A Race of Female Patriots

Brett D. Wilson

Women and the Public Spirit on the British Stage, 1688-1745

310 pages
ISBN 9781611483646

A Race of Female Patriots argues that public-spirited women proliferated on the eighteenth-century British stage to catalyze an effective experience of political belonging, as dramatists imagined new forms of affiliation, allegiance, and loyalty suitable to the new British constitution established by the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Brett D. Wilson examines both staples of the repertory (The Fair Penitent, Jane Shore) and lesser-known plays (Liberty Asserted, The Revolution of Sweden, Edward and Eleonora) to define the parameters of a prevalent yet under-examined dramatic mode: "civic" dramas that use scenes of political strife and private distress to stage the fashioning of communities around women. Onstage, women act to benefit the public - crucially, Wilson argues, by infusing the commonwealth with sentimental ardor: public spirit. Playwrights like Nicholas Rowe, Catharine Trotter, John Dennis, and James Thomson make the female-centered unions they imagine into synecdoches for a British nation transformed from turmoil to harmony. Restoring to view key neglected texts that portray women who feel deeply as agents of inclusion and icons of civic virtue, A Race of Female Patriots is a persuasive study of tragic drama at a time of great political change that yields new insight into the relation between women, feeling, and the public sphere.

"[Wilson's] study offers new ways to think about politics and sentiment. In the civic area, his females successfully wield the language of personal emotion and domestic tenderness. Contributing to the growing scholarship that challenges a rigidly gendered private/public division, [Wilson's] book significantly suggests new ways of reading she-tragedy."
-The Scriblerian, Spring/Autumn 2015 Vol XLVII No. 2 - XLVIII No.1

"Upon finishing A Race of Female Patriots I cannot help but praise this book as one that is smart and interesting - a truly enjoyable read. Wilson's prose is clear and thoughtful; his argument is well supported through a sample of small, yet effective, examples of works that epitomize images of public-spirited women on the British stage. The book is a wonderful study of Nicholas Rowe's tragedies, early 18th-century theatre, Settlement history, turn of the century political reform, and late 17th-to mid-18th-century moral philosophy from Locke to Adam Smith.
-Restoration (Fall 2013)

"A Race of Female Patriots offers a new and intriguing look at several understudied dramas of the period, along with an important reevaluation of she-tragedy as a genre. The book will certainly be of great interest to scholars of the eighteenth-century stage."
-RECTR (Winter 2012)

"Wilson has given us a provocative study of eighteenth-century tragedies. His analysis expands our understanding of the impact of revolutionary rhetoric beyond the more familiar political essays and disputes of the first half of the eighteenth century."
-Modern Philology (November 2013)

"Two new books, Coyness and Crime in Restoration Comedy: Women's Desire, Deception, and Agency by Peggy Thompson and A Race of Female Patriots: Women and Public Spirit on the British Stage, 1688 - 1745 by Brett D. Wilson, contribute to ongoing debates about the representation of women on the Restoration and eighteenth-century London stage.... Wilson and Thompson both bring productive attention to the cultural importance of female characters in the drama in this period. Thompson reveals a particular paradox that has escaped previous attention and may have contributed to the misogynistic expressions in the plays; Wilson, by contrast, shows why we should be returning to some of them in the first place."
-Eighteenth-Century Life (Fall 2014)

About the author:

Brett D. Wilson is Associate Professor of English at the College of William and Mary.


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