Bachelors and “Old Maids”: Antirevolutionary British Women Writers and Narrative Authority after the French Revolution

Lisa WoodYork University
Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring 2003), 81-98

This essay examines antirevolutionary women writers of the post-French Revolutionary period who were dedicated to combating what the novelist and moralist Jane West called “the alarming relaxation of principle that too surely discriminates a declining age.” This essay tracks the conservative politics of women intellectuals who were more likely to applaud Edmund Burke than to endorse Mary Wollstonecraft and who took part in a broad, heterogeneous, and active conservative print culture. Focusing on the Evangelical Hannah More’s only novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809), and Jane West’s female narrator, Mrs. Prudentia Homespun, in her five novels between 1793 and 1810 (but particularly A Gossip’s Story), the essay shows how these writers manage, in a conservative climate and with conservative aims, to nonetheless achieve limited forms of authority in narration: More, by maneuvering class and gender in her use of a gentleman as a narrator, and West, by employing a female narrator who displays the conflict between conservative ideology and the possibility for an authoritative female voice.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]