Welsh Journals

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ANN OF SWANSEA: A LIFE ON THE EDGE Ann of Swansea (1764-1835) was exiled to near oblivion in Wales by her family. Yet this did not prevent her from becoming a prolific novelist and a minor poet. She was a daring versifier who wrote challengingly and interestingly on such issues of modem concern as the position of women in society, female sexuality, the atrocities of war, the plight of colonized peoples, the slave trade, and infanticide. No full-length biography of Ann has ever been penned: the most thorough account available of her life has been an article by Ivor J. Bromham, published in the journal Glamorgan Historian in 1971. For all its usefulness, this article is sparse in the information it supplies on certain key periods of her existence. Ann of Swansea's life was always lived precariously, on the fringes of respectability and poverty, a situation which gave her a sharper perspective on the social ills within her culture than that afforded to many of her more secure contemporaries. She was born Ann Julia Kemble/ the seventh child of Roger and Sarah Kemble (nee Ward). Roger Kemble (1721-1802), an actor of some repute, had in the 1750s formed an itinerant theatrical company, with which he and his growing family toured England and Wales. The family's nomadic life style is shown in the birthplace of the children. Sarah, the oldest and best- known of Ann's siblings, was born in Wales in 1755, at the 'Shoulder of Mutton' public house in Brecon, a locale typical of the resting places of travelling actors. The tavern was later renamed 'The Siddons' in honour of Sarah's illustrious theatrical career, after her marriage to a fellow actor William Siddons in 1772. Ann's oldest brother, John Philip Kemble, was born in Prescott in 1757; the next brother, Stephen, in Kington in 1758; her sister Frances in Hereford in 1759; and Elizabeth, the next sister, in Warrington, in 1761. Ann herself was born in Worcester on 29 April 1764. Dragged along in the wake of the travelling players, the children of the family suffered the consequences of their parents' necessary restlessness: five of Ann's twelve siblings did not survive infancy. The life of an itinerant theatre company was, however, one to which Ann's mother, Sarah, had been accustomed from birth. Towards the end of her own life, in August 1832, Ann, in a hitherto unpublished letter to John Payne Collier, expanded at some length on her family history. In an apparent effort to persuade him of what she sees as her family's noble bent, she offers a detailed description of the parentage and life history of both her mother and her