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Frances Wright

Wright, Frances, later D’Arusmont, 1795—1852

Frances Wright was born at Dundee, the daughter of James Wright (d. 1797), a wealthy linen merchant, and Camilla Wright, née Campbell (d. 1797). After the death of both parents when she was two years old, she and her two siblings (a sister and a brother) were raised by maternal relatives in London. Her brother died at the age of 15.

Around 1817, the 21-year old Frances Wright and her sister Camilla returned to Scotland, where they resided with a great-uncle, James Mylne, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow College. Here Frances Wright read widely, developed her radical political principles, and looked to the United States for their actualization. A year later, she and Camilla sailed for the United States, arriving at New York in September 1818. Her manuscript tragedy, Altorf (1819), was first performed there and attracted the attention of Thomas Jefferson, among others. Over the next two years, she toured New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC in the United States, and Montreal in Canada. Upon her return to England in May 1820, Wright began compiling Views of Society and Manners in America (1821) which attracted widespread attention. This was followed by A Few Days in Athens; Being the Translation of a Greek Manuscript Discovered in Herculaneum (1822), dedicated to Jeremy Bentham.

Another friendship formed at this time was with the marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American and French Revolutions and a liberal politician in post-Napoleonic France. Wright stayed at Lafayette’s estate, La Grange, near Paris from September 1821, and she and Camilla followed him to the United States in 1824. In December 1825, inspired by Robert Owen’s utopian community at Harmony, Indiana, Wright purchased 640 acres on the Wolf River in Tennessee to found her own colony, Nashoba. Her plan was to populate the colony with slaves whose work would be compensated after five years with their manumission.

Hard conditions, disease, and mismanagement took their toll on Nashoba and on Wright, who left the colony in the stewardship of trustees in 1827 when she returned to England in order to recuperate her own health and attract new freethinking recruits. Mary Shelley declined Wright’s offer to be one of these, but Frances Trollope saw the chance of placing her drifting son, Henry, in a meaningful career as a teacher at the colony. However, when Trollope arrived at Nashoba in December 1827, the reality of conditions there impelled her party to depart after only ten days. By then scandal, too, had taken its toll, as rumours circulated that Wright’s principles of anti-matrimonialism had been realised in open sexual relations between black slaves and free whites.

Wright wound up her experiment and embarked on a series of lecture tours, attacking wealth, organised religion, and the subordination of women. In New York, her lectures were published at the offices of ‘The Free Enquirer’ newspaper as Address on the State of the Public Mind (1829) and Course of Popular Lectures (1829). From 1830 she continued this work in Paris. In 1836, she married against her principles a former lover, the physician and educational reformer Guillaume Sylvan Phiquepal-D'Arusmont (b. 1811), with whom she previously had had a child.

From the early 1840s, Wright spent the remainder of her life in the United States, and wrote a last utopian social vision, England the Civiliser (1848), which was published in London. She divorced her husband in 1850 and 1851 (in separate states), and became alienated from most of her early friends. She died in Cincinnati on 13 December 1852.

Sources:

Heineman, Helen. ‘Wright, Frances (1795–1852)’. ODNB.

Texts

Title Published
Views of Society and Manners in America 1821

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