Unsex'd Revolutionaries

Unsex'd Revolutionaries: Five Women Novelists of the 1790's

ELEANOR TY
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 189
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442682962
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  • Book Info
    Unsex'd Revolutionaries
    Book Description:

    Using historical and feminist psycho-linguistic studies as a base, Ty explores some of the complexities encountered in the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, Helen Maria Williams, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Charlotte Smith

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8296-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    In 1798 the anti-Jacobin poet, topographer, and theologian Reverend Richard Polwhele (1760–1838) publishedThe Unsex’d Females: A Poem, which denounced the followers of Mary Wollstonecraft as unnatural and ‘unsex’d’ women resigned to ‘Gallic freaks’ and ‘Gallic faith.’¹ Among the vindicators of the ‘Rights of womankind’ cited by Polwhele are Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Mary ‘Perdita’ Robinson, Charlotte Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Ann Yearsley, Mary Hays, Angelica Kauffman, and Emma Crewe. On the opposite side of the spectrum, headed by Hannah More, are mild and sweet models of ‘female genius’ such as Mary Wortley Montague, Elizabeth Carter, Anna Seward, Hester Thrale...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Female Confinement Literalized: The Wrongs of Woman; or, Maria
    (pp. 31-45)

    While the heroine of Mary Wollstonecraft’s first novel,Mary,a Fiction, suffers from a vaguely defined form of spiritual deprivation, the protagonist of her second and last novel,The Wrongs of Woman(1798), is besieged by physical, economic, and emotional distresses. As the title suggests, the book is a conscious attempt to fictionalize and thematize Wollstonecraft’s ideas about the injustices or ‘wrongs’ from which women suffer. Though the work is influenced by a male author’s novel, William Godwin’sThings As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams(1794), it is one of the clearest instances of what Margaret Homans...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Breaking the ‘Magic Circle’: From Repression to Effusion in Memoirs of Emma Courtney
    (pp. 46-59)

    In the preface to her first novel Mary Hays contends that ‘the most interesting, and the most useful fictions’ are those that delineate ‘the progress’ and trace ‘the consequences of one strong, indulged passion or prejudice.’¹ ThatEmma Courtneywas to be about the perils of a woman’s excessive passion is evident from Hays’s defensive attitude towards her heroine:

    I meant to represent her, as a human being, loving virtue while enslaved by passion, liable to the mistakes and weaknesses of our fragile nature ... the errors of my heroine were the offspring of sensibility; and ... The result of...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Mother and Daughter: The Dangers of Replication in The Victim of Prejudice
    (pp. 60-72)

    Despite its contradictory message towards freedom of expression and excessive feelingEmma Courtneymaintained the hope shared by the radical intellectuals of the 1790s that the example of the French Revolution would bring about change in England. By the time Mary Hays wrote her second novel,The Victim of Prejudice(1799), however, this glimmer of hope was fast disappearing. Hays was much more pessimistic in her attitude at the close of the revolutionary decade, and this outlook resulted in a novel less idealistic and more sombre in tone than her first one. In spirit and intentVictim of Prejudiceis...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Resisting the Phallic: A Return to Maternal Values in Julia
    (pp. 73-84)

    In the previous chapters we have seen how a woman writer’s connection with the pre-Oedipal world, or what Kristeva calls the semiotic, influences her use of language. The unsevered link with the maternal binds both Wollstonecraft and Hays in certain ways to literal meaning. In their fiction which actively engages in feminist politics, this attachment to the literal becomes a strength rather than a weakness as the realization of metaphors and the physical rendering of female fears serve to heighten what the authors saw as the power of the Law of the Father and to demonstrate the dangers of the...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Disruption and Containment: The Mother and Daughter in A Simple Story
    (pp. 85-100)

    Elizabeth Inchbald’s first novel was written over a period of a little more than a decade; the first part was begun around 1778, and the second finished by 1789. It has been described as ‘autobiographical’ and ‘pre-Jacobin,’¹ but I want to argue that this work, especially when considered in its entirety as a combination of two parts, shows interesting affinities with the writing of the revolutionary and outspoken feminists of the 1790s. Like the heroines in Wollstonecraft’sThe Wrongs of Woman; or, Maria(1797) and Hays’sMemoirs of Emma Courtney(1796) Inchbald’s Miss Milner is a woman who refuses to...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Resisting the Symbolic: Exile and Exclusion in Nature and Art
    (pp. 101-114)

    Elizabeth Inchbald’s second novel,Nature and Art, which Gary Kelly says ‘was written at the height of liberal ferment in England’ and is the author’s ‘thoroughly Jacobin novel,’¹ is one of the few works of this study with male rather than female protagonists. This use of the masculine perspective may have resulted from the novel’s being inspired, according to Kelly, ‘not by [Inchbald’s] personal experience as a woman, wife, and daughter, but by her experiences amongst the liberals and men of letters of London in the 1790S.’² Inchbald may also have felt the need for distancing in this work, which...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Contradictory Narratives: Feminine Ideals in Emmeline
    (pp. 115-129)

    Like Wollstonecraft’sMary,a Fictionand Inchbald’sA Simple StoryCharlotte Smith’s first novel,Emmeline; or, The Orphan of the Castle, may be considered a pre-revolutionary novel because of its composition and publication date of 1788. Yet in this early work Smith already demonstrates a strong feminist sensibility because she, like Wollstonecraft, Hays, and Inchbald, does not hesitate to criticize patriarchy and its ideals, especially the belief in the male figure of authority. Unlike the other more radical and outspoken writers we have examined, Smith often takes an oblique approach in her critique. The reasons for this caution or indirectness...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Revolutionary Politics: Domesticity and Monarchy in Desmond
    (pp. 130-142)

    The criticism of patriarchy which was only implied inEmmelinebecomes explicit inDesmond. Published in 1792 during the reactionary period following the French Revolution,Desmondis perhaps the most overtly political of Smith’s many novels. That the author was aware of the ideological implications of her book is revealed in the Preface, where she states: ‘I feel some degree of that apprehension which an Author is sensible of on a first publication ... in sending into the world a work so unlike those of my former writings.’¹ Smith’s hesitation can be attributed to several reasons. Firstly, as Diana Bowstead...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Celebrating the Ex-Centric: Maternal Influence in The Young Philosopher
    (pp. 143-154)

    Though one early critic has categorized Charlotte Smith’sThe Young Philosopher(1798) as marking the third stage of English revolutionism – from initial sympathy with the French reformers, to reaction against the excesses of Robespierre, and finally to a reflective overview of the revolution as a whole, by which time Smith, having ‘lost faith in reform,’ is now a ‘philosophic Revolutionist’¹ – the novel is still very much a tribute to radicalism, to revolution or change, though no longer linked specifically to France, and to what I have termed the ‘excentric,’ the out of the ordinary as well as the...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 155-156)

    This book has been an effort to study how five women novelists of the 1790s attempted to challenge and reform what they perceived to be a male-dominated and androcentric society. In particular, reacting to the liberating ideals of the French Revolution of 1789, and the Burkean conservative response to this event, these writers drew parallels between the domestic and the political, between the private and the public, in their fiction. In doing so, they showed that the problem of female subjectivity, the construction of ‘woman’ in eighteenth-century culture was not one of limited interest, but one that could involve the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 157-182)
  17. Index
    (pp. 183-189)