‘The cambrick handkerchief sensibility’: Re-figuring Sentiment and fashion in Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda

  • Jennie Batchelor

Abstract

During the 1780s and 1790s the literature of sensibility and the woman of feeling it reified increasingly came under attack from critics who argued that the fine line between virtue (affect) and its mere performance (affectation) had blurred to the point of obscurity. The assault on sentimental literature during these decades was the product of a complex conflagration of social, political and literary concerns which cohered in response to the French Revolution, but it was not without precedent. As the backlash against Pamela suggests, and this book has argued throughout, sentiment and sensibility had always been subject to intense scrutiny and debate.1 Nevertheless, the intensification and politicisation of these debates in the 1790s irrevocably tainted the literary mode in a way in which earlier criticism had not.

Keywords

Expense Straw Lost Heroine Alan 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Markman Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 191–2.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Chris Jones, Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas in the 1790s (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 3.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Claudia L. Johnson, Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995). See, in particular, pp. 1–19. The unduly feminising influence of sentimentalism is also cited by Todd as one of the key factors in the mode’s decline.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. See Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London and New York: Methuen, 1986), pp. 129–46.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Miria Brody (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), p. 170. Subsequent references will be given parenthetically in the text.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Maria Edgeworth, Belinda, ed. Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 3. Subsequent references will be given parenthetically in the text.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Mitzi Myers, ‘Shot from the Canons: or, Maria Edgeworth and the Cultural Production and Consumption of the Late Eighteenth-century Woman Writer’, in The Consumption of Culture, 1600–1800: Image, Object, Text, ed. Ann Bermingham and John Brewer (New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 199.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey, reprinted in A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy By Mr Yorick with The Journal to Eliza and A Political Romance, ed. Ian Jack (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 114.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Recently, such readings have been challenged by Jordana Rosenberg, who argues that the ‘struggle between the seductions of the social and the superiority of the domestic’ is problematised by the fact that ‘the seduction is proven to have been a sham all along’ and by Belinda’s complicity with the fictions she is supposed to debunk. The fact that Belinda is also taken in by Lady Delacour’s illness signals for Rosenberg the limits of the heroine’s rationality and the bourgeois ideology she is supposed to embody. Jordana Rosenberg, ‘The Bosom of the Bourgeoisie: Edgeworth’s Belinda’, ELH, 70: 2 (2003), pp. 575–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 14.
    Susan C. Greenfield, ‘“Abroad and at Home”: Sexual Ambiguity, Miscegenation and Colonial Boundaries in Edgeworth’s Belinda’, PMLA, 112: 2 (1995), p. 217.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Heather MacFadyen, in ‘Lady Delacour’s Library: Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda and Fashionable Reading’, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 48:4 (1994), pp. 423–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 17.
    Anne Mellor, Romanticism and Gender (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 41.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Several such experiments to educate young women as future wives were inspired by Rousseau’s Emile, including Romney’s ‘education’ of Emma Hamilton. Belinda’s subplot was inspired more specifically, however, by the experiment made by Thomas Day, a family friend of the Edgeworths, to create a real-life Sophie by educating Sabrina Sidney to become his wife. Sidney and Day did not marry, however. Eight years after being sent away from Day following an argument, Sidney married Day’s friend, John Bicknell. See Marilyn Butler, Maria Edgeworth: a Literary Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 39.Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    Maria Edgeworth, Letters for Literary Ladies to which is added An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification ed. Claire Connolly (London: J. M. Dent; and Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993), p. 48.Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    Falls and bruises were deemed one of the possible causes of breast cancer in the eighteenth century. For a discussion of the medical understanding of the disease in the period, see Ruth Perry, ‘Colonising the Breast: Sexuality and Maternity in Eighteenth-Century England’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 16: 1 (1992), pp. 185–213.Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    Terry Castle, Masquerade and Civilisation: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (London: Methuen, 1986), pp. 332–3.Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    See Eleanor Ty, ‘Freke in Men’s Clothes: Transgression and the Carnivalesque in Edgeworth’s Belinda’, in The Clothes that Wear Us: Essays on Dressing and Transgressing in Eighteenth-Century Culture, ed. Jessica Munns and Penny Richards (Newark: University of Delaware Press; and London: Associated University Presses, 1999), p. 159.Google Scholar
  18. 28.
    Throughout the following section I use the terms dressing room and boudoir interchangeably. In fact, the boudoir and the dressing room were separate spaces. From the 1780s the traditional function of the dressing room as a lady’s toilette-cum-sitting room changed. Dressing rooms were no longer commonly used for entertaining. Such activities increasingly took place in the boudoir, which, like the dressing room, often adjoined a bedchamber. Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 231. Lady Delacour possesses both a dressing room and a boudoir, but uses both spaces as dressing rooms. Rather than the semi-public space it was intended to be, Lady Delacour keeps her boudoir locked, and it is in here that she goes about the fatal business of her toilette. Belinda, p. 20.Google Scholar
  19. 30.
    Felicity A. Nussbaum, ‘The Brink of all we Hate’: English Satires on Women, 1660–1750 (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1984), p. 105.Google Scholar
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  21. 38.
    John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), p. 61.Google Scholar
  22. 39.
    The representation of physical deformity and disfigurement in eighteenth-century literature is necessarily beyond the scope of this study. While writers often made a connection between physical and moral deformity (such as Mrs Sinclair in Richardson’s Clarissa) many other writers, such as Sarah Scott and Burney, often used ‘ugliness’ or physical abnormalities as symbols of moral purity. For a detailed analysis of this theme, see Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum, eds, ‘Defects’: Engendering the Modern Body (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace, Their Fathers’ Daughters: Hannah More, Maria Edgeworth and Patriarchal Complicity (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 110.Google Scholar
  24. 45.
    Other works on Edgeworthian feminism include Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1975; repr. 1987), pp. 124–57;Google Scholar
  25. Caroline Gonda, Reading Daughters’ Fictions, 1709–1834: Novels and Society from Manley to Edgeworth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 204–38; Kowaleski-Wallace, Their Fathers’ Daughters, Mellor, Romanticism and Gender, pp. 40–8, 78–80;Google Scholar
  26. Alan Richardson, Literature, Education and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice, 1780–1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 189–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 46.
    Iain Topliss, ‘Mary Wollstonecraft and Maria Edgeworth’s Modern Ladies’, Études Irlandaises, 6 (1981), p. 15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 47.
    Syndy McMillen Conger, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Language of Sensibility (Rutherford, Madison and Teaneck: Farleigh Dickinson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated Universities Press, 1994), pp. xii–xiii.Google Scholar
  29. 48.
    Maria Edgeworth, Letters for Literary Ladies, to which is added, An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification (1795), ed. Claire Connolly (London: J. M. Dent, 1993), pp. 55–6.Google Scholar
  30. 52.
    For a more detailed discussion of the eighteenth-century female Bildungsroman, see Lorna Ellis, Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman, 1750–1850 (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Press, 1999).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jennie Batchelor 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennie Batchelor
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EnglishUniversity of KentUK

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