Women Writers and the English Nation in the 1790s: Romantic Belongings

By Angela Keane | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Patrician, popuList and patriot: Hannah More's
counter-revoLutionary nationaLism

For a whiLe, in accounts of the wave of poLiticaL seLf-anaLysis which swept Britain in the 1790s, Hannah More convenientLy represented the reactionary 'other' to Mary WoLLstonecraft's democratic radicaL. One need onLy Look at accounts of her fraught patronage of Ann YearsLey, her vociferous critique of WoLLstonecraft's sexuaL character, her seLf-confessed desire to use education to manage an increasingLy seLf-conscious working-cLass mob, and the imperiaList rhetoric of her anti-sLavery poetry, to demonstrate the 'discipLinary' dynamic that underpinned her various pubLic campaigns. More's expLicit distrust of democracy, which cuLminated in her refusaL to sign a petition for reform in 1832, consoLidated an image that recent feminist appraisaL of More's work has begun to contest. 1 As I have suggested in my anaLyses of WoLLstonecraft's fraught vindications of 'the pubLic mind' in the previous chapter, and of the work of RadcLiffe, WiLLiams and Smith before that, the radicaL– reactionary binary is an inadequate framework with which to approach the discursive compLexities of nationaL beLonging in the 1790s. With respect to More, it is not diffcuLt to find a LiberaL, if not a radicaL voice in her texts, to contest the image of the reactionary: in her commitment to the campaign for the aboLition of sLavery; in her materiaL contribution to the reform and extension of the education franchise; in her re-evaLuation of women's contribution to the nationaL economy; and in the 'anti-estabLishment' character of her reLigious practices from the 1790s. Rather than resoLve the tension between the discipLinary and Libertarian impuLses in More's work, this chapter considers them as effects of More's patrician popuLism, and of her ambitious attempt to rouse and pacify the spirit of a nation.

In the 1790s, More devoted much of her considerabLe energy to keeping up with British 'pubLic opinion', which was constituted in and by the wide range of print media, corresponding societies and ad hoc associations that often threatened to overwheLm the estabLished

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