Anna Brownell Jameson (1794–1860) was an Anglo-Irish historian, writer, feminist, and traveler. She was born in Dublin. She began her adult life as a governess. Her friendship with the Fanny Kemble, and a long visit to Germany, brought her into contact with literary society, and she became a close friend of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, Mary Russell Mitford, Harriet Martineau, Ottilie von Goethe, Lady Byron, Charles, and Elizabeth Eastlake, and eventually of the Carlyles. She produced many highly respected works of art history and criticism, biography, theology, history, travel, social comment, and general essays, some of which exhibited a strong interest in the position and education of women. Her Winter Studies and Summer Rambles (1838), an account of her visit to Canada, is an important work in early Canadian literature.
The work for which she is now mainly remembered is Characteristics of Women (1832, later known as Shakespeare’s Heroines), dedicated to Fanny Kemble, and illustrated with her own etchings. Shakespeare she saw as ‘the Poet of Womankind, whose heroines display all the aspects and complexities of womanhood. She divides the 25 heroines of her book into four groups: the characters of intellect, such as Portia; those of passion and imagination, such as Viola; those of the affections, such as Desdemona; and those from histories, such as Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth. For this book, Anna Jameson read Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, S. T. Coleridge, Charles Lamb, and other major critics, as well as relevant European and Greek drama, and thoroughly investigated the sources of the histories. Although she makes little attempt to relate the character to context, her interpretations, many of which are very detailed, were considered illuminating and the work was received with considerable respect, Gerard Manley Hopkins placing her among the most eminent of Shakespeare’s critics. A volume of essays published in 1846 contains one of Jameson’s best pieces of work, The House of Titian.
Her other important works include Social Life in Germany (1840); Companion to the Public Picture Galleries of London (1842); Memoirs of Early Italian Painters (1845); Memoirs and Essays on Art, Literature and Morals (1846); (edited) Sacred and Legendary Art (4 vols., 1848–60); Sisters of Charity (1855); The Communion of Labor (1856).