Women’s relationship to national politics in late eighteenth-century Britain has been a subject of lively debate in recent years. Amanda Vickery has argued that ‘cultural consumption on an unprecedented scale’ implied, at least for polite women, access to a world extending well beyond the confines of the private domestic sphere.1 Although the political cultures of the period were based in ‘stridently gendered and variously exclusionary conceptions of political subjectivity’, new forms of cultural consumption and participation also meant, as Kathleen Wilson has argued, that private men and women could imagine themselves as citizens — citizens who had a right, or even a duty, to comment critically on the decisions of their political leaders.2 So, for example, Anna Laetitia Barbauld was able to argue in her influential discourse Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation (1793) that although private individuals are usually ‘bound to acquiesce’ in national decisions, it can also be ‘incumbent on us to remonstrate’ with government ‘against a ruinous war, an unequal tax, or an edict of persecution’, as ‘this is the only way reformations can ever be brought about, or that government can enjoy the advantage of general opinion.’3 The women writers discussed in the three chapters below were all explicitly concerned with issues central to national politics, and used their writing as an opportunity to explore and define their role, or the role of women, in that context.
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- 1.Amanda Vickery, The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (New Haven: Yale U. P., 1998) 9.Google Scholar
- 2.Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, culture and imperialism in England, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Cambridge: CUP, 1998) 20.Google Scholar
- 4.Catharine Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James I to the Elevation of the House of Hanover. Vol. V. From the Death of Charles I to the Restoration of Charles II (London: E. and C. Dilly, 1772) 18.Google Scholar