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Women in Revolutionary Debate. Female Novelists from Burney to Austen

Women in Revolutionary Debate. Female Novelists from Burney to Austen

A new book by Stephanie Russo

In the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries novels were believed to have the power to change behaviour, and affect the political landscape of society on a large scale. The English response to the French Revolution can be traced through a reading of the novels of the period. The French Revolution in itself was indelibly associated with the domestic arena, and, thus, by extension, with women. Again and again in novels of the period, and particularly in women’s novels, the stability, or otherwise, of the family reflects the stability of government and of the nation. It was through the medium of the novel that women could enter the debate on revolution, using their novels as means through which to explore many of the dominant social and political issues of the day.

The novel was a medium uniquely suited to an exploration of revolutionary ideologies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The emerging form of the novel offered a unique opportunity for women to present new, challenging perspectives on the revolutionary crisis of the 1790s. The works of Frances Burney, Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson, Maria Edgeworth, Mrs Bullock and Jane Austen, all occupy an important place in this debate, and indeed, in the history of the novel. They demonstrate that women were at the forefront of development of the form of the novel itself.

Stephanie Russo is a lecturer at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her research is focused on the 18th and 19th century novel. Her new book, published by Hes & de Graaf, is a  very good read, and a highly important work for everyone who is interested in the history of ideas, culture and society, and, in particular, in the history of women who did not only embroider cushions while waiting in the parlour for Mister Darcy, but who took their opportunities to change their situation and to influence their society by means of literature.

Stephanie Russo: Women in Revolutionary Debate. Female Novelists from Burney to Austen

HES & DE GRAAF Publishers 2012. 208 pp. Illustrations. Paperback. € 59,95 (incl. VAT, excl. shipping)

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Published since 20 Jan 2012