The Diary of Dorothea Herbert
1805–06 Retrospections of an outcast is the dramatic title of a memoir written by Tipperary woman Dorothea Herbert, whose experience of mental illness formed the central drama in her life. Despite this, she was able to use her talent for writing, and painting, to produce plays and poetry as well as novels and this illustrated memoir. Herbert had a haphazard education and was lucky to get even the sketchy tutoring that she had; access to education was denied to many girls in the eighteenth century. We learn from her writings that she learned French, preferred poetry and art to needlework, and loved gardening and practical jokes.
This memoir is a gold mine as women's records from this period are very rare. Not only does it provide details about what it was like to live in a rackety family home in the eighteenth century, but it also gives insight into unrecorded aspects of private life. For example, children are very often absent from historical records so Herbert's description of her childhood games is marvellous to read. The children were usually unsupervised and their games ranged from the educational (playing at being Robinson Crusoe) to the downright dangerous – the Herbert boys tried to set their music teacher alight.
Herbert also describes with much humour the efforts she and her friend Betty Hare made to beautify themselves (before Betty was whisked off in tears to be married at the age of fifteen). Their 'cosmetic endeavours' included going to bed covered in ointment and brown paper to improve their complexions.
Shelfmark: TCD MS Deposit
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