SEM 25/03/22, Daniel Starza Smith (KCL) et Leah Veronese (Balliol College, Oxford), “Reading the Letters of Elizabeth Bourne”

We are pleased to invite you to the third session of the Paris Early Modern Seminar (PEMS) for 2022, which will be held both in person and online on March 25, 2022 from 5.30 to 7pm (Paris time). We will meet in Room D116, Maison de la Recherche Sorbonne Université, 28 rue Serpente, 75006 Paris.

The session will also be streamed via Zoom : 

(ID de réunion : 856 0991 5482 / Code secret : 641715)


Daniel Starza Smith (KCL) & Leah Veronese (Balliol College, Oxford)

Reading the Letters of Elizabeth Bourne (1549-1599)

Respondents: Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise & Aurélie Griffin (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)


Daniel Starza Smith is Lecturer in Early Modern English Literature (1500–1700) at King’s College London, having previously held roles at University College London, the University of Reading, and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he was British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow. His books include John Donne and the Conway Papers (Oxford University Press, 2014) and, edited with Joshua Eckhardt, Manuscript Miscellanies in Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2014). His recent articles investigate the anonymous Melbourne Manuscript and a newly discovered manuscript of John Donne’s Catalogus Librorum. With Jana Dambrogio he is co-director of the Unlocking History research group, researching letterlocking.


Leah Veronese is undertaking her AHRC-funded DPhil in the rhetoric of early modern petition at Balliol College, Oxford. She has worked as a research intern at Lambeth Palace Library and as a research assistant for the Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne and Gateway to Early Modern Manuscripts projects. 



The virtually unknown writings of Elizabeth Bourne (née Horne, c.1549–99) present remarkable but frustratingly opaque opportunities to explore the creative interior life of an Elizabethan woman – albeit one in extraordinary circumstances. Subject to severe domestic violence from her husband, Bourne fought for her rights, escaped the family home, and found a source of protection in a legal guardian, Sir John Conway – with whom she then fell in love and conducted a clandestine affair. Her letters and other writings record her grief, desires, and ingenuity in ways that seem strikingly immediate. In her remarkable correspondence with Conway, which included the exchange of books and poetry, Bourne’s letters pick up tropes of literary forms including romance, dream visions, Latin translation, coded sexual fantasy, and even kinds of intelligence activity. Bursts of verse, including epigrammatically riddling pseudonymous signatures, stud her prose, and she repeatedly plays with the language and imagery of Conway’s own letters to her. Forced from her home into hiding and finding herself in the midst of an adulterous affair, Bourne used her letters to craft a literary space within which she could finally imagine passion, peace, and happiness. Those letters were themselves subject to misogynistic archival violence in the nineteenth century and come down to us almost by accident: they were labelled as being ‘of no importance’ and almost burned. This paper will set out the unique literary achievements they preserve for the first time.