Curious Objects: Form and Feeling in Mary Leapor's Thing Poems

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Mary Leapor (1722–1746) has long been recognised as something of a curiosity: a Northamptonshire kitchen maid with a rudimentary education who died at the age of 24, but who also wrote two volumes of poetry. In this essay I read Leapor’s “thing poems” to show how curiosity is also a supervening affective regime in her poetics. Minor and marginal, fixated by perverse objects which tend more to derail than deepen the production of knowledge, curiosity is an unsettling mode of inquiry because of its imaginative attachment to the strange stuff lurking within the ordinary as a diminished site of aesthetic value associated with women and the world of work. Spotlighting Leapor’s curiosity—and the curiosities of her thing poems—I argue that she rehabilitates its transgressive potential to imagine a new order of things into which her work as a poet, and not only a kitchen maid, might be valued as a positive object. What this renovation of cultural codes of reception requires, and what the things in her thing poems obliquely provide, is a new ethos by which aesthetic “value” can be measured—not according to models of productivity but through an as-yet-unexpressed alternative to value’s more familiar economy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAphra Ben Online
Publication statusSubmitted - 16 Feb 2024


  • Mary Leapor
  • thing poem
  • objects
  • capital
  • productivity
  • eighteenth-century poetry
  • aesthetics


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