Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions

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Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Tania Marlowe. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article. Download all figures. Sign in. You could not be signed in. Such scenarios naturally raise questions about how power is structured in the modern world and invite readers to imagine how an individual woman might challenge that structure.

As a young wife, Maria describes the mounting abuses she suffers at the hands of her husband George Venables, first in instances of ill treatment and later with his adultery, his squandering of his finances, and even his attempt to sell Maria herself as a sexual partner to one of his cronies. But, formed of such stuff as dreams are made of, what were they to the mansion of despair, in one corner of which Maria sat, endeavouring to recall her scattered thoughts!

Similarly, in Walsingham, Mary Robinson includes an episode in which a vulnerable young woman is imprisoned in a madhouse by her family. Both narrators refer to their own act of penning their memoirs, and the novels share a self-conscious tone in which the narrator raises questions about the relationship between reading, writing, and political action. Neither Caleb nor Maria succeeds in their attempts to gain public recognition of their persecution; indeed, both manage to make their situations worse merely in attempting to voice the wrongs they have suffered.

Ultimately, however, Maria would find a renewed commitment to life in her role as a mother and would establish an all-female household in defiance of an overbearing patriarchal culture. Maria exemplifies both the general dangers inherent in the highly sentimental personality and the specific danger that comes of idealizing a particular man. In contemporary England, Hays is careful to make clear, such a family history cannot be overcome, even in the next generation. In both of these episodes the vulnerable Mary is shocked by startling acts of physical abuse and sexual violence that ominously foreshadow the experiences she will suffer as an adult.

Like Mr. This passage is followed by a line of asterisks that mark a break in the narrative before Mary resumes with the details of the lingering physical illness that followed the assault. When Mary turns to acquaintances for assistance, she discovers, as Caleb Williams does, that all doors are now closed to her by the force of rumor.

She then struggles with a series of attempts at employment in an effort to feed herself. An opportunity to sell her artwork ends when her new employer attempts to seduce her, and a position working for an engraver proves to be unattainable without the money for an apprenticing fee. Mary 66 Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the s closes her dark narrative after a period of imprisonment for debt and after thoughts of suicide. Neville, a self-abnegating woman who has repressed her own individuality in excessive devotion to her husband.

In illustrating how both the strong and independent Mary and the submissive Mrs. Neville suffer, Hays emphasizes the degree to which all women are affected by an entirely inequitable distribution of social power. As Elizabeth Inchbald had done in Nature and Art, Robinson introduces us in her opening chapter to two distinctly different siblings.

Morley, who embodies another stereotype of oppressive male authority. One publisher, a Mr. This tactic makes a much stronger political point because Martha never behaves in any way that conservative readers might deem scandalous or inappropriate. Sedgley, later revealed to be both the actual mother of the infant Fanny and a lady of aristocratic birth.

Sedgley win fame as popular strolling actresses; Martha is known for her successes in comic roles and Mrs. Sedgley as an actress in tragedies. Sedgley are also hounded from place to place and from livelihood to livelihood by persistent rumors. Similarly, in The Natural Daughter, the hypocritical Morley is ultimately revealed to be the true adulterer, while the innocent Martha suffers public humiliation and abuse merely because Morley has accused her of adultery.

As his abandoned lover Mrs. Morley also strongly parallels Falkland in his obsession with his status and reputation. In one important episode, Martha visits a potential patroness, Lady Eldercourt, who has expressed an interest in hearing her poetry. The poem opens as an ode to the lovely bluebell and the cowslip but then shifts its tone to point out that the nearby nettle and hemlock enjoy the same measure of sun and rain as these lovelier flowers.

An empty shadow, seen and lost! Such is thy power, Vain flower! It is significant that Robinson includes the entire poem in this episode, because its theme and argument clarify the overarching objective of the novel as a whole. Echoing the sentiments of such reformist heroes as Henry Norwynne and Charles Hermsprong, Martha boldly asserts that the only distinctions she recognizes are those based on merit and virtue.

At one point in the novel, for example, Mrs. Sedgley describes her tragic adventures while traveling through Paris. When she is arrested and imprisoned as an Englishwoman, she is confronted by none other than an evil Jean-Paul Marat, who offers her the choice of becoming his mistress or facing the guillotine. Sedgley narrowly escapes both fates only because Marat is murdered on the following day. Pushing her depiction of the horrors of the revolution farther yet, Robinson takes Martha to Paris in the final chapters of the book, where she is shocked to discover that her sister Julia has become the lover of Maximilien Robespierre.

Of course these hair-raising escapes give the novel a lurid Gothic mood. But, more importantly, they reveal the specific relationship Robinson wished to expose between the oppression of women and the system of random class distinctions that dictated social behavior in Britain—the very sort of social order that the French had attempted to eradicate, only to see it replaced by one bloody and tyrannical government after another as the s progressed. In reproaching Robinson for her work, one reviewer in the British Incarcerated Women and the Uses of the Gothic 71 Critic censures her for her radical political views and relates them to that of the French revolutionaries.

Smith frequently included thinly veiled portraits of her own financially irresponsible husband Benjamin Smith in her works.

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Separated from his wife for long stretches of time, Mr. Stafford devotes himself to a dissipated lifestyle of heavy drinking and gambling. Once he has run through all of his financial resources, he avoids his creditors by fleeing to the continent, leaving the beleaguered Mrs. He insists upon investing in a large collection of canaries, for example, and he petulantly demands that she join him on the continent when he feels she is taking too long to stabilize his finances in London.

His ultimate return to England and to a decent home and income is engineered entirely by Mrs. Stafford and her friends. In her novel Desmond, Smith again recasts her husband as the dissolute Richard Verney, a character who surrenders himself to a profligate lifestyle in the haut ton of London society as his wife, Geraldine, struggles to feed their children 72 Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the s on her own. It is significant that Geraldine Verney sees herself not as a conventional Gothic victim but as one who has caused her own troubles by having been too blindly obedient to both her father and to her husband.

Far from having been damaged by her reading of novels as many at the time feared young women were, Geraldine defends novels by wishing she had held out for the sort of idealized hero they so often depict. As soon as Geraldine arrives in France, Smith begins to work aspects of the Gothic tradition into her experiences.

Before long, Geraldine notices the presence of a strange Capuchin monk who slips in and out of her garden, and she imagines that he is a solitary man beset by grief in the wake of revolutionary upheaval. The Gothic conventions reach a crescendo when Desmond appears to accompany Geraldine to the ancient castle where they expect to find her husband.

Smith in the very first class. Like Robinson, Smith also recognized that sending her characters to revolutionary France offered the perfect context for extending her exploration of the wrongs of woman into a more general attack on a severely inequitable class system. Desmond complains that English law focuses on the punishment of crime rather than its prevention and laments that greater numbers are executed in England than in any other country.

In his call for reform, Desmond asks for a return to truth as the only resource for the improvement of a judicial and political system that is rife with inequity. Such a radical stance was extremely controversial, however, even in the early years of the French Revolution. Connected with the reformers, and the revolutionists, she has borrowed her colouring from them, and represented their conduct in the most favourable light.

If an aristocrat is introduced, he is either to be confuted or ridiculed. Lionel Desmond embodies many qualities of the conventional eighteenth-century sentimental hero, and in his radical political convictions he resembles many of the reformist heroes discussed in Chapter 1. Nevertheless, even as Smith uses him as a mouthpiece for her ideals, she simultaneously critiques his character at the end of the novel when she reveals that Desmond had impregnated Josephine de Boisbelle, the sister of his friend Montfleuri, while visiting the family in France.

Philosophical Fictions and ‘Jacobin’ Novels in the s - Oxford Handbooks

Nevertheless, the suggestion of a happy ending here carries with it no guarantee of its inevitability. The epistolary format allows Smith to develop remarkably convincing voices for multiple characters, each of whom contributes a distinct point of view to the complicated debates she investigates.

In this work the plot is structured entirely around the struggles of her characters to possess and control the ancient home of an old English family. Thus a deteriorating mansion becomes the central metaphor for what Smith wishes to expose concerning the authority of property owners over the middle and lower classes and the corruption of a culture obsessed with the possession of property.

Rayland, a woman who embodies the anger and cruelty of an impotent aristocracy in the process of dying out and holding tenaciously onto the relics of its former glory. Rayland settles on her nephew Orlando Somerive, but she arrogantly plans a variety of tests for Orlando before she will finally decide whether or not he is a suitable successor as lord of the manor. While related to the Rayland family, the 76 Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the s Somerives nevertheless share neither their social standing nor their wealth and thus must struggle to secure both social position and livelihood in a rapidly changing world.

Monimia represents the least enfranchised class of all—the young woman without money or a family name and thus without much hope for making a good match for herself or even for making an honest living. Smith casts Monimia as a Gothic heroine from the start. Monimia draws on a list of typical Gothic conventions when she describes this room and her terror at being locked up.

The howling wind, the great, dark green damask hangings that swell with drafts of air, the rats that boldly nibble at the candles near her bed, and the portrait of an armored Rayland ancestor keep her in a state of terror. Seemingly supernatural events that Orlando and Monimia experience in the dark house at night create an air of suspense that contemporary readers would have found familiar. But, like Radcliffe, Smith neatly provides a rational explanation for every apparently supernatural occurrence by the end of the final volume.

The world that her characters inhabit is the real world, not the world of an imaginative romance. To divert him from his interest in Monimia, Orlando is sent into the army and soon finds himself shipped away to the North American colonies to fight the revolutionaries there. As Lionel Desmond had done, Orlando Somerive provides her with a mouthpiece for her views on a range of political topics, and here specifically on war. Smith compares, for example, the miserable conditions suffered by soldiers on a sea voyage to America to the abuses of Africans forced into slavery.

An unusual aspect of her attack on war includes her attention to the abuses suffered by the Native Americans during the Revolution and a particular condemnation of the British tactic of turning native tribes against the Americans, the factual accuracy of which she supports with a lengthy explanatory footnote VI When he returns to England, the extent of his transformation is symbolized by the fact that he is not recognized and is forced to struggle to prove his identity. Although Orlando goes to great lengths to find her, he finally stumbles upon her quite by accident.

Smith has thus modeled for her reader the promise of a new era that may yet be ushered in. As in Desmond, Smith is not concerned in this novel with the abuses of women alone. Rather, she details the sufferings of women as merely one serious consequence of a corrupt social system in dire need of reform at every level. Her profound concern for the dispossessed is expressed toward women at all strata of society, but she also extends that concern to men of the lower and middle classes, to soldiers and disabled veterans, to Africans subjected to slavery, and to Native Americans.

In her only novel for adults, Fenwick follows Smith in transferring the familiar Gothic setting from the continent to Britain, setting her story in a ruined English castle that serves as a symbolic vestige of a former era. In Secresy Fenwick also utilizes the motif of the imprisoned woman to comment on the errors fundamental to contemporary ideas concerning education and on the dangers of hiding personal motives and desires.

In her novel Fenwick focuses on the relationship between the patron of the ruin on the rock, George Valmont, and his niece and ward, Sibella. Fenwick draws on Gothic conventions throughout her narrative to develop mystery and suspense and to elicit a strong emotional response 80 Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the s in the reader. Strange occurrences that Sibella cannot explain begin to occur in the first volume, and on several occasions she encounters a stranger who appears to be a hermit on the castle grounds.

As in the novels of both Radcliffe and Smith, the inexplicable occurrences are given rational explanations later in the novel; the mysterious hermit, for example, is ultimately exposed to be the morose Arthur Murden, who has fallen in love with Sibella. Like all Gothic heroines, Sibella is also pursued by a relentless rake—in her case, the foppish Lord Filmar, who repeatedly plots to abduct her. For Arthur Murden too, Caroline has strong words. Hermsprong speaks in concert with the revolutionary spirit of the times when he assures Caroline that because her father has violated the duties of a father, it is no longer incumbent on her to obey him as a daughter Obligations that are not reciprocal?

Later, after Caroline has succeeded in escaping her imprisonment, Hermsprong reassures her that her actions were justified. No one attempts to stand in her way as she triumphantly departs, fearlessly brandishing a pistol as she walks out of the house. In their triumphs over conventional Gothic entrapment, these unconventional women modeled for readers how women might also prevail over men who subscribe to limited ideas of what women can and ought to be.

As a blueprint for rebellion, however, such a mode of action was not likely to be practicable for many women. It is more important to recognize that Secresy and Hermsprong both enact conflict in the father-daughter relationship as an oblique means of dramatizing and justifying revolution and reform on a grander scale. For these reformists, the misuse of power at every level of contemporary society was a practice that was learned in the home.

Thus reform must begin not merely in the way women are treated by men but in the way all children are treated and educated by their parents from their earliest years. Thus the system of reform that Wollstonecraft Incarcerated Women and the Uses of the Gothic 83 proposes demands a reconstitution of society and a reform of morality on a monumental scale. When she complains to her aunt that Lady Delacour is not an appropriate role model for her, both her aunt and Lady Delacour rebuke her. The world of high fashion that Edgeworth depicts is one that is rife with gossip, deceit, and debauchery.

Lady Delacour engages in a variety of ill-advised adventures because she is consumed in a rivalry with her hated enemy, Mrs. Lady Delacour and Mrs. Luttridge stop at nothing in their attempts to humiliate each other in public. And, in perhaps the most unusual episode in the novel, Lady Delacour describes having cross-dressed as a man to fight a female duel with Luttridge, spurred on by her malicious companion Harriet Freke, whose very name signifies her role as a wild and disruptive presence.

Harriet Freke loudly champions the rights of women over traditional gender roles and clearly represents a fanatical view of Wollstonecraftian feminism in the early s. Luttridge and to work on repairing both her marriage and her relationship with her young daughter Helena, whom she had long neglected. Belinda also encourages Lady Delacour to unveil the mystery she goes to great lengths to hide, that she had suffered a highly symbolic wound to her breast during her duel with Mrs. Of course, it is Belinda and not Virginia whom Clarence Hervey ultimately recognizes as the embodiment of the ideal woman.

Woodfield, her children, and her niece Caroline, are joined by Ella Sedley, a child from the West Indies who is sent to England along with her African nurse, Mimbah, when she loses her mother. Woodfield takes advantage of the opportunity to teach the children about slavery, explaining that those who are brought up in the West Indies do not recognize slaves as fellow human beings XII When Caroline asks how slavery can be justified, Mrs. Woodfield presents contemporary arguments for the institution and points out the fallacy behind each one. The argument that slavery is justifiable due to its long custom is one, she explains, that could support any abuse.

Woodfield also argues that the claims that slavery is an economic necessity and that slaves are happier than they would be in their native environment are equally fallacious. When one of the children asks why slaves are black, Mrs. For Smith and many like her, the racism of the English, and particularly their devotion to slavery and the slave trade, suggested a fidelity to a feudal economy and an inequitable system of social power that inhibited the spiritual health of the culture.

When saturated with discourse borrowed from the abolitionist movement in the s and s, the novel of sensibility became a valuable tool for such a mission. Am I N ot a Man and a Brothe r? The cataclysmic political changes occurring in America and Europe in the last decades of the eighteenth century brought with them an emphasis on the rights of the individual that greatly stimulated debate in Great Britain about the morality of slavery and the slave trade. The abolitionist movement had originated earlier in the century in reformed religious communities in England and America, including the Society of Friends, or Quakers, the Methodists, the Baptists, and the Unitarians.

Roxann Wheeler has argued that through the middle to late eighteenth century the English recognized geographical region, climate, religion, rank, and a variety of socioeconomic factors as the most significant determiners of race. By the s and s, however, as the abolition movement grew and as the public became more exposed to Africans in England, skin color and other physical attributes became increasingly more important in popular understandings of racial difference. Throughout the s and s, a variety of reformist writers began to contribute their efforts to the abolitionist movement.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge published a lecture against slavery in the fourth issue of The Watchman Clarkson traveled throughout Britain in the early s, founding abolitionist groups, promoting support for the antislavery bill, and contributing to a mounting effort to boycott the sugar that was produced by slave labor in the West Indies.

Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African was published in Is it not authorized by all the nations of Europe, Asia and America? Charles Rzepka has pointed out that by the s Obi became an even more powerful vehicle for English abolitionists when it was converted into a melodrama and when Jack was given a speaking role, which allowed him to speak out against the atrocities of the capture of Africans and of their treatment by planters in the West Indian colonies.

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Mackenzie was one of several authors in the late eighteenth century who followed Voltaire and Rousseau in recasting the figure of the child of nature and combining his characteristics with those of the popular man of feeling. After their ransom by the British government, the young men enjoyed celebrity in London.

Adolphus and his English guardian, Hamilton, debate the efficacy of enforced military service, and the boy insists that only free will can inspire vigor and courage in battle. When he is introduced into London society, Adolphus is also astonished by the gravity with which the English approach their nightly gambling parties, and he is appalled by the cold reserve of young English women who feign a lack of interest in those who wish to court them.

When he meets the unfortunate Mr. Hawkins, who lacks the financial stability required to take care of his orphaned niece, Mary Ann St Leger, Adolphus asks his guardian to employ Hawkins as his tutor, and he becomes involved in a complicated plot to rescue Mary Ann from the exploitation of a corrupt legal guardian who plans to defraud her of her inheritance.

And am I to be refused for a? Shocked that he has not been preferred to this unusual foreigner, Berisford cannot even name the racial difference that he finds so objectionable in his rival. Predictably, Zimza is eventually discovered and released through the efforts of his son, Adolphus. Significantly, here Mackenzie extends her critique of slavery into a broader critique of the European class system when Zimza is forced to admit that a life devoid of titles and riches is preferable to the proud sovereignty he and his son had possessed over his people in Africa.

Though impressed with the tenets of the Christian faith, Zimza chooses not to convert due to the hypocrisy he sees as rampant among Christians. Mackenzie goes so far as to insert an unlikely passage into the final lines of the novel in which a French character praises Race and the Disenfranchised in s Britain 95 the British.

Such an ending may strike a modern reader as surprisingly conservative for an abolitionist who has been strident in her attacks on British culture throughout the novel. Nevertheless, by , distancing oneself from the contemporary political situation in France may have been a critical tactic for a novel containing such clearly reformist views. One might compare the tactics Smith used to make her reformist agenda less obvious in The Old Manor House and The Banished Man after the heated critical response to her bolder Desmond, published in Few late eighteenth-century novels include African characters in roles as major as that of Adolphus.

Nevertheless, African characters do appear in minor roles from time to time, and it can be productive to study the manner in which they are portrayed. In many cases, the African character appears as the stereotype of the unflaggingly faithful servant, largely influenced by the representation of Africans on the late eighteenth-century stage. In one melodramatic episode in this novel, the heroine Adeline sells a valuable veil at one-third of its value to buy a pineapple as a treat for her dying lover Glenmurray. Because this particular case of brutality is compounded by racial prejudice, Adeline cannot resist her inclination to assist the family despite the fact that alleviating their debt will deprive her beloved Glenmurray of perhaps his last pleasure.

After raising Adeline according to a system of modern philosophical convictions that disdain the institution of marriage, Editha values her status in society too highly to stand behind Adeline when Adeline acts on those convictions and chooses not to marry her lover Glenmurray. Editha then further alienates Adeline by repeatedly exhibiting a selfish preference for her dissolute husband over her own daughter.

In the final analysis, it is the nurturing Savanna who provides Adeline with the care and protection of a true mother. A modern reader may wonder why Opie chose to depict an African character in a period in which so few such characters appear in the British novel. As a woman and as an escaped slave who is sold back into slavery when she returns to Jamaica, Savanna represents perhaps the most extreme example of the dispossessed in contemporary British culture.

In his novel St Leon, Godwin also draws on the conventional stereotype of the African in depicting a character who, like Savanna, embodies perfect fidelity to his white patron. What St Leon discovers, of course, is that his inability to explain the source for an endless supply of ready money engenders only suspicion, hatred, and violence and repeatedly forces him to move his family from one community to another all over Europe.

In one episode, St Leon is arrested in Constance, Germany, and is imprisoned on suspicion of criminal activity. He immediately plans to use his unlimited wealth to procure his freedom, and he attempts to bribe an African turnkey by the name of Hector. When asked whether he is content with his lot in life, Hector surprises St Leon by affirming that he is satisfied to be a servant and that he is pleased to serve a master who had rescued him from imprisonment in the past.

Pathetically, the honest Hector begs the jailor not to dismiss him from his service. So little do some men seem capable of feeling the value of attachment! Having just attempted to bribe a turnkey to betray his duty to his employer, St Leon too is incapable of feeling the value of attachment. Hector is seized by the mob and is brutally ripped limb from limb.

He recognised the dead being before him for his fellowcreature. Both Charon and Hector have treated him with the attention and deference he feels he deserves as a former nobleman. Nevertheless, many readers will be astonished by the comparison he makes between his grief for Hector and his grief for his son and wife. St Leon continues to rate and measure human worth as one who weighs and counts gold coins.

It is puzzling to consider why Godwin chose to include an African character in a narrative set in sixteenth-century Europe. Here it is important to recall that Godwin had dedicated an entire book of Political Justice to the problems that are endemic to an inequitable distribution of property. It is important to note that in illuminating the destructiveness of privileged Europeans who are damaged by their corrupted culture, both Opie and Godwin simultaneously emphasize the selflessness, humanity, and even superiority of the most dispossessed class of human beings imaginable.

The Creole Stereotype in the Hands of Reformists Late eighteenth-century literary treatments of the West Indian Creole tend to offer more insight into contemporary attitudes toward slavery and abolition than representations of African slaves themselves. Despite the fact that British consumers demanded West Indian exports in ever-increasing quantities, depictions of Creoles in the British novel often indicate a distinct discomfort with perceived differences in personality and manners between the British at home and those who lived abroad.

The ardently conservative Mrs. The portrayal of a Creole aristocrat in the anonymously authored Henry Willoughby offers a brief glimpse of how a Creole living in England responded to such anxiety concerning racial mixing. By contrast, reformist texts of the s tend to portray the Creole as hedonistic, voluptuous, and exploitative—clear manifestations of an abolitionist agenda. They may be Britons born, but they are not Britons at heart, and I disclaim them. There are thousands here that have hearts like rocks.

Several episodes in later eighteenth-century fiction depict the shock of British characters when they encounter Creoles.

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Ellison weeps when her lapdog is injured but exhibits no emotional response to the sufferings of her slaves. Smith reworks this stereotype again in the novel in her portrait of a Creole widow, Mrs. Effingham makes little effort to extend the education she had been given. Smith places her beleaguered heroine Henrietta Maynard in a highly Gothic setting, albeit one adapted to contemporary Jamaica. Throughout the novel Lady Delacour takes great pains to maneuver Belinda away from Vincent and toward her choice of a more appropriate suitor. Vincent and maneuvering her eventual marriage to the thoroughly English Clarence Hervey.

Belinda includes an episode in which Belinda and Mr. While Vincent praises the poem, his imperfect understanding of it suggests his inability to acknowledge fully the evils of slavery. Rather than singing to his new bride, Juba composes a wedding song in honor of Mr. It is important to note that Edgeworth was persuaded by her father and others to rewrite this episode when she prepared the novel for a new edition in For the first six years of his life, Henry is raised solely by his mother, Amelia, in England while his father, Percival Montfort, Race and the Disenfranchised in s Britain manages the family estate in the West Indies.

With a faulty understanding of wealth and the social responsibilities of the rich, Henry squanders money on excessive feasts and drunken parties. When Henry travels to St Domingo, he describes his impressions of the people he meets there in great detail. In many cases he finds that Creoles exhibit the worst kinds of social behaviors that he has also encountered at home in England. He notices the indolence of the Creoles, who take long siestas to cope with the hot climate, and he regrets the complete absence of books, which cannot be protected from indigenous insects.

After his first drunken banquet, Henry is shocked the next morning when he awakens to find that a young slave woman had been sent to share his bed. Though expressed in florid language, this statement is a remarkably early demonstration of the inappropriateness of skin color as a measure of human worth. Because the testimony of blacks against whites is not trusted in West Indian courts, Moroon is never tried for the murder of his foster-father.

She is described by her fellow Creoles as a female philosopher, and she is highly regarded for her great intelligence as well as her great beauty. Like the best of the reformist heroes and heroines of the period, Seraphina embodies the finer qualities of both genders. One of the most remarkable differences in her characterization is the degree to which Thelwall presents her as a sexual being. Nevertheless, Seraphina never fails to epitomize the reformist heroine at her best. Drag me across your ruthless seas.

You drag but your own chastisement. Not mine shall be the terror, guilty wretch! But thine! When the two travel to the Caribbean early in the novel, Edmunds enjoys a relative erasure of the boundaries of social class among the Creoles. It is clear that Thelwall particularly identified with Edmunds as a spokesman for his political views. This episode, in fact, recasts an actual experience that Coleridge remembered sharing with Thelwall.

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Scholars have long studied the Empire, looking at the causes for its formation, its relations to the French and other empires, and the kinds of people who became imperialists or anti-imperialists, together with their mindsets. The history of the breakdown of the Empire has attracted scholars of the histories of the United States which broke away in , India independent in , and the African colonies independent in the s.

John Darwin identifies four imperial goals: colonizing, civilizing, converting, and commerce. Historians have approached imperial history from numerous angles over the last century. Recent debates have considered the relationship between the "metropole" Great Britain itself, especially London , and the colonial peripheries. The "British world" historians stress the material, emotional, and financial links among the colonizers across the imperial diaspora.

The "new imperial historians," by contrast, are more concerned with the Empire's impact on the metropole, including everyday experiences and images. The new thinking was that the impact was not so great, [ clarification needed ] for historians had discovered the many ways which the locals responded to and adapted to Imperial rule. The implication Buckner says is that Imperial history is "therefore less important than was formerly believed". Historians agree that the Empire was not planned by anyone. The concept of the British Empire is a construct and was never a legal entity, unlike the Roman or other European empires.

There was no imperial constitution, no office of emperor, no uniformity of laws. So when it began, when it ended, and what stages it went through is a matter of opinion, not official orders or laws. The dividing line was Britain's shift in the —93 period from emphasis on western to eastern territories following U. The London bureaucracy governing the colonies also changed, policies to white settler colonies changed and slavery was phased out. The book points out how and why Britain gained the colonies, the character of the Empire, and the light in which it should be regarded.

It was well written and persuasive. Seeley argued that British rule is in India's best interest. He also warned that India had to be protected and vastly increased the responsibilities and dangers to Britain. The book contains the much-quoted statement that "we seem, as it were, to have conquered half the world in a fit of absence of mind". Expansion of England appeared at an opportune time, and did much to make the British regard the colonies as an expansion of the British state as well as of British nationality, and to confirm to them the value of Britain's empire in the East.

Newton lamented that Seeley "dealt in the main with the great wars of the eighteenth century and this gave the false impression that the British Empire has been founded largely by war and conquest, an idea that was unfortunately planted firmly in the public mind, not only in Great Britain, but also in foreign countries".

Historians often point out that in the First British Empire before the s there was no single imperial vision, but rather a multiplicity of private operations led by different groups of English businessmen or religious groups. Although protected by the Royal Navy, they were not funded or planned by the government. In the Second British Empire, by historians identify four distinct elements in the colonies. India was in a category by itself, and its immense size and distance required control of the routes to it, and in turn permitted British naval dominance from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.

The third group was a mixed bag of smaller territories, including isolated ports used as way stations to India, and emerging trade entrepots such as Hong Kong and Singapore, along with a few isolated ports in Africa. The fourth kind of empire was the "informal empire," that is financial dominance exercised through investments, as in Latin America, and including the complex situation in Egypt it was owned theoretically by the Ottoman Empire, but ruled by Britain.

Historians argue that Britain built an informal economic empire through control of trade and finance in Latin America after the independence of Spanish and Portuguese colonies about Following the defeat of Napoleonic France in , Britain enjoyed a century of almost unchallenged dominance and expanded its imperial holdings around the globe. Increasing degrees of internal autonomy were granted to its white settler colonies in the 20th century.

A resurgence came in the late 19th century, with the Scramble for Africa and major additions in Asia and the Middle East. They all were influenced by Seeley's Expansion of England. Its power, both military and economic, remained unmatched in British historians focused on the diplomatic, military and administrative aspects of the Empire before the s. They saw a benevolent enterprise. Younger generations branched off into a variety of social, economic and cultural themes, and took a much more critical stance.

Representative of the old tradition was the Cambridge History of India , a large-scale project published in five volumes between and by Cambridge University Press. Some volumes were also part of the simultaneous multivolume The Cambridge History of the British Empire. Production of both works was delayed by the First World War and the ill health of contributors; the India volume II had to be abandoned.

Reviewers complained the research methods were too old-fashioned; one critic said it was "history as it was understood by our grandfathers". David Armitage provided an influential [21] study of the emergence of a British imperial ideology from the time of Henry VIII to that of Robert Walpole in the s and s.

Armitage thus links the concerns of the "New British History" with that of the Atlantic history. Before , Armitage finds that contested English and Scottish versions of state and empire delayed the emergence of a unitary imperial ideology. However political economists Nicholas Barbon and Charles Davenant in the late 17th century emphasized the significance of commerce, especially mercantilism or commerce that was closed to outsiders, to the success of the state.

They argued that "trade depended on liberty, and that liberty could therefore be the foundation of empire". Walpole's opponents in the s in the " country party " and in the American colonies developed an alternative vision of empire that would be "Protestant, commercial, maritime and free". Anti-imperial critiques emerged from Francis Hutcheson and David Hume , presaging the republicanism that swept the American colonies in the s and led to the creation of a rival empire.

Historians led by Eli Heckscher have identified Mercantilism as the central economic policy for the empire before the shift to free trade in the s. It was the economic counterpart of political absolutism. Mercantilism dominated Western European economic policy and discourse from the 16th to lateth centuries. Mercantilism was a cause of frequent European wars and also motivated colonial expansion.

High tariffs , especially on manufactured goods, are an almost universal feature of mercantilist policy. Other policies have included: [29]. The term "mercantile system" was used by its foremost critic Adam Smith. Mercantilism in its simplest form was bullionism which focused on accumulating gold and silver through clever trades leaver the trading partner with less of his gold and silver. Mercantilist writers emphasized the circulation of money and rejected hoarding. Their emphasis on monetary metals accords with current ideas regarding the money supply, such as the stimulative effect of a growing money supply.

In England, mercantilism reached its peak during the Long Parliament government — Mercantilist policies were also embraced throughout much of the Tudor and Stuart periods, with Robert Walpole being another major proponent. In Britain, government control over the domestic economy was far less extensive than on the Continent, limited by common law and the steadily increasing power of Parliament. With respect to its colonies, British mercantilism meant that the government and the merchants became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires.

The government protected its merchants — and kept others out — by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm. The government used the Royal Navy to protect the colonies and to fight smuggling — which became a favourite American technique in the 18th century to circumvent the restrictions on trading with the French, Spanish or Dutch. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in Britain.

The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country not the colonists. British mercantilist writers were themselves divided on whether domestic controls were necessary. British mercantilism thus mainly took the form of efforts to control trade. Much of the enforcement against smuggling was handled by the Royal Navy, argued Neil Stout. Tariffs were placed on imports and bounties given for exports, and the export of some raw materials was banned completely.

The Navigation Acts expelled foreign merchants from England's domestic trade. The nation aggressively sought colonies and once under British control, regulations were imposed that allowed the colony to only produce raw materials and to only trade with Britain. This led to smuggling by major merchants and political friction with the businessmen of these colonies.

Mercantilist policies such as forbidding trade with other empires and controls over smuggling were a major irritant leading to the American Revolution. Mercantilism taught that trade was a zero-sum game with one country's gain equivalent to a loss sustained by the trading partner. Whatever the theoretical weaknesses exposed by economists after Adam Smith, it was under mercantilist policies before the s that Britain became the world's dominant trader, and the global hegemon.

Scholars agree that Britain gradually dropped mercantilism after Free trade, with no tariffs and few restrictions, was the prevailing doctrine from the s to the s. John Darwin has explored the way historians have explained the large role of the Royal Navy, and the much smaller role of the army, in the history of the Empire. For the 20th century he explores what he calls a "pseudo-empire," that refers to oil producers in the Middle East.

The strategic goal of protecting the Suez Canal was a high priority from the s to , and by then had expanded to the oil regions, Darwin argues that defence strategy posed issues of how to reconcile the needs of domestic politics with the preservation of a global Empire.

Lizzie Collingham stresses the role of expanding the food supply in the building, financing and defending the trade aspect of empire building. The first British empire centered on the 13 American colonies, which attracted large numbers of settlers from across Britain. In the s - s period the "Imperial School," including Herbert L. Andrews and Lawrence Gipson [46] took a favourable view of the benefits of empire, emphasizing its successful economic integration. Regarding Columbia University historian Herbert L.

Osgood — biographer Gwenda Morgan concludes:. Much of the historiography concerns the reasons the Americans revolted in the s and successfully broke away. The "patriots" an insulting term used by the British, but proudly adopted by the Americans stressed the constitutional rights of Englishmen, especially " No taxation without representation. In turn that nationalism was Rooted in a Republican value system that demanded consent of the governed and opposed aristocratic control.

There were almost no aristocrats or nobles in the 13 colonies and instead the colonial political system was based on the winners of free elections that were open to the majority of white men.

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In the analysis of the coming of the Revolution, historians in recent decades have mostly used one of three approaches. It tended to reintegrate the historiographies of the American Revolution and the British Empire. Third is the ideological approach that centers on Republicanism in the United States. It did allow for continuation of the British common law, which American lawyers and jurists understood and approved and used in their everyday practice.

Historians have examined how the rising American legal profession adapted the British common law to incorporate republicanism by selective revision of legal customs and by introducing more choice for courts. The concept of a first and second British Empire was developed by historians in the late 19th century, and is a concept usually used by advanced scholars. Parsons argued in , "there were several British empires that ended at different times and for different reasons". Ashley Jackson argued in that historians have even extended to a third and fourth empire:.

The first British Empire was largely destroyed by the loss of the American colonies, followed by a 'swing to the east' and the foundation of a second British Empire based on commercial and territorial expansion in South Asia. The third British Empire was the construction of a 'white' dominion power bloc in the international system based on Britain's relations with its settler offshoots Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa The fourth British Empire, meanwhile, is used to denote Britain's rejuvenated imperial focus on Africa and South-East Asia following the Second World War and the independence in —48 of Britain's South Asian dependencies, when the Empire became a vital crutch in Britain's economic recovery.

The first Empire was founded in the 17th century, and based on the migration of large numbers of settlers to the American colonies, as well as the development of the sugar plantation colonies in the West Indies. It ended with the British loss of the American War for Independence. The second Empire had already started to emerge. It was originally designed as a chain of trading ports and naval bases. However, it expanded inland into the control of large numbers of natives when the East India Company proved highly successful in taking control of most of India.

India became the keystone of the Second Empire, along with colonies later developed across Africa. A few new settler colonies were also built up in Australia and New Zealand, and to a lesser extent in South Africa. Marshall in shows the consensus of scholars is clear, for since the concepts of the First British Empire have "held their ground in historians' usage without serious challenge.

Historians have long identified certain developments in the late eighteenth century that undermined the fundamentals of the old Empire and were to bring about a new one. These were the American Revolution and the industrial revolution. Historians, however, debate whether was a sharp line of demarcation between First and Second, or whether there was an overlap as argued by Vincent T. Harlow [62] or whether there was a "black hole between and the later birth of the Second Empire.

Historian Denis Judd says the "black hole" is a fallacy and that there was continuity. Judd writes: It is commonplace to suppose that the successful revolt of the American colonies marked the end of the 'First British Empire'. But this is only a half-truth. In there was still a substantial Empire left. Tucker and David Hendrickson, stresses the victorious initiative of the Americans. Theories about imperialism typically focus on the Second British Empire, [66] with side glances elsewhere.

The term "Imperialism" was originally introduced into English in its present sense in the s by Liberal leader William Gladstone to ridicule the imperial policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli , which he denounced as aggressive and ostentatious and inspired by domestic motives. For some, imperialism designated a policy of idealism and philanthropy; others alleged that it was characterized by political self-interest, and a growing number associated it with capitalist greed.

Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s

John A. Hobson , a leading English Liberal, developed a highly influential economic exploitation model in Imperialism: A Study that expanded on his belief that free enterprise capitalism had a negative impact on the majority of the population. In Imperialism he argued that the financing of overseas empires drained money that was needed at home. It was invested abroad because lower wages paid the workers overseas made for higher profits and higher rates of return, compared to domestic wages.

So although domestic wages remained higher, they did not grow nearly as fast as they might have otherwise. Exporting capital, he concluded, put a lid on the growth of domestic wages in the domestic standard of living. By the s, historians such as David K. Fieldhouse [69] and Oren Hale could argue that the, "Hobsonian foundation has been almost completely demolished. However, European Socialists picked up Hobson's ideas and made it into their own theory of imperialism, most notably in Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism Lenin portrayed Imperialism as the closure of the world market and the end of capitalist free-competition that arose from the need for capitalist economies to constantly expand investment, material resources and manpower in such a way that necessitated colonial expansion.

Later Marxist theoreticians echo this conception of imperialism as a structural feature of capitalism, which explained the World War as the battle between imperialists for control of external markets. Lenin's treatise became a standard textbook that flourished until the collapse of communism in — As the application of the term "imperialism" has expanded, its meaning has shifted along five axes: the moral, the economic, the systemic, the cultural, and the temporal.

Those changes reflect a growing unease, even squeamishness, with the fact of power, specifically, Western power. The relationships among capitalism, imperialism, exploitation, social reform and economic development has long been debated among historians and political theorists. Much of the debate was pioneered by such theorists as John A. While these non-Marxist writers were at their most prolific before World War I, they remained active in the interwar years. Their combined work informed the study of imperialism's impact on Europe, as well as contributed to reflections on the rise of the military-political complex in the United States from the s.

Hobson argued that domestic social reforms could cure the international disease of imperialism by removing its economic foundation. Hobson theorized that state intervention through taxation could boost broader consumption, create wealth, and encourage a peaceful multilateral world order. Conversely, should the state not intervene, rentiers people who earn income from property or securities would generate socially negative wealth that fostered imperialism and protectionism.

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Hobson for years was widely influential in liberal circles, especially the British Liberal Party. Fieldhouse , for example, argues that they used superficial arguments. Fieldhouse says that the "obvious driving force of British expansion since " came from explorers, missionaries, engineers, and empire-minded politicians.

They had little interest in financial investments. Hobson's answer was to say that faceless financiers manipulated everyone else, so that "The final determination rests with the financial power. They were no longer dynamic and sought to maintain profits by even more intensive exploitation of protected markets. Fieldhouse rejects these arguments as unfounded speculation. Historians agree that in the s, Britain adopted a free-trade policy, meaning open markets and no tariffs throughout the empire.

The article helped launch the Cambridge School of historiography. Gallagher and Robinson used the British experience to construct a framework for understanding European imperialism that swept away the all-or-nothing thinking of previous historians. Much more important was informal influence in independent areas. According to Wm. Roger Louis, "In their view, historians have been mesmerized by formal empire and maps of the world with regions colored red. The bulk of British emigration, trade, and capital went to areas outside the formal British Empire.

Key to their thinking is the idea of empire 'informally if possible and formally if necessary. Cabinet decisions to annex or not to annex were made, usually on the basis of political or geopolitical considerations. Reviewing the debate from the end of the 20th century, historian Martin Lynn argues that Gallagher and Robinson exaggerated the impact. He says that Britain achieved its goal of increasing its economic interests in many areas, "but the broader goal of 'regenerating' societies and thereby creating regions tied as 'tributaries' to British economic interests was not attained.

Local economies and local regimes proved adept at restricting the reach of British trade and investment. Local impediments to foreign inroads, the inhabitants' low purchasing power, the resilience of local manufacturing, and the capabilities of local entrepreneurs meant that these areas effectively resisted British economic penetration. The idea that free-trade imperial states use informal controls to secure their expanding economic influence has attracted Marxists trying to avoid the problems of earlier Marxist interpretations of capitalism.

The approach is most often applied to American policies. Historians have begun to explore some of the ramifications of British free-trade policy, especially the effect of American and German high tariff policies. Canada adopted a "national policy" of high tariffs in the late 19th century, in sharp distinction to the mother country. The goal was to protect its infant manufacturing industries from low-cost imports from the United States and Britain. Economic historians have debated at length the impact of these tariff changes on economic growth. Gentlemanly capitalism is a theory of New Imperialism first put forward by P.

Cain and A. Hopkins in the s before being fully developed in their work, British Imperialism. It encourages a shift of emphasis away from seeing provincial manufacturers and geopolitical strategy as important influences, and towards seeing the expansion of empire as emanating from London and the financial sector.

Kevin Grant shows that numerous historians in the 21st century have explored relationships between the Empire, international government and human rights. They have focused on British conceptions of imperial world order from the late 19th century to the Cold War. The notion of "benevolence" was developed in the — era by idealists whose moralistic prescriptions annoyed efficiency-oriented colonial administrators and profit-oriented merchants. The most successful development came in the abolition of slavery led by William Wilberforce and the Evangelicals, [99] and the expansion of Christian missionary work.

The Treaty of Waitangi , initially designed to protect Maori rights, has become the bedrock of Aotearoa—New Zealand biculturalism. One of the most controversial aspects of the Empire is its role in first promoting and then ending slavery. In the 18th century, British merchant ships were the largest element in the "Middle Passage", which transported millions of slaves to the Western Hemisphere.

Most of those who survived the journey wound up in the Caribbean, where the Empire had highly profitable sugar colonies, and the living conditions were bad the plantation owners lived in Britain. Parliament ended the international transportation of slaves in and used the Royal Navy to enforce that ban.

In , it bought out the plantation owners and banned slavery. Historians before the s argued that moralistic reformers such as William Wilberforce were primarily responsible. Historical revisionism arrived when West Indian historian Eric Williams , a Marxist, in Capitalism and Slavery , rejected this moral explanation and argued that abolition was now more profitable, as a century of sugar cane raising had exhausted the soil of the islands, and the plantations had become unprofitable.

It was more profitable to sell the slaves to the government than to keep up operations. The prohibition of the international trade, Williams argued, prevented French expansion on other islands. Meanwhile, British investors turned to Asia, where labor was so plentiful that slavery was unnecessary. Williams went on to argue that slavery played a major role in making Britain prosperous. The high profits from the slave trade, he said, helped finance the Industrial Revolution.

Britain enjoyed prosperity because of the capital gained from the unpaid work of slaves. Since the s, numerous historians have challenged Williams from various angles, and Gad Heuman has concluded, "More recent research has rejected this conclusion; it is now clear that the colonies of the British Caribbean profited considerably during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Richardson further challenges claims by African scholars that the slave trade caused widespread depopulation and economic distress in Africa but that it caused the "underdevelopment" of Africa. Admitting the horrible suffering of slaves, he notes that many Africans benefited directly because the first stage of the trade was always firmly in the hands of Africans. European slave ships waited at ports to purchase cargoes of people who were captured in the hinterland by African dealers and tribal leaders.

Richardson finds that the "terms of trade" how much the ship owners paid for the slave cargo moved heavily in favour of the Africans after about That is, indigenous elites inside West and Central Africa made large and growing profits from slavery, thus increasing their wealth and power. Thomas Babington Macaulay — was the foremost historian of his day, arguing for the "Whig interpretation of history" that saw the history of Britain as an upward progression always leading to more liberty and more progress.

Macaulay simultaneously was a leading reformer involved in transforming the educational system of India. He would base it on the English language so that India could join the mother country in a steady upward progress. Macaulay took Burke's emphasis on moral rule and implemented it in actual school reforms, giving the British Empire a profound moral mission to civilize the natives.

Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions
Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions
Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions
Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions
Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions
Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions

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