Mothers of the Nation

Overview

British women writers were enormously influential in the creation of public opinion and political ideology during the years from 1780 to 1830. Anne Mellor demonstrates the many ways in which they attempted to shape British public policy and cultural behavior in the areas of religious and governmental reform, education, philanthropy, and patterns of consumption. She argues that the theoretical paradigm of the "doctrine of the separate spheres"may no longer be valid. According to this view, British society was ...

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Overview

British women writers were enormously influential in the creation of public opinion and political ideology during the years from 1780 to 1830. Anne Mellor demonstrates the many ways in which they attempted to shape British public policy and cultural behavior in the areas of religious and governmental reform, education, philanthropy, and patterns of consumption. She argues that the theoretical paradigm of the "doctrine of the separate spheres"may no longer be valid. According to this view, British society was divided into distinctly differentiated and gendered spheres of public versus private activities in the 18th and 19th centuries,

Surveying all the genres of literature—drama, poetry, fiction, non-fiction prose, and literary criticism—Mellor shows how women writers promoted a new concept of the ideal woman as rationally educated, sexually self-disciplined, and above all, virtuous. This New Woman, these writers said, was better suited to govern the nation than were its current fiscally irresponsible, lecherous, and corruptible male rulers.

Beginning with Hannah More, Mellor argues that women writers too often dismissed as conservative or retrogressive instead promoted a revolution in cultural mores or manners. She discusses writers as diverse as Elizabeth Inchbald, Hannah Cowley, and Joanna Baillie; as Charlotte Smith, Anna Barbauld, and Lucy Aikin; as Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Reeve, and Anna Seward; and concludes with extended analyses of Charlotte Smith's Desmond and Jane Austen's Persuasion. She thus documents women writers' full participation in that very discursive public sphere which Habermas so famously restricted to men of property. Moreover, the new career of philanthropy defined by Hannah More provided a practical means by which women of all classes could actively construct a new British civil society, and thus become the mothers not only of individual households but of the nation as a whole.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

"... this bracing and important work of revision deserves a place in serious academic libraries serving both undergraduates and advanced scholars." —Choice, December 2002

Studies in Romanticism

"... furthers our ability to have richer, more complex conversations about romanticera women authors and the public sphere." —Studies in Romanticism

Choice - D. L. Patey

Intellectual and social historians (and not just feminists) have long believed that the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain saw an increasing separation of the male (public) and female (domestic) realms, with the result that the public sphere theorized by Jurgen Habermas and others to have emerged in the Enlightenment almost entirely excluded women. With energy, wit, and admirable command of her sources, Mellor (UCLA), author of distinguished books on Romanticism (English Romantic Irony, CH, Feb'81, and Romanticism and Gender, CH, Jul'93, to name just two), demonstrates that just the opposite was true: in the years around 1800, women became the primary producers and consumers of writing in Britain and vitally participated in the discursive public sphere—many arguing in their different ways for what Hannah More (the most popular author of the period) called a moral revolution in the national manners and principles. Though Mellor's splendid survey of women novelists, poets, critics, playwrights, and social theorists would profit from a surer grasp of these writers' Augustan forebears and the author probably goes too far in positing a distinctive female epistemology for them, this bracing and important work of revision deserves a place in serious academic libraries serving both undergraduates and advanced scholars.D. L. Patey, Smith College, Choice, December

From the Publisher
"... this bracing and important work of revision deserves a place in serious academic libraries serving both undergraduates and advanced scholars." —Choice, December 2002
Choice

"... this bracing and important work of revision deserves a place in serious academic libraries serving both undergraduates and advanced scholars." —Choice, December 2002

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253213693
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2002
  • Series: Women of Letters Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Women and the Public Sphere in England, 1780-1830
1. Hannah More, Revolutionary Reformer
2. Theatre as the School of Virtue
3. Women's Political Poetry
4. Literary Criticism, Cultural Authority, and The Rise of the Novel
5. The Politics of Fiction
Desmond
Persuasion
Postscript: The Politics of Modernity

Notes
Works Cited
Index

Indiana University Press

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