‘How to Grow Old Gracefully’: Advice, Authority and the Mentor in Women’s Late Life Writing

by Amy Culley

10 Aug 2023
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: This article considers what it meant to grow old gracefully as a woman in Britain in the early nineteenth century by focusing on intergenerational relationships and mentoring. Despite the ambivalent response to the figure of the older woman, her potential as mentor is frequently foregrounded in advice literature in this period. However, in contrast to this prescriptive ideal, the life writing of Lady Louisa Stuart (1757–1851) provides a rare opportunity to explore how older women navigated the culturally ascribed role of mentor. Stuart considers the vexed question of how to grow old gracefully in extensive correspondence with younger women and as a biographer of previous generations. The recovery of Stuart, a writer who barely published during her long lifetime, suggests how women’s late life writing has the potential to complicate cultural narratives of ageing and gender and provide insight into the dynamic relationship between writing and ageing.

Keywords: gender; life writing; Lady Louisa Stuart; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; old age; mentors; intergenerational relationships

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 11, supplementary issue 2 (Narratives of Old Age and Gender: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives)

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