Peru and Peruvian Tales
  • Publication Date: December 8, 2014
  • ISBN: 9781554811281 / 1554811287
  • 248 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Peru and Peruvian Tales

  • Publication Date: December 8, 2014
  • ISBN: 9781554811281 / 1554811287
  • 248 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Helen Maria Williams’s epic poem Peru, first published in 1784, movingly recounts the story of Francisco Pizarro’s brutal conquest and exploitation of the Incas and their subsequent revolt against Spain. Like William Wordsworth, who revised The Prelude over the course of his life, Williams revisited her epic several times within almost four decades, transforming it with each revision. It began as an ambitious poetic blueprint for revolution—in terms of politics, gender, religion, and genre. By the time it appeared in 1823, under the title “Peruvian Tales” in her last poetry collection, Williams’s voice had become more moderate, more restrained; in her words, her muse had become “timid,” reflecting the cultural shift that had taken place in England since the poem’s earliest publication.

This edition includes both versions of the poem, along with extensive examples of Williams’s literary sources, other poetic works, and the many and varied critical responses from contemporary reviewers.


“Paula R. Feldman’s edition of Williams’ poem and related works is impeccably presented; the apparatus is erudite yet accessible. More important, Peru is a fascinating and satisfying read, worthy of the impressive treatment afforded it here. This edition makes available an important poem in the history of the epic and of European colonialism and provides a wealth of contextual material that shows just how necessary this book is for readers, students, and instructors of British Romanticism.” — Daniel Robinson, Homer C. Nearing Jr. Distinguished Professor of English at Widener University

“Paula R. Feldman and her collaborators are to be congratulated for this exemplary edition of Helen Maria Williams’s Peru and Peruvian Tales. They have advanced our understanding of Romantic-period women writers, of the history of the epic, and of Frankenstein’s Creature’s wish to retire to the ‘vast wilds of South America.’” — Jeanne Moskal, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Editor of the Keats-Shelley Journal

“This new edition of two of Helen Maria Williams’s most interesting poems, Peru (1784; 1786) and ‘Peruvian Tales’ (her 1823 revision of Peru), does justice both to Williams’s originals and to the reputation of Broadview books for producing texts of high editorial quality which are useful to both students and teachers. As we have come to expect of Broadview’s editions, Paula Feldman’s volume includes not only highly-readable annotated primary texts, but a veritable cornucopia of secondary and contextual materials in four appendices.” — Kerri Andrews, The Byron Journal

Helen Maria Williams: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Texts of Peru and “Peruvian Tales”


“Peruvian Tales”

Appendix A: Related Poetic Works by Helen Maria Williams

  1. An Ode on the Peace (1783)
  2. A Poem on the Bill Lately Passed for Regulating the Slave Trade (1788)

Appendix B: Williams’s Historical and Literary Sources

  1. Joseph Warton, “The Dying Indian” and “The Revenge of
    America” (1755)
  2. From William Hayley, An Essay on Epic Poetry (1782)
  3. From Alonso de Ercilla, La Araucana, translated by William
    Hayley (1782)
  4. From Françoise de Graffigny, “Historical Introduction,” Lettres d’une Péruvienne or Letters from a Peruvian Woman
  5. From Françoise de Graffigny, Letters Written by a Peruvian Lady (1747)
  6. From Abbé Raynal, A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1770)
  7. From William Robertson, The History of America (1777)
  8. From Jean-François Marmontel, The Incas: or, The Destruction of the Empire of Peru (1777)

Appendix C: Poetic Responses to Helen Maria Williams

  1. Anna Seward, “Sonnet to Miss Williams on her Epic Poem, Peru” (August 1784)
  2. Eliza, “To Miss Helen Maria Williams: On her Poem of Peru” (July 1784)
  3. E., “Sonnet to Miss Helen Maria Williams, on her Poem of Peru” (June 1786)
  4. W. Upton, “To Miss Helen Maria Williams. Authoress of Peru, a Poem” (24 March 1786)
  5. J. B————o, “Sonnet. To Miss Helena-Maria Williams” (August 1787)
  6. [William Wordsworth] Axiologus, “Sonnet, on Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress” (March 1787)
  7. From Richard Polewhele, The Unsex’d Females: A Poem (1798)

Appendix D: Contemporary Critical Reviews of Peru and of “Peruvian Tales”

Peru (1784)

  1. From The New Annual Register … for the Year 1784 (1785)
  2. From The Critical Review (May 1784)
  3. From The English Review (July 1784)
  4. From The Monthly Review (July 1784)
  5. From Town and Country Magazine (July 1784)

“Peru” (1786)

  1. From The English Review (October 1786)
  2. From The European Magazine, and London Review (August and September 1786)
  3. From The Monthly Review (July 1786)
  4. From The New Review (1786)
  5. From The New Annual Register (1786)
  6. From The English Lyceum (1787)

“Peruvian Tales” (1823)

  1. From The European Magazine, and London Review (April 1823)
  2. From The Literary Gazette (8 February 1823)
  3. From The Monthly Review (September 1823)

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Paula R. Feldman is the C. Wallace Martin Professor of English and the Louise Fry Scudder Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of South Carolina. She is the editor of the Broadview Encore Edition of The Keepsake for 1829, a literary annual.