The Many Faces of the Reformist Hero

  • A. A. Markley


One of the most significant ways in which reformist novelists reworked the conventions of late eighteenth-century fiction involves their manner of appropriating contemporary ideals of masculinity in fashioning protagonists who would appeal to their readers yet also serve as effective spokesmen for their politics. To a large degree, the reformist hero of these authors’ works owes his origin to the novel of sensibility that dominated the eighteenth-century novel. Distinct versions of the sentimental hero that captivated the reading public include Samuel Richardson’s highly idealized title character of Sir Charles Grandison (1753–54) and Henry Fielding’s less idealized but more lovable hero of The History of Tom Jones (1749), certainly one of the most memorable figures in English fiction.1 The English sentimental hero was also greatly influenced by popular European models, such as St. Preux of Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and the pathetic protagonist of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774).


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  1. 1.
    In Grandisos Heirs: The Paragos Progress in the Late Eighteenth-Century English Nove (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985), Gerard A. Barker argues for the influence of Charles Grandison on a variety of heroes in late eighteenth-century fiction, including Orlando Faulkland of Frances Sheridan’s Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulp (1761), Burney’s Lord Orville of Evelin (1778), Inchbald’s Dorriforth/Elmwood of A Simple Stor, Holcroft’s Frank Henley of Anna St Ive, Godwin’s Falkland of Caleb William, and Austen’s Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudic (1813).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibilit (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Jones, Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas i the 1790 (London and New York: Routledge, 1993); and Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Nove (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). For other discussions of the history and philosophical significance of sensibility and the degree to which it became a hotly contested concept by the end of the century see R. S. Crane, “Suggestions toward a Genealogy of the ‘Man of Feeling,”’ EL 1, no. 3 (December 1934): 205–30, reprinted in The Idea of the Humanities and Other Essays Critical and Historica (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), I:188–213; R. F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to Sad (London: Macmillan and New York: Harper & Row, 1974); Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Idea (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 7–28; Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introductio (London and New York: Methuen, 1986); John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Centur (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 1–56; Patricia Meyer Spacks, Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 114–46; Chris Jones, “Radical Sensibility in the 1790s,” in Reflections of Revolution: Images of Romanticis, ed. Alison Yarrington and Kelvin Everest (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 68–82; Gillian Skinner, Sensibility and Economics in the Novel, 1740–180 (London: Macmillan and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 154–86; Brycchan Carey, British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760–180(Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 1–45; R. S. White, Natural Rights and the Birth of Romanticism in the 1790 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2005 ), 41–76; and Patricia Meyer Spacks, Novel Beginnings: Experiments in Eighteenth-Century English Fictio (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 127–59.Google Scholar
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© A. A. Markley 2009

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