restricted access Assimilation and Indeterminacy: Moral Tales for Young People, Belinda, and Edgeworth's Destabilizing Fictions of Maturity


Maria Edgeworth's Belinda (1801) assimilates the philosophies and formal structures of the novel and the moral tale in order to destabilize the representations of femininity in both forms. Scholars argue that the eponymous heroine models a form of rational, domestic femininity and functions as the work's moral centre. By examining Belinda's use of two competing narrative forms, this article finds that Edgeworth debunks the feminine models epitomized in sentimental novels and didactic fiction by showing the flaws in both philosophies. This viewpoint reveals Belinda not as the novel's moral centre but as a young woman experimenting with different modes of conduct (troped through narrative form) in order to find her own identity. This essay also reveals a connection between Belinda and Moral Tales for Young People (1801), Edgeworth's first collection of adolescent novellas, and argues that Edgeworth's novels should be studied in relation to her children's fiction and educational manuals.