Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview
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§83 Mary Cornwallis
(1758–1836)

Cornwallis's35 treatment of Dinah was part of her commentary on Genesis 34. She introduced the story with a remark about the violence of the culture in which the story took place. Cornwallis explained Dinah's actions as typical of a young girl of about fifteen, "an age at which the mind is open, frank, and unsuspicious, and, neither knowing nor meditating evil, apprehends none." She put considerable weight on Josephus' idea of Dinah's going to a great festival. Cornwallis assumed it must have been an idolatrous festival, and that Dinah went without her parents' knowledge. The descriptive words Cornwallis used of the rape of Dinah (violence, misfortune, injury, and disgrace) betrayed her own feelings regarding the act. She also read the story through the lens of her experience as a mother of two daughters and noted the "disrespectful and undutiful" response of Jacob's sons to his admonition. The lessons Cornwallis drew from Dinah's rape were similar to Trimmer's.

From Mary Cornwallis, Observations, Critical, Explanatory, and Practical
on the Canonical Scriptures
(London: Baldwin, Cradock, & Joy, 1817).
"Text is from 2nd ed. (1820), 80–81."

The violence offered to Dinah shows that both Abraham and Isaac had cause for their distrust when they were driven by famine into idolatrous countries. Her conduct was undoubtedly indiscreet; but she is thought to have been only about fifteen, an age at which the mind is open, frank, and unsuspicious, and, neither knowing nor meditating evil, apprehends none. Josephus says that she went to see a great festival.36 If so, it must have been an idolatrous one, and her going thither was probably unknown to her parents. Her misfortune is not without instruction, and teaches young women the necessity of circumspection in the choice of companions, as well as the danger of giving way to indiscreet curiosity. It was very natural that her brothers should keenly feel the injury; and the disgrace brought upon the family; but intemperate rage generally leads to unlawful revenge; and nothing could excuse the making a holy rite instrumental to it, or the cutting off a whole city for the offence of one individual. The whole transaction appears to have been unknown to Jacob, and to have caused him extreme displeasure when it reached his ears. Indeed, had not God preserved them, there was every reason to expect that they would in turn be exterminated by the surrounding heathen nations. The reply of Jacob's sons to the admonitions of their parent shows that right and wrong may be easily confounded. The sentiment of indignation expressed in it was in itself laudable, but, viewed as a reply to their parent's admonition, it was disrespectful and undutiful; as the subsequent history shows that the whole transaction was registered on high, and entailed upon those concerned in it a lasting curse.

35 For a biography of Mary Cornwallis, see part 5, "Leah and Rachel—Founders of the
House of Israel."

36 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1:21.

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