Elizabeth Bentley Biography

Poet Elizabeth Bentley was born in Norwich, England, and taught to read and write by her father, a journeyman shoemaker. Bentley worked as a teacher to support her mother. She began writing poetry two years later, and was one of a handful of working-class women to publish poetry in the Romantic era.

Bentley published her first collection of poetry, Genuine Poetical Compositions, on Various Subjects (1791), through a subscription service. The book reached an audience of nearly two thousand, including William Cowper and Thomas Bowdler. Bentley and her mother founded and ran a school with the profits from the volume. Bentley published two additional volumes of poetry over the course of her career.

Bentley’s poetry frequently conveys her views on the abolition of slavery and on animal welfare, and is often set in a rural landscape; she is also the author of several collections of children’s verse.

She received the support of the Royal Literary Fund in 1799 and 1829.