As a young damsel, Anne Kingsmill was one of the ladies-in-waiting at the court of King Charles II. She served as maid of honor at the marriage of Mary of Modena to the Duke of York. Later, the Duke of York would become better known to history as King James II. She fell in love with a Colonel Heanage Finch and upon his earning the title of earl of Winchilsea, she finally became known as Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea. Those who move about in such elevated spheres are usually relegated to the role of patronage of poets rather than becoming poets themselves. The life of Finch was never really one that struggled to adhere to closely to traditions and conventions of expectations.
As one particular example related to her status as a poet, the Countess of Winchilsea engaged in sustained revolt against one of the most strongly grounded poetic conventions of the 1700s: the pessimistic conviction that with wedding vows arrived the expiration of any genuine romance between a couple. This convention is perhaps most broadly expressed by Tolstoy’s observation that all happy families are alike and that to be truly interesting to the reader, no creative writer can afford to take a chance on writing about happy endings which are quite appropriately found only in fairy tales. To suggest that the poems produced by Anne Finch which were inspired by the happy state of romantic union with the earl was about as bold and audacious as it could get in the world of 18th century verse is really not overstating the situation at all.
Indeed, Finch’s reputation for being a bit of rabble-rouser extended to poems of a less blissful tone and mood. Finch takes on nothing less than the comprehensive level of chauvinism expressed against any woman who dared to pick up pen and put down poetry to paper in “The Introduction.” With great wit layered over with a thick patina of outrage, this poem both reveals he insight into the exact nature of the suspicion held by men of women in the arts while at the same providing an understandable—it not exactly forgivable—justification of her refusal to publish a small fragment of her impressive output.
While many of the poems of Anne Finch hold her happy marriage up to the light for all the world to behold the glowing possibility of romance after the honeymoon, that light also casts a harsh shadow upon marriage in other poems. Attentive to her own privilege, Finch expresses a keen awareness of the realities facing women far below her own status and astutely recognizes that for most of them marriage has little to do nothing to do with romance and everything to do with mere survival at a level above the street.
Finch published just one collection of poetry during her life, Miscellany Poems, in 1713. The poems in that collection and subsequent verse to see the light of day following her death ever since produced a wildly varying range of misapprehension. Noted feminist Virginia Woolf appears to have completely missed the depth of Finch’s subversive qualities by dismissing her work as “harmless.” In the wake of William Wordsworth’s hailing Finch’s sublime use of imagery, she posthumously suffered through a prolonged period of being mistaken for a Romantic despite many examples found within her verse that utterly reject even a desire to look for harmony between nature and man.