Helen Maria Williams by Rhea Kaur Pardesi

History is in the Making 16-18-year-olds 2nd Prize Competition Winner

The romanticism era is widely renowned and defined by awe-inspiring poets like Wordsworth, Lord Byron and Blake. However, I argue that Helen Maria Williams is as equally deserving of a Royal Society of Literature Fellowship than any Romantic poet. Romanticism has flickers of spontaneity, liberation and a fascination of nature and mythology but above else the superiority of the imagination. Despite Williams not being considered a romantic, I guarantee Helen breathed romanticism into every single piece of her literature!

Despite having a ‘confined’ education, being raised fatherless from the age of three and a woman in the late 18th century, William’s was not deterred from her passion of politics and writing. At the age of twenty one, she moved to London where she wrote (as an author, essayist and poet) An Ode On The Peace; Williams was perpetually consumed about revolution and international affairs sparked by the Enlightenment period. This particular poem consists of her habitual ABAB feminine rhyming scheme, celebrating the end of the American revolution in 1783. Personally, I think this is a mere snapshot of Helen’s abolitionism and valour because she was not afraid to publicly pillory political figures, like William Seward, who supported the slave trade despite being a Republican.

Distinctively through her texts: Julia (a novel) and Ode to Peace (a poem) achieves what other Romantic Era poets shirk – holding people accountable. Fearlessly, her agenda is to assert morality into the most inhumane circumstances in order to direct people to the root of the problem, whether that be the Jacobins of the French Revolution or European misogynists in Georgian Era. Ultimately, Helen never underestimated the influential power and responsibility that has always flowed out of the pen.

Another rare quality is how deeply devoted she is to her beliefs, which is diametrically evident when Willaims moved to Paris on the eve of the Fête de la Fédération in 1790. In her acclaimed Letters From Paris Helen documents how politically divided the city was between the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. Her valid portrayal of conflict paired with her hyperbolic style of language drove this almost inconceivable but true representation of subversion of the Ancien Regime.

Despite being from ‘Albion’, it did not hinder her participation in the French Revolution. Williams was an obsolete girondist, abolitionist and feminist – who held furtive meetings in her salon for the non-violent group as well as British-Radicals that were in attendance. This included Mary Wollonstonecraft. Helen moreover did not adopt her country’s passive attitude because she was disgusted by colonisation, which the British Empire hegemonically practised. In 1973, Helen was imprisoned due to Jacobin persecution during the Reign of Terror- luckily she was released and escaped to Switzerland pursuing her political literature.

In regards to portraying romantic conventions, Helen ticked every box. With her literature, she did more than document history, she created.Therefore I implore you, to not only consider Helen (my political icon) as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature but as a Romantic as well!

Rhea Kaur Pardesi (16) from Barton Peveril VI Form College won 2nd place in the 16-18 years category for the History is in the Making Competition. In response to winning, they said:

I am absolutely elated to have come 2nd, as an avid reader and aspiring writer this has really boosted my confidence when writing. I am only sixteen, therefore I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to enter this competition and showcase why I believe Helen Maria Williams is such an icon. So thank you very much for selecting me!

More from Awards and Prizes

Sky Arts RSL Writers Awards

Companions of Literature

RSL International Writers

Become a Member

Our Members are champions of literature. Their support makes our engagement work in schools and prisons possible and they enable us to celebrate literature in all its wonderful diversity. As a thank you, we give them all the joys of a literary festival and book club rolled into one, all year round.