Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 October 2019
HOWEVER we define their material turn, it is clear that the affective relations between matter and mind played an important role in the educational, devotional and charitable practices of women writers in the late eighteenth century. The associational world, both imagined and externally manifested, is written into their texts in highly purposeful ways. Whether to cultivate feelings of habitual devotion, vitalise Anglican spirit or activate the critical imagination, the configurations of Enlightenment described in this book participate in the construction of a domestic ideology founded on environmentally grounded notions of human subjectivity. We have seen that women's experimental and domestic practices moved out of the home in innovative forms and to various spaces of social, religious and political activity. Women writers, I have argued, played a key role in the development of psychology in Romantic Britain and Ireland. As Barbauld's sensible objects, the Edgeworths’ experimental science of education, More's associations and disassociations, and Hamilton's clearing and rebuilding each suggest, ideas in the late-Enlightenment science of mind did not arise in isolation from practice – they were products of circumstance, gaining new meaning as they migrated between individuals, through networks and across fields. The history of ideas and the history of practice do not merely run parallel to and intersect with each other, but continuously merge together.
The domestic and familiar associationism popularised to a significant extent by Barbauld enabled others to envisage Enlightenment practices as a means of engagement with the life-force of the nation, and not only through the education of children. The charitable model More helped popularise impacted significantly on women's movement into the socialised public sphere in the longer term. We might recognise a trace of this in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse when Mrs Ramsay seeks to impress on her daughters the duty of providing succour to the lighthouse men, painting for them the desolation of life on the rock while knitting stockings for the lighthouse keeper's son. Such activity allows Mrs Ramsay to imagine an existence beyond that of ‘a private woman’ for whom charity is ‘half a sop to her own indignation, half a relief to her own curiosity’, and towards self-identification as ‘what with her untrained mind she highly admired, an investigator, elucidating the social problem’.