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After landing in northern Wales on May 10, , Butler and Ponsonby traveled there and in Northern England for six weeks, finally settling near the Welsh village of Llangollen, not far from the English border. Sarah kept a journal of their travels, "An Account of a Journey in Wales by Two Fugitive Ladies," which she dedicated to "her most tenderly beloved companion.

Mary Caryll, who had been Eleanor and Sarah's ally through thick and thin, joined them in Llangollen after the death of Lady Betty. She was loyal, intelligent, strong, fearless, and taller than most men.

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Mary was a great comfort to the fugitives, especially to Ponsonby, who deeply mourned the deaths of the ever-kind Lady Betty and the remorseful Sir William. It was probably Mary who informed Sarah that as Sir William lay dying he told his daughter Sarah Tighe that "his illness … was his own fault that he was punished for. At Plas Newydd, Butler and Ponsonby immediately began cultivating their garden as well as their minds.

It is known how they spent each hour, each day, and each month of every year, for Butler kept journals and day books from until , when failing vision brought an end to her writing. Outside their pleasant cottage they spent many hours converting their two acres into one of the most celebrated gardens of their time. They, with the help of a full-time gardener, planted wild and cultivated flowers, including nearly 50 varieties of roses and 80 varieties of geraniums. They also grew many kinds of berries, at least six different varieties of fruit trees and laburnum and many other species of trees and shrubs.

The most celebrated botanist of their day, Mr. Sneyde, journeyed from Staffordshire, England, to advise the women on the best ways to preserve their trees and shrubbery. And just about every important book on gardening could be found in their impressive library. By the late s, Sarah and Eleanor, with the help of hired hands, added farming and dairying to their outdoor activities. Food prices skyrocketed as the war between France and Great Britain , which lasted from to , intensified, and the ladies rented an additional nine acres to grow potatoes, turnips, wheat, and other comestibles.

They had acquired a cow, their beloved Margaret, in the s; ten years later, they had a total of four cows to provide them with milk, butter and cheese. The cows were also valuable for another reason.

Extraordinary Instance of Female Friendship: Female Romance Before Gentleman Jack

On July 30, , Ponsonby wrote to her cousin and benefactor, Sarah Tighe, that "our cows are vastly obliging in doing all in their power to increase our heaps of manure. The women were also great walkers and hikers, walking at least two hours each day, weather permitting. On October 27, , Butler wrote in her journal that "My Love and I spent from five 'till seven in the shrubbery and in the Field endeavoring to talk and walk away our little Sorrows.

On their daily walks and frequent hikes, they relished the changing seasons, were enraptured by the singing of the birds, gazed at the moon and stars and read the works of the royal astronomer William Herschel, brother of Caroline Herschel. They also collected unusual rocks and fossils, a passion they shared with Josiah Wedgwood , the famed potter and reformer. During the summer months, the women spent up to eight hours out of doors each day; only severe snowstorms kept them indoors during the winter.


Indoors and usually from noon until three and from nine to midnight, Ponsonby cross-stitched and made purses and letter cases for friends and family while Butler read aloud. They very much enjoyed the works of such contemporary British writers, playwrights, and poets as Richardson, Sheridan, Sterne, Johnson, Fielding, Seward, Southey, Hester Lynch Piozzi , and many others.

Once settled at Plas Newydd, the ladies learned first Italian and then Spanish so as to read in the original such classic authors as Dante and Petrarch of Italy and Cervantes of Spain. They always meant to study Latin, but were "too busy" to master that classic tongue. In addition to works in literature and languages, Butler read aloud from books on astronomy, botany, gardening, geography, and religion while Ponsonby sewed or made drawings and maps.

Though they had retired from the world and never visited a city of any size for 50 years, Eleanor and Sarah were keenly interested in and well-informed about events in Great Britain and the rest of Europe. They subscribed to at least one newspaper and several journals, and were kept well-informed about politics and government by the numerous letters they received from friends living in Dublin or Bath or London or Paris.

Ponsonby and Butler enjoyed receiving letters and hearing about the many revolutions, uprisings and counter-revolutions that occurred between the s and As a result of their large correspondence, it was not unusual for Sarah, especially, but also Eleanor, to devote up to six hours a day writing letters to close friends, such as Hester Piozzi, famed for her travel works and her association with Samuel Johnson. Helen Bowdler and Anna Seward, well-known writers and poets in their day, were also frequent correspondents of the "recluses," as Butler and Ponsonby have been incorrectly dubbed for over years.

There was nothing reclusive about the ladies of Llangollen, for they often invited friends to breakfast or lunch or supper, delighting in conversation but eschewing gossip. One day they entertained over 30 visitors, and it was not unusual for at least 10 persons to call on them on any given day. They gladly accepted invitations from the gentry in a radius of some 12 miles around Llangollen, and enjoyed dinner parties, theatricals, and playing whist and backgammon.

The 18th Century Lesbian Icons Everyone Assumed Were Just Close Gal Pals

As their fame grew, British and foreign travelers on their way to Ireland via Wales stopped to visit Lady Eleanor her title after and the Honorable Miss Sarah, but only distinguished persons who bore letters of recommendation from friends of the women gained admittance to Plas Newydd.

Through the efforts of such friends in high places as their fellow Irishmen the duke of Wellington, Viscount Castlereagh, George Canning , and Edmund Burke , the ladies were granted government and other pensions that made it possible for them to extensively renovate the cottage, both inside and out, buy the house but not until and pay off many of their debts. They were the recipients of occasional gifts from well-off friends and Ponsonby's relatives.

With respect to class, Sarah, especially, was on good terms with the "mobility" as Eleanor jokingly referred to the lower classes. While Butler discharged gardeners "like cannonballs," both of them enjoyed the respect and loyalty of their household staff and anyone else who was an honest worker. They developed a strong sense of community, sharing the ordinary joys and sorrows of their impoverished neighbors. They were viewed as royalty by the people of Llangollen, and when their chimney caught fire in June dozens of neighbors came and put out the blaze.

The grateful women ordered them "plentiful potations of beer," Butler recorded in her diary. The cow was delivered of a dead calf, and Ponsonby wrote that "all the village came kindly to inquire about our dear cow.

The Purpose of Friendship

Butler and Ponsonby were highly respected and admired by every strata of society because they were witty, perceptive, intelligent, compassionate, kindly and gracious. Sarah was invariably sweet-tempered, but when provoked Eleanor could be irritable and arrogant. Their close friend, Anna Seward, remarked to a cleric whom Eleanor had offended that "Lady Eleanor, who when pleased is one of the most gracious of God's creatures, under a contrary impression is extremely haughty and imperious.

On June 2, , a year after the ladies celebrated their 50th year together, Butler, who had been blind for over five years, passed away. The entire village put on their mourning clothes and attended her funeral and interment. The same thing happened when Ponsonby, her grieving companion, passed away 18 months later. Save for the duke of Wellington and the poet William Wordsworth , the ladies of Llangollen had outlived most of their friends and contemporaries. In July , when the Prussian prince Puckler-Muskau met Butler and Ponsonby for the first and only time his father had visited them many years before , he referred to them as the "two most celebrated virgins in Europe.

The French writers Colette and Simone de Beauvoir took it for granted that they were lesbians, and the women are included in Paul Russell's The Gay a ranking of the most influential gay men and lesbians, past and present Mary Gordon 's novel about the ladies, Chase of the Wild Goose , did not suggest that the ladies were sapphists, yet the work was reprinted in by Arno Press in its series on homosexuality. On the other hand, Elizabeth Mavor , who read every word the ladies wrote in preparing her masterful biography, The Ladies of Llangollen: A Study in Romantic Friendship , and who has compiled and edited excerpts from their writing, believes that their relationship was platonic.

For Faderman, theirs is the great success story of romantic friendship.

The ladies of Llangollen: a study in romantic friendship - Elizabeth Mavor - Google книги

While writers of fiction are rooted in their times and can distort the past at will, the biographer and historian try to understand the past on its own terms and by a careful study of the evidence. But whether regarded as lesbians by some or as romantic friends by others, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby live on in many hearts, "above the reach of time.

Bell, Mrs. The " Ladies of Llangollen ", Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, were two upper-class Irish women whose relationship during the late 18th and early 19th century scandalized and fascinated their contemporaries. Butler was considered an over-educated bookworm by her family, who resided at the Butler family seat Kilkenny Castle. She spoke French and was educated in a convent in France. She was a second cousin of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough , and thus a second cousin once removed of his daughter Lady Caroline Lamb.

Their families lived 15 miles 25 km from each other. They met in , and quickly became close. Over the years they formulated a plan for a private rural retreat. It was their dream to live an unconventional life together. Rather than face the possibility of being forced into unwanted marriages , they left County Kilkenny together in April Their families hunted them down and forcefully tried to make them give up their plans—but in vain. Putting their plan into motion, they undertook a picturesque tour of the Welsh countryside, eventually settling in North Wales.

Living first in a rented home in the village of Llangollen , they moved in to a small cottage just outside the village they called Plas Newydd or "new mansion".

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They "improved" Plas Newydd in the Gothic style with Welsh oak panelling, pointed arches, stained glass windows, and an extensive library, in which they received their many guests. This led to significant debt, and they had to rely on the generosity of friends. They devoted their time to hosting a range of friends and curious visitors, extensive correspondence, private studies of literature and languages, and improving their estate. Over the years they added a circular stone dairy and created a sumptuous garden. Eleanor kept a diary of their activities. Llangollen people simply referred to them as "the ladies".

After a couple of years, their life attracted the interest of the outside world. Their house became a haven for visitors travelling between Dublin and London, including writers such as Anna Seward , [5] Robert Southey , [4] William Wordsworth , [4] Percy Shelley , [4] Lord Byron [4] and Sir Walter Scott , [4] but also the military leader the Duke of Wellington [4] and the industrialist Josiah Wedgwood ; [4] aristocratic novelist Caroline Lamb , [4] who was born a Ponsonby, came to visit too.

Anne Lister from Yorkshire visited the couple, and was possibly inspired by their relationship to informally marry her own lover. The ladies were known throughout Britain, but have been said to have led "a rather unexciting life". Eventually their families came to tolerate them. Butler and Ponsonby lived together for 50 years. Their books and glassware carried both sets of initials and their letters were jointly signed. Towards the end of their lives, they both dressed in black riding habits and men's top hats; some visitors thought it was eccentric and outdated — especially the hair powder — but neighbours thought the clothes were practical for living outdoors.

Rumours that they were in a sexual relationship floated around during their lives, and in , a magazine described them and implied that they were in a sexual relationship. According to Patricia Hampl , they were appalled by this idea, and objected to the magazine's characterization to the point of consulting Edmund Burke over the possibility of suing the magazine for libel.

In sharp contrast to the writings of their contemporary Anne Lister , there is nothing in their extensive correspondence or diaries that indicates a sexual relationship.