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Empowering the Feminine

Empowering the Feminine: The Narratives of Mary Robinson, Jane West, and Amelia Opie, 1796-1812

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 236
  • Book Info
    Empowering the Feminine
    Book Description:

    Ty examines three late 18th century female authors coming from different social backgrounds but all grappling with a desire for female empowerment to show how supposed female weaknesses were portrayed as potentially active forces for social change.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7439-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    These reviews ofMemoirs of the Author of ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ by William Godwin, all published shortly after the book came out in 1798, express in terms that range from mild shock to disgust, the sense of outrage at Godwin’s frank disclosure of the unorthodox life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Reviews from the conservativeAnti-Jacobin Review and Magazineto theAnalytical Review, which was sympathetic to Jacobin philosophy, varied in tone, but were in agreement as to which aspects of Wollstonecraft’s life aroused the most controversy. It was Godwin’s even-handed attitude as much as Wollstonecraft’s eccentric actions...

  6. Part I: Mary Robinson (1758–1800)

    • 1 Engendering a Female Subject: Mary Robinson’s (Re)Presentations of the Self
      (pp. 23-41)

      Despite the fact that Mary Robinson was an actress, poet, novelist, playwright, and autobiographer, that she published at least six volumes of poetry, eight novels, and produced two plays between 1775 and 1800,¹ until very recently she was best known as ‘Perdita,’ the beautiful actress who attracted the attention of George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) in a performance of Shakespeare’sThe Winter’s Taleat Drury Lane in 1779. The already married Perdita’s short-lived but flamboyant affair the following year with the prince, or ‘Florizel,’ as he called himself, made her the subject of a number of biographies and...

    • 2 Questioning Nature’s Mould: Gender Displacement in Robinson’s Walsingham
      (pp. 42-56)

      Mary Darby Robinson’s novelWalsingham; or,The Pupil of Nature, though little-known today, attracted much attention from reviewers and critics when it first appeared in 1797. Contemporary readers were familiar with Mary Robinson’s literary skills from her previous publications, which by this point were already quite substantial. Robinson had produced a considerable body of poetry, was hailed as ‘the English Sappho,’² and had published almost a novel a year in the five years beforeWalsingham.³ For reviewers, this productivity was viewed both positively and negatively. TheAnalytical Review, for example, remarked that ‘the productions of Mrs. R., we have before...

    • 3 Fathers as Monsters of Deceit: Robinson’s Domestic Criticism in The False Friend
      (pp. 57-71)

      Mary Robinson’sThe False Friend, published in February 1799, was written at a time when the author was at an emotional and physical low point in her life. She had been through a period of illness and convalescence at Englefield Green, near Windsor, in the summer of 1798. Her companion and friend for more than sixteen years, Banastre Tarleton, had just announced his marriage to twenty-two-year-old Susan Priscilla Bertie in December 1798. Susan Bertie was the natural daughter of Robert Bertie, Duke of Ancaster, and speculations about the fortune that she possessed varied from £12,000 to £30,000. Disappointed, Robinson wrote...

    • 4 Recasting Exquisite Sensibility: Robinson’s The Natural Daughter
      (pp. 72-84)

      This comment about the current trends in novel reading is given by the bookseller Mr Index, a character inThe Natural Daughter(1799). Published a year before the author’s death,The Natural Daughteris one of Mary Robinson’s most self-reflexive novels. There are numerous satiric and humorous observations about the kinds of fiction that attracted late eighteenth-century readers. As was common practice in the period, the novel is interspersed with bits of poetry, but it also has a character who becomes a novelist. Robinson’s last novel does not force readers to acknowledge what Linda Hutcheon calls ‘the artifice, the “art,”...

  7. Part II: Jane West (1758–1852)

    • 5 Abjection and the Necessity of the Other: West’s Feminine Ideals in A Gossip’s Story
      (pp. 87-100)

      Jane West, better known by her pseudonym, Prudentia Homespun,¹ was one of the most active participants in the so-called ‘war of ideas,’ the ‘feminist controversy in England,’ or the battle between the Jacobins and anti-Jacobins.² Her three novels of the 1790s,The Advantages of Education; or,the History of Maria Williams(1793);A Gossip’s Story(1796); andA Tale of the Times(1799),³ have been read as examples of conservative tracts, or didactic fiction for young ladies. Claudia Johnson points out that ‘Jane West was the most distinguished to dramatize Burkean fictions with little adulteration ... idealizing the patriarchal family...

    • 6 Politicizing the Domestic: The Mother’s Seduction in West’s A Tale of the Times
      (pp. 101-115)

      Writing in 1799, Jane West, as Mrs Prudentia Homespun, warns her English readers of the threats to the moral fabric of society posed by subversive literary texts of various kinds. West, by then a poet, dramatist, and novelist, had established herself on the anti-Jacobin side of the revolutionary debate of the 1790s. She paid tribute to Burke by publishing an ‘Elegy on the Death of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke’ in 1797. Like Burke and other conservative moralists, West asserts her belief in the necessity of submission to figures of authority both in the private and the public sphere, and...

    • 7 Displaying Hysterical Bodies: Philosophists in West’s The Infidel Father
      (pp. 116-130)

      In the ‘Retrospect of Domestic Literature – Novels and Romances’ found in the July 1803 issue ofThe Monthly Magazine, Mrs Prudentia Homespun’s fourth novelistic production received this terse review:¹ ‘The Infidel Fatheris a novel from the sermonizing pen of Mrs West, and is too strongly marked, like her other writings, with the spirit of the Methodist school.’² However, in the same year, a long review of the novel was published in theAnti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, praising Jane West for going against the ‘pernicious books’ found in circulating libraries: ‘Mrs. West... openly braves [her] enemies; boldly throws down...

  8. Part III: Amelia Opie (1769–1853)

    • 8 Re-scripting the Tale of the Fallen Woman: Opie’s The Father and Daughter
      (pp. 133-144)

      Prose writer and poet Amelia Alderson Opie (1769–1853) published at least twelve works of fiction and three books of poetry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Writing became her primary means of support after the death of her husband, the painter John Opie, in 1807. Jan Fergus and Janice Thaddeus point out that ‘during more than thirty years as a writer of poetry and didactic domestic fiction, Opie was reasonably successful ... between 1804 and 1834, she earned at least £4280,’ a figure that amounts ‘to about a third of Maria Edgeworth’s earnings during approximately the same...

    • 9 The Curtain between the Heart and Maternal Affection: Theory and the Mother and Daughter in Opie’s Adeline Mowbray
      (pp. 145-160)

      At the end ofAdeline Mowbray; or,The Mother and Daughter(1804), the Quaker woman, Rachel Pemberton, discovers that the way in which Mrs Mowbray believed she could pay the ‘greatest attention’ to her daughter’s education was through the writing of a ‘voluminous manuscript’ on the subject of education.¹ But she notes, while the mother was busy ‘composing her system of education, Adeline was almost banished [from] her presence’ (257). The Quaker woman then admonishes Mrs Mowbray: ‘forgive me if I venture to observe, that till of late years a thick curtain of self-love seems to have been dropped between...

    • 10 Not a Simple Moral Tale: Maternal Anxieties and Female Desire in Opie’s Temper
      (pp. 161-177)

      Between the publication ofAdeline Mowbray(1805) and her next full-length novel, Opie published a four-volume collection of tales in 1806,The Warrior’s Return and Other Poemsin 1808, and edited John Opie’sLectures on Painting,Delivered at the Royal Academyin 1809. By the time she wroteTemper; or,Domestic Scenes(1812), she was becoming well-known as a bluestocking and writer. As Susan Howard notes, ‘her home was open to artists and writers, and she included among her friends William Wordsworth, Walter Scottt, Sarah Siddons, and Elizabeth Inchbald.’¹ In 1810, she was the ‘modern’ novelist chosen by Anna Laetitia...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 178-184)

    While I have not given a full biographical account of the authors in this study, I have attempted to integrate the prose texts written by Robinson, West, and Opie with the larger cultural and historical contexts of these works. My aim has not been to arrive at definitive conclusions about the authors or their narratives, as I consider this examination to be exploratory and rehabilitative in nature. A number of the narratives I studied have not yet received any critical attention in our time. Part of the aim of this work is to place the three writers in the tradition...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 185-218)
  11. Index
    (pp. 219-224)