Portrait of Dorothy Gell

More interesting discoveries from Chawton House Library! Copies of EthelindeCelestina and The Old Manor House contain various pieces of marginalia left by ‘Dorothy Gell’ or ‘D Gell.’ After some research, I believe that the Dorothy Gell to whom the books belonged could be the lady depicted above, Dorothy Gell of Hopton Hall. The Derbyshire Record Office holds a number of items relating to Dorothy Gell and the Gell family, including ‘Catalogues of books in the library at Hopton Hall and of books from Philip Gell’s library now at Mr Dakeynes, at Darley’ dating from the late 18th/early 19th centuries which would give us an idea of what the library looked like in her time.

More recently, however, there was a sale of the Hall’s contents in 1989 which listed printed books in some of the sales. In one Lot, I found Smith’s Ethelinde and The Wanderings of Warwick were sold together in a collection of works including Godwin’s Things As They Are and her translation of the Abbé Prevost’s Manon L’Escaut, among others. Another Lot lists CelestinaEmmeline, The Old Manor House and The Banished Man with Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife, Stephanie de Genlis’ Tales of the Castle, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and others. A third lot contains Montalbert alongside Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote. The only novels that do not appear in the lots are Marchmont, Desmond, and The Young Philosopher. They may have been part of the library at some point but, without the catalogue from the Derbyshire record office, I do not know what the library held in Gell’s time. What we can infer from this 1989 sales catalogue, however, is that the copies at Chawton House of EthelindeCelestina and The Old Manor House did belong to the Dorothy Gell in the portrait.

There is, sadly, very little information available about her. Dorothy Gell, according to Amina Wright’s Joseph Wright of Derby, was part of ‘Wright’s set.’ He painted the above portrait of her. Amina Wright also notes that another of Joseph Wright’s sitters, Edward Becher Leacroft, dedicated a collection of poetry to Wright’s group, including Dorothy Gell. There is a little more available about her husband and her sons, who were military and political men, and Sir William Gell (her son) is noted as ‘the celebrated classical antiquary’ in the second edition of A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies John Burke and Bernard Burke (1841).

Despite the lack of information, however, it’s still a fantastic feeling to be able to put a name, details and even a face to the bits of marginalia I have been reading!


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