The French Revolution and British Raciology

  • Eamon Wright


The French Revolution of 1789 is central to the study of British women writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At its most exalted level, the French Revolution posed questions about the nature and trajectory of European civilization. This chapter, therefore, explores the ways in which British women writers of the late eighteenth century engaged in literary pursuits during what Marilyn Butler has termed the revolution controversy, which clearly gripped not only Britain but the whole of Europe as well.1


Eighteenth Century British Society Radical Politics French Revolution Slave Trade 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    See Marilyn Butler (ed.), Burke, Paine, Godwin and the Revolution Controversy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984);Google Scholar
  2. H.T. Mason and W. Doyle (eds), The Impact of the French Revolution on European Consciousness (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1989).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    See George Rudé, Revolutionary Europe, 1783–1815 (London: Fontana Press, 1985), p. 210.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    On European ancien regimes, see Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London: Verso, 1979);Google Scholar
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  6. 5.
    Charlotte Smith, Desmond (London: Pickering, 1997), p. 297.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    See Mark Philp (ed.), The French Revolution and Popular British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    See Rudé, Revolutionary Europe, op. cit., Chapters I and II; J.L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (London: Sphere, 1970), p. 75: Talmon recounts the internecine struggles for control of the trajectory of the Revolution. He argues that the Third Estate, which included the ordinary citizenry, who laboured to uphold society, was the nation; they carried the privileged strata. The racial division here was between Franconian and Roman stocks, the latter claiming superiority.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    See Moira Ferguson, ‘Mary Wollstonecraft and the Problematic of Slavery’, Feminist Review, 42 (1992), 87. For an account of the heroic San Dominguan struggle, see C.L.R. James, op. cit. It is interesting to note that Helen Maria Williams made an ideological connection between political freedoms embedded in the French new order with the racial freedom of black people:CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See H.T. Dickinson, British Radicalism and the French Revolution, 1789–1815 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), passim.Google Scholar
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    See Barbara Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (London: Virago, 1983), passim.Google Scholar
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    Though clearly this was not the sole preserve of the political right: see Gerald Newman, The Rise of English Nationalism: A Cultural History, 1740–1830 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1987), passim.Google Scholar
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    See Gary Kelly, Revolutionary Feminism: The Mind and Career of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: Macmillan, 1992), Chapter 1, ‘Gender, Class and Cultural Revolution’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Men’, in Janet Todd (ed.), Mary Wollstonecraft: Political Writings (London: Pickering, 1993). This Vindication was first published in 1790.Google Scholar
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    See Susan Khin Zaw, ‘Appealing to the Head and Heart: Wollstonecraft and Burke on Taste, Morals and Human Nature’, in Gill Perry and Michael Rossington (eds), Femininity and Masculinity in Eighteenth-century Art and Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994). Samuel Johnson defined ‘effeminate’ as ‘Having the qualities of a woman; softness; unmanly delicacy’:Google Scholar
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  18. 53.
    Mary Alcock, ‘Instructions, Supposed to be Written in Paris, for the Mob in England’, in Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 462. This poem was published in 1799.Google Scholar
  19. 56.
    See Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1990), p. 173. First published in 1796. Such commentary would have tapped into what was already a received wisdom in Britain, that anything French was dirty, rotten and impure: see The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence (London: Senate, 1994). First compiled by Francis Grose in 1785, it was reissued in 1811 as Lexicon Balatronicum.Google Scholar
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    See Susan Ferrier, Marriage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 400.Google Scholar
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    See Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1970). First published in 1776, year one of the American Revolution;Google Scholar
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    See Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Canto Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), Chapter 1.Google Scholar
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    Smith, The Old Manor House (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 246. First published in 1793.Google Scholar
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    See Michael Howard, War and the Liberal Conscience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), especially Chapters 1 and 2.Google Scholar
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    See Martin Fitzpatrick, ‘Charlotte Smith’, in Janet Todd (ed.), Dictionary of British Women Writers (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 625. Smith revised Miseries of War in 1797.Google Scholar
  28. 77.
    Ireland became a part of the British Constitution in 1801, under the Act of Union, the antecedent being absorption of Scotland a century earlier, and Wales centuries before that. The appropriation of Ireland happened against a background of ‘servitude’ in the words of Mary Frances Cusack, An Illustrated History of Ireland, AD 400 to 1800 (London: Senate, 1995). First published in 1868. Cusack’s sweep of history is arresting. In the preface to the first edition, she wrote ‘The history of the different races who form an integral portion of the British Empire, should be one of the most carefully cultivated studies of every member of that nation. To be ignorant of our own history is a disgrace; to be ignorant of the history of those whom we govern, is an injustice’ (p. 15). Cusack, an Irish Catholic nun, declared that her wish was ‘to draw the attention of Englishmen to those Irish grievances which are generally admitted to exist, and which can only be fully understood by a careful and unprejudiced perusal of Irish history, past and present’ (p. 18).Google Scholar
  29. 78.
    Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 5. First published in 1800.Google Scholar
  30. 81.
    The United Irishmen tried to avail themselves of French assistance, to avoid Britain swallowing up Ireland: see Patrick J. Corish (ed.), Radicals, Rebels and Establishments (Belfast: Appletree Press, 1985). As Pakenham notes, the events of 1798 were integral to the grand ideological struggle between Britain and France. It was this that ring-fenced the bloody massacres of Irish men, women and children, as Britain with Irish allies secured its grip on the country:Google Scholar
  31. see Thomas Pakenham, The Year of Liberty: The History of the Great Irish Rebellion of 1798 (London: Phoenix, 1992), p. 13.Google Scholar
  32. 82.
    Few commentators refer to the war against France in such terms. Two notable exceptions are: A.D. Harvey, Collision of Empires: Britain in Three World Wars, 1793–1945 (London: Phoenix, 1992); Michael Duffy, ‘World Wide War and British Expansion, 1793–1815’, in P.J. Marshall (ed.), op. cit.Google Scholar
  33. 83.
    The bulk of economic history literature on the effect that war had on the processes of industrialization tilts in favour of the opinion that the wars in Europe between 1793 and 1815 had a negative impact: see J. Mokyr, ‘The Industrial Revolution and the New Economic History’, in J. Mokyr (ed.), The Economics of the Industrial Revolution (London: Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 15. It is interesting to note that as an anonymous poet put it in 1813, war was a means to wealth. ‘Then what nonsense to talk of the ruin of War,/When such riches are coin’d without bullion from far:/Thus no one can tell what by War’s won or lost,/But the Tellers, who’re paid for not telling its cost.’ See ‘War the Source of Riches’, Jerome J. McGann (ed.), The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 351.Google Scholar
  34. 84.
    See Ian R. Christie, Wars and Revolutions, Britain1760–1815 (London: Arnold, 1982), p. 213.Google Scholar
  35. 87.
    Fanny Burney, Selected Letters and Journals, ed. Joyce Hemlow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 155.Google Scholar
  36. 90.
    See David Howarth, Waterloo: A Near Run Thing (Glasgow: Fontana, 1972), p. 169.Google Scholar
  37. 96.
    John Lucas, England and Englishness: Ideas of Nationhood in English Poetry, 1688–1900 (London: Hogarth Press, 1990), p. 19. Scholarship on Blake is fairly extensive. However, I am not concerned with the androgynist imagery, nor the deification of feminine qualities, nor the reification of childhood: see Alan Richardson, ‘Romanticism and the Colonisation of the Feminine’, in Anne Mellor (ed.), op. cit. Neither am I concerned with his oppositional, anti-modern discourse:Google Scholar
  38. see Saree Makdisi, Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). My concern is to expose and explore raciological thought within the Blakeian paradigm.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 98.
    William Stafford, Socialism, Radicalism and Nostalgia: Social Criticism in Britain, 1775–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 100.
    William Blake, ‘Brotherhood and Restriction’, in W.B. Yeats (ed.), The Poems of William Blake (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1905), p. 229.Google Scholar
  41. 102.
    See Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels & Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760–1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 45.Google Scholar
  42. 105.
    Meena Alexander, Women in Romanticism (London: Macmillan, 1989), p. 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 112.
    See Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). Chapter 5, ‘The Enlightenment and the Exotic’.Google Scholar
  44. 114.
    Henry Pye, ‘Ode for His Majesty’s Birthday, 1807’, in Kenneth Hopkins (ed.), The Poets Laureate (London: EP Publishing, 1973), p. 266.Google Scholar
  45. 115.
    The courtly Rococo style ended abruptly with the coming of the Revolution: see Edward B. Henning, ‘Patronage and Style in the Arts’, in Milton C. Albrecht, James H. Barnett, and Mason Griff (eds), The Sociology of Art & Literature (London: Duckworth, 1982), p. 357.Google Scholar
  46. Artists had been involved in the struggle for artistic freedoms; see Daniel M. Fox, ‘Artists in the Modern State’, in Milton C. Albrecht, James H. Barnett, and Mason Griff (eds), ibid., p. 375; Madelyn Gutwith, The Twilight of the Goddesses: Women and Representation in the French Revolutionary Era (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  47. 123.
    See Darline G. Levy and Harriet B. Applewhite, ‘Women, Radicalization, and the Fall of the French Monarchy’, in Harriet B. Applewhite and Darline G. Levy (eds), Women & Politics in the Age of the Democratic Revolution (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  48. 129.
    See Rosalind Miles, The Women’s History of the World (London: Paladin, 1989), p. 186.Google Scholar
  49. 130.
    Charles Hall, The Effects of Civilization on the People in European States (New York: Augustus Kelley, 1965), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Maria Edgeworth, Belinda (London: J.M. Dent, 1993), p. 209. First published in 1801.Google Scholar
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    See George W. Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1987), p. 30.Google Scholar
  52. 159.
    Mary Hays, The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (London: Pandora, 1987), pp. 144–5. First published in 1796.Google Scholar
  53. 162.
    Mary Hays, The Victim of Prejudice (Ontario: Broadview Press, 1994), pp. 1–2. Not my italics. This text was first published in 1799.Google Scholar
  54. 178.
    Mary Hays, ‘Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women’, in Dale Spender and Janet Todd (eds), Anthology of British Women Writers from the Middles Ages to the Present Day (London: Pandora, 1989), p. 325.Google Scholar
  55. 187.
    See Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492–1797 (London: Routledge, 1992), Chapter 5.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 78–9; see R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 76ff.Google Scholar
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    Maria Edgeworth, Letters for Literary Ladies, to which is added An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification (London: J.M. Dent, 1993), p. 36. Letters, first published in 1795 and revised in 1798.Google Scholar
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    See Introductory essay by G.S. Rousseau and Roy Porter (eds), Exoticism in the Enlightenment (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), p. 5.Google Scholar
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  60. 205.
    More, ‘Slavery’, in Breen (ed.), Women Romantic Poets, op. cit., p. 20. Catherine Hall links the construction of Victorian domestic ideology to a religious stamp engraved in this period. ‘Between 1780 and 1820’, she writes, ‘in the Evangelical struggle over anti-slavery and over the reform of manners and morals, a new view of the nation, of political power and of family life was forged’. Catherine Hall, White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (London: Polity, 1992), p. 75.Google Scholar
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    H.L. Malchow, ‘Frankenstein’s Monster and Images of Race in Nineteenth Century Britain’, Past & Present, Number 139 (1993), 96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Eamon Wright 2005

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