“So Shall She Now the Softest Coulours Chuse/To Paint thy Fate & Shadow out thy Woes”
Poetry and Emotion in the Abergavenny Scandal of 1729
This article will explore the ways in which literary forms empower emotional response to public events, using as a case study the wide range of literary texts – published and circulated in manuscript – inspired by the notorious Abergavenny scandal of 1729. Lady Abergavenny’s beauty, adultery and death, followed by a trial in which her husband was awarded a staggering £10,000 in compensation, stimulated poetry, drama and opera, giving voice to desire, remorse, pity, despair and contempt. Drama and poetry intersect in their treatment of the scandal, and while poetry offers its writers and readers an opportunity to explore a single viewpoint, and to circulate it privately, drama re-imagines the causes and conversations, and exposes them to public judgment. The alternating prose and verse of opera thus offer us a self-contained sample of the uses of different literary genres in expressing emotion and presenting the social and moral debates provoked by the affair.