Wolverhampton BTW

Anna Brownell Jameson

Jameson, Anna Brownell née Murphy, 1794—1860

by Benjamin Colbert

Anna Brownell Jameson, née Murphy, was born on 19 May 1794 at Dublin, the eldest of the five daughters of Denis Brownell Murphy (d. 1842; ODNB), an Irish artist, and Johanna (‘Minnie’) Murphy, an Englishwoman. At an early age, she relocated with her family to London where she was educated at home, learning the techniques of art from her father.

After having played the principal role in educating her younger sisters, Jameson found work at sixteen as a governess in the family of the marquess of Winchester. Around the same time, she published the first instalment of her A First or Mother’s Dictionary for Children (1810), a vocabulary primer which would be expanded and updated until 1830.

From 1819 to 1821, Jameson became governess for the Rowles family of Bradbourne Park, Kent, and accompanied them on tours through continental Europe. From 1822 to 1825 she worked for the Littleton family of Teddesley, Staffordshire, an appointment relinquished when she married the barrister, Robert Sympson Jameson (1798-1854). Robert Jameson had extensive literary connections and encouraged Anna Jameson in her own ambitions, resulting in the publication of her A Lady’s Diary (1826), a fictional account of the travels and early death of its romantic heroine and supposed author, actually based on Jameson’s own experiences on the continent. Republished the same year as Diary of an Ennuyée - and at first taking in readers who mourned the death of its author - the book brought recognition to Anna Jameson and effectively launched her career as a writer.

Notwithstanding her husband’s literary support, their marriage was not a success. When Robert Jameson accepted a judgeship in Dominica in 1829, Anna Jameson did not accompany him and travelled to Germany instead, where she became friends with Ottilie von Goethe, daughter-in-law of the poet (whom Jameson never met). In subsequent years, Anna Jameson supported herself, several of her sisters, and their dependents, through her writings on art criticism, travel, biography, and women’s causes, earning a reputation as one of the foremost authors of the period.

Her German sojourns between 1829 and 1833 resulted in her first non-fictional travel book, Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad (1834), but it is one which relies on fictional technique (volume 1 is structured as a dialogue) and Jameson published a new edition of Diary of an Ennuyée in volume 4. In 1836-37, she travelled to Canada where her husband had been appointed Attorney General in 1833. Her purpose was partly to help him secure promotion by creating an illusion of domestic stability, and partly to use the opportunity to travel. Back in London, their separation formalized, she turned the interlude to account with Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838), which included a portrait of the stultifying social culture of Toronto that was removed from subsequent editions.

While none of the seventeen books she published after Winter Studies are purely travel writings, Jameson continued to frequent the continent, residing almost as much abroad as in London. In one of the more celebrated episodes of her travelling life, she met her friends Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning at Paris on their elopement tour in 1846, and accompanied them to Italy, providing a first-hand account in her letters to Lady Byron.

Anna Jameson died at London on 17 March 1860. One of her last letters to ‘the editors of the Handbook of Contemporary Biography’, dated 1 February of that year, reveals a woman determined to correct ‘errors in point of fact’ and to set the record of her own life straight.


Jameson, Anna Brownell. Letter to ‘Editors of the Handbook of Contemporary Biography’, 1 Feb. 1860. Add MS 28510. British Lib., London.

Johnston, Judith. 'Jameson [née Murphy], Anna Brownell (1794–1860), writer and art historian'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Oxford University Press. Web. 29 Nov. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/14631

Phelps, Deborah L. 'Anna Jameson'. British Travel Writers, 1837-1875. Ed. Barbara Brothers and Julia Gergits. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 166. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 1996. 184-90. Print.


Title Published
Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad 1834
Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada 1838

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