An 18th Century diarist, Anna Larpent’s diary gives a look into Georgian life. She was the daughter of a diplomat. She served as the de facto assistant Examiner of Plays during her time. At age 18, Larpent pulished a 32-page account of the bigamy trial of Elizabeth Pierrepont, Duchess of Kingston-upon-Hull at Westminster Hall, an event well-attended by those of both the middling and the aristocracy. The manuscript is one of the first of those written by a woman for other women.
On 25 April 1782 she married a widower who she hoped would care for her and her younger sister Clara, who she had adopted. Her husband, John Larpent, was the Inspector of Plays serving as the single approver of plays that were to be performed in Britain. Anna was the de facto assistant to him. When the plays were written in French or Italian then she had the skills to be able comprehend them. Larpent was interested in her work and she was a fan of Elizabeth Inchbald, an English novelist, actress, and dramatist. Inchbald’s play Lovers’ Vows (1798) was featured as a focus of moral controversy by Jane Austen in her novel Mansfield Park.
Fiona Ritchie of McGill University in her piece entitled “Anna Larpent and Shakespeare,” tells us, “Anna Margaretta Larpent, née Porter (1758-1832) is a crucial figure in theater history and the reception of Shakespeare since drama was a central part of her life. Larpent was the daughter of Sir James Porter, the British ambassador at Constantinople, and his wife Clarissa Catherine, the eldest daughter of the Dutch ambassador there. After spending her early childhood in Turkey, Larpent returned to England with her family in 1765. Her mother died soon after but Larpent and her siblings enjoyed a cultured upbringing, ‘socializing with politicians and intellectuals, attending the theatre, and visiting historic landmarks.’ In 1782 she married John Larpent, who held the post of Examiner of Plays in the Office of the Lord Chamberlain from 1778 to 1824. Larpent “served as a sort of co-censor” with her husband and thus influenced the licensing of drama for the London stage.1 She was a meticulous diarist: the Huntington Library holds sixteen volumes of her journal, covering the period 1790 to 1830, plus a further retrospective volume for the years 1773 to 1786.2 These diaries shed significant light on the part Shakespeare played in her life and contain her detailed opinions of his works as she experienced them both on the page and on the stage in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London.”
According to Alan Taylor at Bristish History Georgian Lives, Larpent’s diary “entries show the activities and thoughts of an intelligent woman of the ‘middling’ class living in London. Daughter of a diplomat she had a very full active and family life – for instance on the 9th April 1792 her diary records that after rising at 7.30am that morning she read two chapters of Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’, tutored her sons in literature and Latin, accompanied them to see a Kangaroo on exhibit from Botany Bay (which she described in detail) and then went on to look at a number of mechanical reproductions of portrait paintings at Schomberg House. Having sat down with her husband for dinner at 3 o’clock they both then went to see two comedies at Convent Garden Theatre which lasted into the evening. Anna would be perhaps described today as ‘having to all’ as she even had a job as an Examiner of Plays, a powerful position as they recommended to the Lord Chamberlain whether plays could be licensed or not and in her diaries she makes frequent comments, both good and bad, about the many plays she saw. Her interests even extended to philosophical matters especially as to what was meant by ‘taste’ -she had many conversations with her friends as to conflict between lifestyles in which the main aim was ‘pleasure’ as opposed to cultivating a sensibility especially in the appreciation of the arts.
“Anna was not alone -in the late 18th Century critics recognised the increasing contribution of women to English culture. There were many female writers, painters, actors and musicians – for instance between 1750 and 1770 six of the twenty most popular novelists were women and in 1777 the painter Richard Samuel engraved a group portrait of ‘the Nine Living Muses of Great Britain’ which included Angelika Kauffmann, Anna Baubauld, Catharine Macaulay and the leader of the London Bluestockings, Elizabet Montagu. Of course not all agreed with this type of woman criticising them for seeking fame and fortune rather than being a good wife and mother!”
L. W. Conolly published an article entitled “The Censor’s Wife at the Theatre,” which he discusses the role Anna Larpent played in her husband’s success.
Larpent recorded such mundane facts as the time she went to bed, arose in the morning, what she had to eat, her daily prayers, names and comments on the books she read, something of her family, and her husband’s job in theatre licensing. The diary reads very much like a Facebook page these days, plus or minus the political rhetoric.
Brodie Waddell shared this excerpt and this image on The Many Headed Monster.
In the first week of February 1792, she recorded the following:
1792 In Newman Street London
February 1st Wednesday Rose at 8. Breakfasted. Settled much family business above to London for the Winter, came there to dinner. Our Waggon followed us. We dined near 5. Evening I wrote to Farquhar concerning my sister … to miss Garmeaux on the business of her his Lord Neice coming to town &c. Tea rest of the Evning worked &c. Tired.
February 2nd Thursday Rose at 8. Breakfasted. Very busy in family matters and teaching myself. Received the Miss Fanshawes dressed. Evening made a White Silk petticoat then tea. I then red through the Critical Review &c. prayed went to bed after.
February 3rd Friday Rose at 8. Red part of one of Christie’s Letters on the French Revolution. Breakfasted. Taught George to read, spell, write, learn Latin &c. then drove out saw old Mrs Larpent. Mrs & Mis. Crofter. I called at Shops. Dined. Wrote the Journal of the preceding day. Red Christie. Worked. Prayed to bed at 11.
February 4th Saturday Rose at 8. Prayed. Red part of Christie’s letters. Breakfasted. Taught George to spell, read & Latin. Drove to mrs Jeffrey’s saw her then to Mrs Larpent Kennington Green. Only returned to dinner. Eveng worked part of a flounce for my sister. Then wrote to Mrs Pickering about getting a Servant. Rest of ye Eveng Chatted prayed to bed at 11.
February 5th Sunday Rose at 8. Prayed. Breakfasted. Attended divine service at St Anns. Mr Eten preached on Providence, on the Gospel System as proving that providence. That dispensation was finely traced – returned home. Recd. Mr and Mrs Planta, Mr S. Sargent. Mrs Belson & her family. We then went out. Saw Miss Fanshawe, Miss Buchanan and Mrs Beaver. Returned home to dinner. Dined. Eveng till tea red the Bible. Psalms. Corinthians. & 2d – through & two Chapters of Matthew. Then copied the journal of a fortnight past in this book. Prayers. To bed at 11.