Passions of the Mind: The Moral Martyrdom of Emma Courtney
This chapter argues that the female philosopher as Mary Hays sees her is a fundamentally tragic figure: self-conscious, self-aware, and self-destructive. The unstable superimposition of rationality onto sensibility makes the novel’s autobiographical protagonist into a philosopher and allows her to understand the world in ways denied to ordinary women. However, sensibility and rationality in tandem propel her toward alienation, misery, and self-destruction. The exploration of this seemingly intractable problem is the novel’s primary focus, as Hays’s proxy Emma Courtney struggles for happiness against the very qualities that distinguish her as a female philosopher, and finally settles on “moral martyrdom” as her only recourse.