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In her stinging critique of eighteenth-century writers on women’s education for “render[ing] women objects of pity, bordering on contempt,” Mary Wollstonecraft singles out Hester Chapone’s Letters on the Improvement of the Mind Addressed to a Young Lady as an exception, paying the work a “tribute of respect” for its “good sense, and unaffected humility, and … many useful observations.”1 Chapone’s Letters, first published in 1773 and republished or reprinted at least seventy times through to the middle of the nineteenth century,2 arose materially and intellectually out of her participation in the collective that has come to be called the Bluestockings. This chapter begins with brief sketches of three “first-generation” Bluestocking women as a means of identifying characteristic features of this eighteenth-century movement. I then review the Bluestockings’ influential model of sociability and their commitments to a rational and benevolent social order and to female education, before suggesting their complicated contribution to the British imagination of womanhood as the nation moved into the contested political territory of the end of the century. Chapone’s Bluestocking life and her resulting Letters serve as useful orientation points to this important context for Wollstonecraft’s thoughts on the nature of woman, women’s societal role, and the ideal education for that role.
We shall next declare the occasion and the cause which moved our poet to this particular work. He lived in those days, when (after Providence had permitted the invention of printing as a scourge for the sins of the learned) paper also became so cheap, and printers so numerous, that a deluge of authors covered the land: […] At the same time, the licence of the press was such, that it grew dangerous to refuse them either [applause or money]; for they would forthwith publish slanders unpunished, the authors being anonymous, and skulking under the wings of publishers. (Alexander Pope, “Martinus Scriblerus of the Poem,” The Dunciad, 1728)
Since the publication of his novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded in 1740, Samuel Richardson's place in the English literary tradition has been secured. But how can that place best be described? Over the three centuries since embarking on his printing career the 'divine' novelist has been variously understood as moral crusader, advocate for women, pioneer of the realist novel and print innovator. Situating Richardson's work within these social, intellectual and material contexts, this new volume of essays identifies his centrality to the emergence of the novel, the self-help book, and the idea of the professional author, as well as his influence on the development of the modern English language, the capitalist economy, and gendered, medicalized, urban, and national identities. This book enables a fuller understanding and appreciation of Richardson's life, work and legacy, and points the way for future studies of one of English literature's most celebrated novelists.