Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The enigmatic Miss Kent

Another imaginary portrait of one of the women of the Romantic circle who oiled the wheels that allowed the men to take centre stage (now there's a mixture of metaphors)...

Bess Kent was the sister-in-law of radical journalist and poet Leigh Hunt. He was introduced to the Kent sisters by a mutual friend who knew the 11-year-old Bess was keen to meet him after reading one of his essays in a political journal. Hunt fell for and eventually married the sexy older sister but the triangular relationship lasted for many years and rumours of incest dogged poor Bess who was undoubtedly in love with Hunt.

The more intellectual and social Bess acted as amenuensis, administrator and hostess while her harrassed and indolent sister produced a brood of unruly children and eventually sank into invalidism and ultimately alcoholism. Bess herself had a legendary temper, a sometime opium dependency and made several attempts on her own life.

But once the Hunts had left for Italy she appears to have blossomed, becoming an independent woman, writing botanical books  - her Flora Domestica, or, the portable flower-garden: with directions for the treatment of plants in pots and illustrations from the works of the poets was a popular hit and the first gardening book of its kind - and carrying on a long friendship by letter (they never met) with the poet John Clare.
Few of her letters survive and she never sat for her portrait.


  1. Amazingly contemporary lives, even back then. Guess universal problems know no time frames. How interesting to be able to read about them- and hopefully keep at arms length! -Ms. Kent

  2. Wouldn't be an ancestor of yours would she Robin? I have just read that the biggest concentration of Keats descendants are in California, the least in London. Remarkable how people get around - you never know .....