The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolution

By M. O. Grenby | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 7
Conclusion

As to myself, after having for four years heard little else than the voice of commendation, I was at length attacked from every side, and in a style which defied all moderation and decency. No vehicle was too mean, no language too coarse and insulting, by which to convey the venom of my adversaries. The abuse was so often repeated, that at length the bystanders, and perhaps the parties themselves, began to believe what they had so vehemently asserted. The cry spread like a general infection, and I have been told that not even a petty novel for boarding-school misses now ventures to aspire to favour unless it contains some expression of dislike or abhorrence to the new philosophy, and its chief (or shall I say its most voluminous?) English adherent.

William Godwin, Thoughts Occasioned by the Perusal of Dr Parr's Spital Sermon (1801)

The most crucial point to be made about anti-Jacobin novels is that they appeared in much greater numbers than has previously been thought. There were in excess of fifty novels published between 1790 and 1805 which were suffused with anti-Jacobinism, with perhaps as many again which were anti-Jacobin in parts or to a limited extent.

Yet this is a findingthat has raised several difficult questions. As soon as an attempt is made to count these fictions, for instance, the problem of definition has arisen. The question of what actually constitutes an anti-Jacobin novel, although it has run through the whole of my analysis, can never be given a convincingly categorical answer. There were many more ways than one to skin a Jacobin cat, and although there can be no doubt that many novels shared the same basic strategies, strategies which I have isolated and examined in the precedingchapters, it is only superficially the case that 'Novel after novel unashamedly used the same structure,' as Marilyn Butler has argued. 1 If it were true, each antiJacobin novel might easily be identified, categorised and counted, but Butler's analysis overlooks the question of degree. Some novelists were

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