounded by her own son (fathered by Henry II). Indeed, despite such fanciful episodes, strongly influenced by Torquato Tasso, her poem has more historical content than Scott's better-known novel. Her sources included the works of Joseph François Michaud and Charles Mills.

Also in 1822, her father died, and Franklin returned from the Arctic. She married him on 19 August 1823. She made her acceptance of his proposal conditional on his acceptance of her continuing her career as a poet after their marriage. She wrote to him six months before the wedding:

it was the pleasure of Heaven to bestow those talents on me, and it was my father's pride to cultivate them to the utmost of his power. I should therefore be guilty of a double dereliction of duty in abandoning their exercise.

She gave birth to their daughter, Eleanor Isabella, on 3 June 1824. Childbirth accelerated the advance of the tuberculosis from which she suffered, and she died on 22 February 1825, aged twenty-nine. She had encouraged her husband not let his concerns for her health impede his career, and he had set off on the second Arctic Land expedition shortly before her death. On his return, he married her friend Jane Griffin.

Works Available Online

  • The Veils; or the Triumph of Constancy (British Women Romantic Poets Project)

Sources and Further Reading

  • Gell, Edith Mary, John Franklin's Bride (1930).
  • Sutherland, Kathryn, "Eleanor Anne Porden", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
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