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Chapter 10 - Staging Women’s Education in Two Anti-Jacobin Novels: More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809) and Hawkins’ Rosanne: or, A Father’s Labour Lost (1814)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Louise Joy
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Jessica Lim
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Among the phalanx of anti-Jacobin British novels written in the decades after the French Revolution, two late offerings by notable women proffered a social and political attack on what French ideas had wrought, seemingly, on British soil: republicanism, rationalism, sentiment and religious laxity. Written to repudiate French revolutionary notions, both Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809) and Laetitia Matilda Hawkins’ Rosanne: or, A Father’s Labour Lost (1814) focus on female education within the private domestic realm, in particular by highlighting scenes of reading, both cautionary and exemplary, as a guard for British virtues. More was the most important evangelical writer of the post-Revolutionary period; her voluminous literary output, including Cheap Repository Tracts (1795–8), acted as one of ‘the chief agenc[ies] in checking the flood of philosophy, infidelity, and disrespect for inherited privilege that poured fearfully across the Channel from 1790 on’. Coelebs, which employs the Latin for ‘bachelor’ as the name of its hero, was More’s singular attempt to use the form of the novel to carry out her life’s work of reform, employing fiction to argue for conservative politics, evangelical theology and the proper education for women. Hawkins, her contemporary, was equally prolific if less influential, publishing anonymous novels in the 1780s and continuing under her own name in the 1790s and beyond with travel writing, memoirs, conduct books, ‘sermonets’, translations and more novels (her last was Heraline in 1822). Hawkins was the daughter of Sir John Hawkins, author of the first important history of Western music (1776) and the unenviable author of the first biography of Dr Johnson (1787), a work occluded rather spectacularly in the public regard by Boswell’s, published four years later. Hawkins was brought up within the Twickenham sect and was on familiar terms with figures such as David Garrick, Dr Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith, the last of whom taught her finger games with paper. Hawkins, like More, used the vantage of her cultural authority and superior education (both women, for instance, knew Latin, Greek, French and Italian; Hawkins also knew Hebrew) to conduct conservative polemical instruction, though both deplored women’s direct intervention into the political sphere.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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