The Family, Marriage, and Radicalism in British Women's Novels of the 1790s
Public Affection and Private Affliction
This book explores the way in which five radical women novelists of the 1790s -- Elizabeth Inchbald, Eliza Fenwick, Mary Hays, Charlotte Smith, and Mary Wollstonecraft -- attempt to use the components of private life to work toward widespread social reform. These writers depict the conjugal family as the site for a potential reformation of the prejudices and flaws of the biological family. The biological family in the radical novels of women writers is fraught with problems: greed and selfishness pervert the relationships between siblings, and neglect and ignorance characterize the parenting the heroines receive. Additionally, these authors respond to representations of biological families as inherently restrictive for unmarried women, developing the notion of marriage to a certain type of man as a social duty. Marriage between two properly sensible people who have both cultivated their reason and understanding and who can live together as equals, sharing domestic responsibilities, is shown to be an ideal with the power to create social change. Positioning their depictions of marriage in opposition to earlier feminist depictions of female utopian societies, the authors studied here strive to depict relationships between men and women characterized by cooperation, individual autonomy, and equality.
About the author:
Jennifer Golightly is Instructor at University College, University of Denver.