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The Many Faces of the Reformist Hero

  • A. A. Markley
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Abstract

One of the most significant ways in which reformist novelists reworked the conventions of late eighteenth-century fiction involves their manner of appropriating contemporary ideals of masculinity in fashioning protagonists who would appeal to their readers yet also serve as effective spokesmen for their politics. To a large degree, the reformist hero of these authors’ works owes his origin to the novel of sensibility that dominated the eighteenth-century novel. Distinct versions of the sentimental hero that captivated the reading public include Samuel Richardson’s highly idealized title character of Sir Charles Grandison (1753–54) and Henry Fielding’s less idealized but more lovable hero of The History of Tom Jones (1749), certainly one of the most memorable figures in English fiction.1 The English sentimental hero was also greatly influenced by popular European models, such as St. Preux of Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and the pathetic protagonist of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774).

Keywords

Productive Member Reading Public High Society Social Outcast Contemporary Ideal 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    In Grandisos Heirs: The Paragos Progress in the Late Eighteenth-Century English Nove (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985), Gerard A. Barker argues for the influence of Charles Grandison on a variety of heroes in late eighteenth-century fiction, including Orlando Faulkland of Frances Sheridan’s Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulp (1761), Burney’s Lord Orville of Evelin (1778), Inchbald’s Dorriforth/Elmwood of A Simple Stor, Holcroft’s Frank Henley of Anna St Ive, Godwin’s Falkland of Caleb William, and Austen’s Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudic (1813).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibilit (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Jones, Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas i the 1790 (London and New York: Routledge, 1993); and Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Nove (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). For other discussions of the history and philosophical significance of sensibility and the degree to which it became a hotly contested concept by the end of the century see R. S. Crane, “Suggestions toward a Genealogy of the ‘Man of Feeling,”’ EL 1, no. 3 (December 1934): 205–30, reprinted in The Idea of the Humanities and Other Essays Critical and Historica (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), I:188–213; R. F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to Sad (London: Macmillan and New York: Harper & Row, 1974); Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Idea (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 7–28; Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introductio (London and New York: Methuen, 1986); John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Centur (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 1–56; Patricia Meyer Spacks, Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 114–46; Chris Jones, “Radical Sensibility in the 1790s,” in Reflections of Revolution: Images of Romanticis, ed. Alison Yarrington and Kelvin Everest (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 68–82; Gillian Skinner, Sensibility and Economics in the Novel, 1740–180 (London: Macmillan and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 154–86; Brycchan Carey, British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760–180(Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 1–45; R. S. White, Natural Rights and the Birth of Romanticism in the 1790 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2005 ), 41–76; and Patricia Meyer Spacks, Novel Beginnings: Experiments in Eighteenth-Century English Fictio (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 127–59.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jones, Radical Sensibilit, 2. Similarly, Janet Todd has described the novel of sensibility as “a course in the development of emotional response.” Sensibilit, 93.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandiso, ed. Jocelyn Harris (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), II:258; quoted in Todd, Sensibility, 77 Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Letter 218, To Mrs. William James, 12 November 1767, Letters of Laurence Stern, ed. L. P. Curtis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), 401; cited by Todd, Sensibilit, 91.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibilit, 225. For Barker-Benfield’s discussion of the reformation of male manners, see especially chapters 2 and 5.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Barker-Benfield in The Culture of Sensibilit discusses the way this aspect of sentimental fiction is illustrated in Richardson’s Pamel and Clariss, Holcroft’s Anna St Ive, Inchbald’s A Simple Stor, and Edgeworth’sGoogle Scholar
  8. 10.
    Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibilit, 262–63. See also Claudia Johnson, Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Nove ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), xxii–xxiii; and Ellis, The Politics of Sensibilit, 190–221.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibilit, 360. See also Todd’s discussion of the “attack on sensibility” in Sensibilit, 129–46.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    See Gary Kelly, Women, Writing, and Revolution, 1790–182 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 33; Nicola J. Watson, Revolution and the Form of the British Novel, 1790–1825: Intercepted Letters, Interrupted Seduction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 34–36; and Ellis, The Politics of Sensibilit, 214–20.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    See Eleanor Ty, Unsed Revolutionaries: Five Women Novelists of the 1790 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), 73–84; Anne Mellor, Romanticism and Gende (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 46–48; and Fruchtman, “The Politics of Sensibility,” 201. Ty also points out how Julia defies masculine power in alleviating the problems of her friend Mrs. Meynell by finding a post abroad for Mrs. Meynell’s husband and then by inviting Mrs. Meynell to share her home. Unsed Revolutionarie, 82–83.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Deborah Kennedy argues for the thematic connection of this poem and the novel’s conclusion in “Responding to the French Revolution: Williams’s Juli and Burney’s The Wandere,” in Jane Austen and Mary Shelley and Their Sister, ed. Laura Dabundo (Landham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), 8–9. See also Watson, Revolution and the Form of the British Nove, 36; and Vivien Jones, “Women Writing Revolution: Narratives of History and Sexuality in Wollstonecraft and Williams,” in Beyond Romanticism: New Approaches to Texts and Contexts 1780–183, ed. Stephen Copley and John Whale (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 178, 197.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Joseph Rosenblum analyzes the ways in which Smith’s male and female characters embody sense and sensibility in “The Treatment of Women in the Novels of Charlotte Turner Smith,” in Jane Austen and Mary Shelley and Their Sister, ed. Laura Dabundo (Landham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), 45–51. See also Kate Ferguson Ellis, The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideolog (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 76–98; Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Bronte (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1998), 35–50; Pat Elliott, “Charlotte Smith’s Feminism: A Study of Emmelin and Desmon,” in Living By the Pen: Early British Women Writer, ed. Dale Spender (New York: Teachers College Press of Columbia University, 1992), 100–105; Katharine Rogers, “Romantic Aspirations, Restricted Possibilities: The Novels of Charlotte Smith,” in Re-Visioning Romanticism: British Women Writers, 1776–183, ed. Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner ( Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 86; and Joan Forbes, “Anti-Romantic Discourse as Resistance: Women’s Fiction 1775–1820,” in Romance Revisite, ed. Lynne Pearce and Jackie Stacey (New York: New York University Press, 1995),Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    Nicola Trott, “Too Good for Them” (a review of Judith Phillips Stanton, ed., The Collected Letters of Charlotte Smit, Judith Wilson, ed., Selected Poem, Loraine Fletcher, ed., Emmelin, and Jacqueline Labbe, Romanticism, Poetry and the Culture of Gender), Times Literary Supplemen, June 18, 2004, 3–4. See also Hoeveler, Gothic Feminis 42–47, for whom Emmeline and Godolphin embody an idealized picture of emerging middle-class values in their careful control of their passions as compared to the other characters in the novel.Google Scholar
  15. 47.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, The Works of Mary Wollstonecraf, ed. Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler (London: Pickering and Chatto; New York: New York University Press, 1989), V:211.Google Scholar
  16. 52.
    See Kelly, English Jacobin Nove, 148–50. For the influence of picaresque conventions on Hugh Trevo see Rodney Baine, Thomas Holcroft and the Revolutionary Nove (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1965) 73–95; and April London, who notes the particular influence of Tom Jones. Women and Propert, 165.Google Scholar
  17. 55.
    Kelly, English jacobin Nove, 152–53. See also Scheuermann’s discussion of Turl and Evelyn in Social Protest in the Eighteenth-Century English Nove (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1985), 133–34.Google Scholar
  18. 56.
    Robert Bage’s George Paradyne of Man As He I (1792) is a similar reformist hero who is instructed alongside the reader by his reformist tutor Mr. Lindsay. In this novel Bage’s reformist objective takes shape in his characters’ debates on such issues as the rights of man and the justification for revolution, the separation of church and state, the corruption inherent to political parties, the arbitrariness of hereditary rights and property, the exploitation of the laboring class, racial injustice, the vanity of fashion, the evils of gambling and dueling, and the need for divorce laws.Google Scholar
  19. 70.
    See Ellis’s discussion of these novels in The Politics of Sensibilit, 129–34.Google Scholar
  20. 73.
    See Nancy Johnson, “Seated on Her Bags of Dollars,” 430; Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revolution (1789–1820 (New Haven, CT: YaleGoogle Scholar
  21. 74.
    See Kelly, English Jacobin Nove, 133, and “Jane Austen and the English Novel of the 1790s,” 292.Google Scholar
  22. 80.
    The Young Philosophe, ed. A. A. Markley, The Works of Charlotte Smit, gen. ed. Stuart Curran (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2006), X:433. For Rousseau’s influence on The Young Philosophe, see Katharine Rogers, “Romantic Aspirations,” 81–83; Nicola Watson, Revolution and the Form of the British Nove, 58; Carrol Fry, Charlotte Smit (New York: Twayne, 1996), 104; and Angela Keane, Women Writers and the English Nation in the 1790s: Romantic Belonging (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 103.Google Scholar
  23. 82.
    Joseph Rosenblum discusses the significance of the fact that George’s early education is provided by his mother in “The Treatment of Women in the Novels of Charlotte Turner Smith,” 47–48. See also Chris Jones on George’s personality and philosophy, Radical Sensibilit, 177–80; and Anjana Sharma, The Autobiography of Desire: English jacobin Women Novelists of the 1790 (New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2004), 186–200.Google Scholar

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© A. A. Markley 2009

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