Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(4) Domesticity and Historicity in Early Nineteenth Century Novels.

(J. Austen, M. Edgeworth, and W. Scott).


T h e  B r i t i s h  R o m a n t i c  P e r i o d  (1785 - 1830)

[See "Background for Topics 2-5..."]

J a n e  A u s t e n  ( 1 7 7 5 – 1 8 1 7 )

L i f e :

- b. in a moderately Tory family

- her cousin died on the scaffold in Fr., her 2 brothers served as officers against Napoleon B. x but: never personally politically committed or involved in inter- / national affairs

W o r k :

< Maria Edgeworth

- limited subject: provincial E gentlefolk = society defined in terms of land, money, and class

- limited form: intricate, spare, and ironic novel of manners = examines and criticises the values men and women live by in their everyday social lives

- untouched by the political, intellectual, and artistic rev. of her age; conservative against the current radical enthusiasm:

(a) the war:

- at the margin even in novels introd. naval officers as characters

> Mansfield Park (1814) and Persuasion (1818)

(b) the agricultural depression, destitution, and rural pauperism:

- only as an occasion of genteel charity, or for scolding the poor ‘into harmony and plenty’

> Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice (1813)

(c) her conc.:

= getting married = the central preocc. for young leisure-class ladies with no oth. career than domesticity open to them

- against a realistic background = the test for her F protagonists of the practical sense, moral integrity, and knowledge of the world and oneself

- obliges the reader to participate in the moral processes of disciplined learning and judging

- advocates the merits of good conduct, good manners, sound reason, and marriage as an admirable social institution

- never scorns love x but: demands the complementary qualities of self-knowledge, self-discipline, and practicality

- her protagonists can be as intelligent as Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, or as witty, egotistic, and independent as Emma Woodhouse of Emma x but: all finally brought to mature judgement and, by proper extension, emotional fulfilment

Sense and Sensibility (1811):

= her 1st publ. novel

- gently ridicules the cult of sensibility, sentiment, and passion by an ironic exposure of affectation and by a steady affirmation of the virtues of restraint

- balances maturity against impulsiveness

Pride and Prejudice (1813):

- opens with one of the most famous lines in E lit.: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

Mansfield Park (1814):

= perhaps the most pragmatic and the least romantic of her novels

- touches on the slave trade and the roots of the Br. upper-class’s wealth in corruption and exploitation

Emma (1816):

= perhaps the most perfectly construed, the best, and most representative of her novels

- concl.: the rebellious E. finds her personal liberation within the enclosure of the society by learning to respect and use its rules

Northanger Abbey (1818, posthum.):

= chronologically her earliest novel x but: publ. posthum.

- ridicules the taste for Gothic terrors and unsophisticated romances in her time

< incl. an elaborate parody on A. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

Persuasion (1818, posthum.):

- connected with the Northanger Abbey:

(a) orig. bound up in one vol. and still so issued

(b) both set from part in the health resort Bath (A. lived there for several y.)

M a r i a  E d g e w o r t h  ( 1 7 6 7 – 1 8 4 9 )

L i f e :

= connected with Ir.: her understanding based on her grasp both of her family and the Ir. nation’s history

- sympathised with the oppressed Cath. majority x contradictorily convinced of the superiority of E manners

=> cherished the visionary hope of the regeneration both of the landowning aristocracy and its nation

W o r k :

F e m i n i s t  W r i t i n g s :

- conc.: radically criticized esp. the inadequacy of contemp. women’s education

Letters to Literary Ladies (1795): a feminist essay

The Parent’s Assistant (1796 – 1800): in several vol.

Practical Education (1798): in collab. with her father

I r i s h  N o v e l s :

= subtle, comic discourses on the present state of society

- employed an interplay of voices, incl. that of the author as ed. and annotator

- set immediately before / after the Act of Union (= The United Kingdom of GB + Ir., 1801)

- attempted to counter a potential alienation of the land-owning class from its tenantry

Castle Rackrent (1800):

= probably the 1st novel to repres. society in a specific region in a given historical period => the 1st true regional novel and the 1st true historical novel

= probably also the 1st family saga, and the 1st novel to use the device of an unreliable narrator = an observer of, rather than a player in, the actions he chronicles

- conc.: the 4 generations of the Rackrent family, and their inheritance > conversion > failure > dislodgement by the son of the narrator = the family steward

- incl. a pointed glossary ‘for the information of the ignorant English reader’ = interpreted both a way of speaking and a way of observing

The Absentee (1812):

- on the desertion of Ir. by an aristocracy drawn by the magnet of E fashion after the Union

- conc.: the return of a Lord and Lady to their Ir. estates, encouraged by their son

- the Lady’s attempts to buy her way into the London high society ridiculed, the Lord’s finances ruined as a result of his wife’s lifestyle > the debts paid by their sensitive son on condition of their return to live in Ir.

- ‘absentees’ = the new generation of voluntary exiles

- concl.:

(a) the necessity of return of the aristocracy to their tenants driven by their absence to the state of a ‘wretched, wretched people’

(b) the revival of principle, example, leadership, and good management of the disenchanted ruling class

Ormond (1817)

S i r  W a l t e r  S c o t t  ( 1 7 7 1 – 1 8 3 2 )

L i f e :

< admired J. Austen

< admired M. Edgeworth = has done more twd completing the Union than the legislative enactment

- aimed to do the same for his own country

=> achieved a broad pop. understanding of Scott. history and culture

W o r k :

= universally pop.

F i c t i o n :

- creator of the 19th c. historical novel

- historical romance = based on ‘marvellous and uncommon incidents’ in the realm of history

(a) Scott. novels:

- romantic view of Scott. past: altered the order of events, etc. to suit his own Unionist and Tory ends x but: kept fidelity to the spirit of the past

- conc.: Scott. affairs against the background of the observation of a pragmatic, often E, outsider

- characters: the best from middle / lower classes with their dialogues in Scott. vernacular to emphasise their individuality

- avoidance of the Scots dialect except for dialogues => accessibility to a wide audience

- setting = Scotland divided by factions [Jacobites x Unionists, Highland clansmen x urban Lowlanders, etc.]

- protagonists = exposed to conflicting ways of seeing, thinking, and acting

=> an evolutionary clash of opposites leading to a progressive future

- no more a fancy dress of Gothic fiction: fictional heroes encounter historical ones in his own imaginative and ideological interpretation

Waverley (1814, anonym.):

= his 1st novel, his following novels advertised as ‘by the author of Waverley’ => the series of novels on similar themes written during the same period also known under the collective name the ‘Waverley novels’

- set in the mid-18th c.

- conc.: the gradual involvement of the Englishman Waverley in the ‘The Forty-five Jacobite Rising’ (1745 = the 2nd major rising, a part of a series of military campaigns attempting to restore the Stuart kings to the thrones of En. and Scott. [and GB after 1707 = the union of En. and Scott. to the Kingdom of GB])

Guy Mannering (1815):

- set in the late 18th c. = the time of lawlessness, with smugglers operating along the coast and thieves frequenting the country roads

- conc.: the fortunes and misfortunes of the protagonist as predicted on his birth by the eponymous astrologer, incl. his kidnapping as a little boy after witnessing the murder of a customs officer by smugglers, his struggle for heritage, etc.

The Antiquary (1816):

= a Gothic novel of family secrets, hidden treasure, hopeless love, benighted aristocracy, and a mysterious, handsome, young M character

- the eponymous character, an amateur historian, archaeologist, and collector of items of dubious antiquity = not the protagonist x but: a central figure for, and a sardonic commentator of, oth. more exciting characters and events

Rob Roy (1817):

- set in the early 18th c. in ‘The Fifteen Jacobite Rising’ (1715)

- conc.: the son of an E merchant’s journey to the Scott. Highlands to coll. a debt stolen from him

- the eponymous character x but: not the protagonist = based on the historical figure of the infamous Scott. folk hero and outlaw Robert Roy MacGregor x but: the story completely fictional

Old Mortality (1816) and The Heart of Midlothian (1818): parts of a 7-vol. series of novels publ. in individual vol. during the period of some 15 y., also known under the collective title Tales of my Landlord

(b) Non-Scott. novels:

Ivanhoe (1820):

- set in the late 12th c. En.

- the eponymous character and protagonist = son of one of the remaining Saxon noble families among at the time overwhelmingly Norman nobility

- conc.: the protagonist’s return from the Crusades [= the war of Christian Europe to conquer the Holy Land of Jerusalem from its Muslim occupants] seriously wounded, his falling out of favour with his father due to his unsuitable courting of the Saxon Princess Rowena and his allegiance to the Norman King Richard I [= ‘Richard the Lion-Hearted’], etc.

- described the conflict btw the Saxons x the Normans, the exemplary protagonist as a model of a Saxon adapting to the life in Norman En, and: the jousting knights, burning castles, and damsels in distress characteristic of the adventurous historical novel

The Talisman (1825) and The Betrothed (1825):

= parts of a 2-vol. miniseries, also known under the collective title Tales of the Crusaders

- set in the 12th c. Crusades period

- questioned the medieval code of chivalry and military honour

- lengthy explications of historical detail and artificial dialogue attempted to establ. authenticity

Kenilworth (1821): set in the 16th c. En. of Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603, reign 1558 – 1603; = the ‘Virgin Queen’, immortalised by E. Spenser as the ‘Faerie Queene’)

The Fortunes of Nigel (1822): set in the early 17th c. En. of James I (1566 –1625, reign 1603 – 25)

Quentin Durward (1823): set in the 15th c. Fr. of Louis XI (1423 – 83); conc.: the exiled Scott. knights at the courts of the king > the upright innocent abroad makes his way through mazes of corruption

Redgauntlet (1824): probably his finest non-Scott. novel; conc.: the dying flame of Scott. Jacobitism in a clash of perspectives of one romantic x a phlegmatic character

P o e t r y :

- narrative poetry of energetic and rushing metre, varying line-length, and wandering stress within the lines

- also introd. shorter lyrics / songs into the narrative

- with Waverley abandoned narrative poetry > displaced by G. G. Byron

The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805): conc.: a 16th c. family feud; incl. sorcery, alchemy, and metaphysical intervention

Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (1808), The Lady of the Lake (1810), Rokeby (1813)

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802 – 3): a coll. of previously uncoll. ballad folk-poetry and his own verse


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Jelínková, Ema. Semináře: Britská literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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