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Eighteenth-Century Novels by Women

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Eighteenth-Century Novels by Women

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The Adventures of David Simple and Volume the Last

Sarah Fielding

The Adventures of David Simple (1744), Sarah Fielding's first and most celebrated novel, went through several editions, the second of which was heavily revised by her brother Henry. This edition includes Henry's "corrections" in an appendix. In recounting the guileless hero's search for a true friend, the novel depicts the derision with which almost everyone treats his sentimental attitudes to human nature. Acclaimed as an accurate portrait of mid-eighteenth-century London, The Adventures of David Simple sets forth some provocative feminist ideas. Also included is Fielding's much darker sequel, Volume the Last (1753).

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The Delicate Distress

Elizabeth Griffith

Actress, playwright, and novelist, Elizabeth Griffith (1727-1793) won fame in England with the publication in 1757 of the first two volumes of Letters Between Henry and Frances, letters from her own courtship with Richard Griffith whom she secretly married in 1751. Her first novel, The Delicate Distress (1769), focuses on the problems women encounter after marriage -- the issue of financial independence for wives, the consequences of interfaith relationships, and the promiscuity of their husbands.

Against a backdrop of rural England and Paris of the ancien regime, Griffith reimagines the epistolary novel of sensibility in the tradition of Samuel Richardson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau from a feminist perspective that centers on strong, intelligent, and virtuous women. Two sisters exchange letters about urgent ethical questions concerning love, marriage, morality, art, the duties of wives and husbands, and passion versus reason, while two men correspond about the same subjects. At the story's center is the deep distress of Emily Woodville, a virtuous young newlywed who suspects her husband of infidelity with a French marchioness from his past.

The third volume in the series Eighteenth-Century Novels by Women, The Delicate Distress contributes to our understanding of the development of the novel. As Cynthia Ricciardi and Susan Staves show, Griffith's exploration of the psychology of characters who observe and reflect but engage in no grand public actions anticipates Henry James. The editors' introduction places The Delicate Distress firmly in the tradition of the English novel, provides the most complete biography available on Griffith's life, and brings together the most important eighteenth- and twentieth-century criticism of the novelist's work.

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The Excursion

Frances Brooke. edited by Paula R. Backscheider and Hope D. Cotton

Frances Brooke (1724-1789), journalist, translator, playwright, novelist, and even co-manager of a theater, was described as "perhaps the first female novel-writer who attained a perfect purity and polish of style." Today, Brooke is known primarily for The History of Emily Montague, one of the earliest novels about Canada, where she lived for a number of years. But it is her third novel, The Excursion, that is an important example of the fashionable and popular English novels of the late 1770s.

Written for the very audience it portrays, this novel introduces the heroine, Maria Villiers, to London's "gentle" society and its glittering pastimes. Brooke drew upon the English courtship novel in the tradition of Eliza Haywood, Henry Fielding, and Frances Burney for her novel's overarching plot structure. But instead of concentrating on Maria's romantic adventures, she experiments with unusual treatments of subplots and unconventional characters.

The most interesting aspect of her story is the development of Maria's ambition to win fame and fortune as a writer; it is one of the few portraits of a woman with literary ambitions by an early woman writer. Brooke's wry narrative voice foreshadows that of Jane Austen.

The editors' introduction places The Excursion firmly in the tradition of the English novel, provides a fresh biography of Brooke, and brings together the most important eighteenth- and twentieth-century criticism of Brooke's work.

The second volume in the series Eighteenth-Century Novels by Women, The Excursion contributes to our understanding of the development of the novel and offers a lively view of women's position in eighteenth-century English society.

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Henrietta

Charlotte Lennox, Ruth Perry, and Susan Carlile

A pioneer in the tradition of English women’s fiction, Charlotte Lennox was valued friend to both Samuel Richardson and Samuel Johnson and a major influence on Jane Austen. The heroine of Charlotte Lennox’s Henrietta is a young Englishwoman who resists her aunt's pressure to convert to Catholicism and is set adrift in London society. But unlike many of her passive, vulnerable contemporaries in fiction, the admirable Henrietta makes her way in the world relying on her own cleverness, conviction, and wit. This groundbreaking work of satire and human folly is republished here in a fully annotated modern edition.

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The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy

Eliza Haywood

The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, originally published as three volumes in 1753, is the last work by the prolific English novelist Eliza Haywood. Out of print since the early nineteenth century and never available in an edited and fully-annotated modern edition such as this, Haywood’s novel is an important early example of the sentimental novel of domestic manners. In its depiction of marriage and courtship among the leisure class of the mid-eighteenth century, Haywood’s novel is remarkable for its unsentimental realism.

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The History of Sir George Ellison

Sarah Scott

The History of Sir George Ellison (1766) is an important novel, both utopian and dystopian. Sir George, a man of benevolence, follows the pattern of the female utopia set forth in Scott's first novel, A Description of Millenium Hall (1762). In this sequel, Scott addresses issues of slavery, marriage, education, law and social justice, class pretensions, and the position of women in society, consistently emphasizing the importance, for both genders and all classes and ages, of devoting one's life to meaningful work. Although she adopted a gradualist approach to reform, Scott's uncompromising revelation of the corruption of English society in her day is clear-sighted, arresting, and hard-hitting.

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The Injur'd Husband and Lasselia

Eliza Haywood

Eliza Haywood (1693?-1756) was one of the first women in England to earn a living writing fiction. Her early tales of amorous intrigue, sometimes based on real people, were exceedingly popular though controversial. Haywood, along with her contemporary Daniel Defoe, did more than any other writer to create a market for fiction in the period just prior to the emergence of Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Tobias Smollett, the dominant novelists of the mid-eighteenth century.

The scheming, sexually predatory anti-heroine of The Injur'd Husband is a memorable villain who defies all expectations of a woman's conduct in marriage. The heroine of Lasselia is initially a model of virtue who bravely resists the advances of a king, only to be driven by her passion and desire into an illicit affair with a married man and ultimately into ruin. These two provocative narratives strikingly represent Haywood's extraordinary contribution to the development of the novel.

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The Recess

Sophia Lee

First published in an era when most novels about young women concentrated on courtship and ended with marriage, The Recess daringly portrays women involved in political intrigues, overseas journeys, and even warfare. The novel is set during the reign of Elizabeth I and features as narrators twin daughters of Mary, Queen of Scots, by a secret marriage. One of the earliest Gothic novels, The Recess pioneered the genre of historical fiction. The novel was also one of the first to describe characters and events from conflicting points of view and was wildly popular in its day.

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The Reform'd Coquet, Familiar Letters Betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady, and The Accomplish'd Rake

Mary Davys

The Reform'd Coquette (1724) tells the story of Amoranda, a good but flighty young woman whose tendency toward careless behavior is finally tamed. Familiar Letters Betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady (1725), a satire of both political debate and women's place in society, portrays a Tory man and a Whig woman who find themselves discussing love, even though they have pledged to remain platonic friends. The Accomplish'd Rake (1727) follows the exploits of Sir John Galliard from youth to manhood, when he is forced to accept responsibility for his actions. Mary Davys (1674?-1732) was one of the earliest female novelists in Britain, and after the death of her husband she supported herself by writing and running a coffeehouse. Her writing sparkles, especially in its witty dialogue. Although these three short epistolary novels are framed in a clear moral universe in which virtue is rewarded and transgressions is punished, her works are not overtly religious and punishment is as likely to come from society as from providence.

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The Young Philosopher

Charlotte Smith

In The Young Philosopher, George Delmont embraces an agrarian life and devotes himself to the pursuit of knowledge. But it is George's love Medora Glenmorris and her mother Laura who provide the emotional core of the novel. Contrasting the pain and suffering of individuals with the idealism of the French Revolution and the hope provided by glimpses of life in America, Smith exposes philosophical enlightenment as an ineffective weapon for fighting the widespread corruption of English society. The early novels of Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) were precursors of the gothic tradition that came to dominate the Romantic period. Her later fiction, including The Young Philosopher (1798), were more political in nature and influenced both the form and substance of works by nineteenth-century novelists such as Austen and Dickens.

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