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Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel

Paula R. Backscheider

Publication Year: 2013

Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel is the first in-depth study of Rowe’s prose fiction. A four-volume collection of her work was a bestseller for a hundred years after its publication, but today Rowe is a largely unrecognized figure in the history of the novel. Although her poetry was appreciated by poets such as Alexander Pope for its metrical craftsmanship, beauty, and imagery, by the time of her death in 1737 she was better known for her fiction. According to Paula R. Backscheider, Rowe's major focus in her novels was on creating characters who were seeking a harmonious, contented life, often in the face of considerable social pressure. This quest would become the plotline in a large number of works in the second half of the eighteenth century, and it continues to be a major theme today in novels by women. Backscheider relates Rowe’s work to popular fiction written by earlier writers as well as by her contemporaries. Rowe had a lasting influence on major movements, including the politeness (or gentility) movement, the reading revolution, and the Bluestocking society. The author reveals new information about each of these movements, and Elizabeth Singer Rowe emerges as an important innovator. Her influence resulted in new types of novel writing, philosophies, and lifestyles for women. Backscheider looks to archival materials, literary analysis, biographical evidence, and a configuration of cultural and feminist theories to prove her groundbreaking argument.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-13

This book has been a saga punctuated by the years I spent chairing the Research Initiative for the Study of Diversity, the most fulfilling and challenging endeavor of my career. As a final salute to it, I dedicate this book to Nels Madsen, comrade-in-arms and generous spirit. Writing the book was also punctuated by my winning the...


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pp. xiii-17

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Introduction: Locating Elizabeth Singer Rowe

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pp. 1-45

Few eighteenth-century writers are as familiar and as ubiquitously characterized in a single word as the “pious” Elizabeth Singer Rowe. Although she was an active, even somewhat outspoken, and sociable presence, her life is usually described as Sharon Achinstein did in an ELH essay: “Rowe returned to Frome where she had inherited a small...

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1. Positioning Rowe’s Fiction

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pp. 46-82

At age fifty-four after publishing only a few poems for decades, Rowe began to publish fiction rather prolifically. Friendship in Death; or, Letters from the Dead to the Living (1728) came out among such novels as Jane Barker’s The Lining of the Patch-Work Screen (1726), Mary Davys’s The Accomplish’d Rake (1727), Penelope Aubin’s The Life and Adventures of the Lady Lucy (1726) and...

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2. Isles of Happiness

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pp. 83-121

In the dedication to Edward Young, Rowe associated Friendship in Death with fairy tales: “The greatest Infidel must own, there is at least as much Probability in this Scheme, as in that of the fairy tales, which however Visionary, are some of them Moral, and Entertaining.”1 Notably, subsequent volumes of her fiction picked up “Moral and...

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3. Toward Novelistic Discourse

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pp. 122-162

As Rowe published her successive volumes of prose fiction, England entered the absolute low point of the production of new novels, histories, and romances. The year after Friendship in Death, Haywood’s Fair Hebrew and the anonymous Life and Intrigues of the late celebrated Mrs. Mary Parrimore and The Life of Mr. Robin Lyn were the only fiction...

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4. The Beautiful Life

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pp. 163-207

Rowe was one of the first English prose fiction writers to incorporate the politeness movement into her texts. In this chapter, I will expand on this revisionary aspect of her work. She wrote in a letter to the Countess of Hertford, “I have been reading my Lord Shaftesbury’s Moralist, which has fill’d my head with beauties, and love, and harmony...

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Conclusion: Lifestyle as Legacy

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pp. 208-236

As important as Rowe’s influence on the English novel is, the legacy of her lifestyle may be equally so. What woman before her led such a well-publicized life that was invariably recognized as modest, domestic, social, contented, and philanthropic?1 Because she was “perhaps the most popular woman writer of the eighteenth century,” 2 interest in her life...


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pp. 237-272


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pp. 273-295


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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408897
E-ISBN-10: 1421408899
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421408422
Print-ISBN-10: 1421408422

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 22 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 834604125
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rowe, Elizabeth Singer, -- 1674-1737 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • English fiction -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- England -- History -- 18th century.
  • Women -- England -- History -- 18th century.
  • Social movements -- England -- History -- 18th century.
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