If writing were an effort to me I should not now be alive, but must have
been absolument épuisée; and it might have been inserted in the bills of mortality
– “dead of letter-writing A. Opie”.’ (Brightwell 334)
The letters of Amelia Opie offer a varied and fascinating portrait of one of the most popular women writers of the early nineteenth century. Her correspondents range from the leaders of radical thought in the 1790s to the key figures in the Quaker faith in 1840s, forming a veritable who’s who of political and social life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century: William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sir James Mackintosh, Caroline Lamb, Elizabeth Inchbald, Joanna Baillie, William Hayley, Lord Brougham, Elizabeth Fry, Joseph John Gurney, Elizabeth Cady Staunton, Mary Russell Mitford and Barbara Bodichon to name some of the most familiar. Her topics of discussion extend from the domestic to the professional to the political, offering an intimate sense of the personal and public life of a woman who was both coquette and bluestocking, radical sympathizer and devout Christian. Brightwell’s biography of Opie quotes generously (if highly selectively as Isabelle Cosgrave has shown) from Opie’s letters. Researchers with access to the Pforzheimer Collection of the New York Public library are able to consult a Graingerized version of Brightwell’s volume which includes many of the original letters tipped in.
While Opie scholars have for many years hoped for an edition of the correspondence (and shrunk from the overwhelming challenge), in 2017 Roxanne Eberle (University of Georgia) launched “The Correspondence of Amelia Alderson Opie: An Online Archive of Networks and Letters.” This archive will make publicly available high-resolution images of original ms documents along with accurate transcriptions and annotations–materials for scholarship traditionally circulated through expensive print media. However, it will also draw on (in Eberle’s phrase) “digital affordances” to provide deeper textual analysis of this extensive and unwieldy corpus. Specifically, it will employ TEI coding to enable rapid analysis of textual queries based on a jointly developed tagging schema that will enable searches beyond the simple names and places necessary to establishing networks of connection in order to trace nuanced changes in language usage. In the UK Dr. Isabelle Cosgrave, who is also affiliated with this letters project, is working on the correspondence between Amelia Opie and Joseph John Gurney, while in Canada King and Pierce will be working on the correspondence between Opie and her cousins Henry Perronet Briggs and Eliza Alderson Briggs.