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Lyric Sociability: Object Lessons in Female Friendship in Amelia Opie’s Occasional Verses

This is an essay for a collection exploring women artists and writers celebrating other women in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century culture. It examines a series of brief poems by Opie accompanying gifts addressed to friends. The essay is for the collection “Circuit of Apollo” (under contract with Delaware Press) eds. Jessica Cook and Laura Runge.


“We think of occasional poems as single efforts, so this sequence of birthday poems commemorating a friendship that extended over four decades provides a rare opportunity to examine the sustained poetic tribute offered by one of the most popular poets of her time to a female friend. Of the more than forty-odd birthday poems Opie mentions writing, fourteen are still extant, and of these five are connected with a birthday present selected to highlight some aspect of their friendship: an acrostic brooch, an embroidered reticule, an almanac, an ivory box, and a 3-sided seal engraved “T’Amo.” These gifts are a clue to Opie’s habit of taking an object and imbuing it through lyric with some strong link to the desired presence of the feminine other. It is Amelia Opie’s lyrics, however, that hold the key to unlocking the multiple aspects of sociability embodied by the object.”