Into the Mouths of Babes: An Anthology of Children's Abolitionist Literature

By Deborah C. De Rosa | Go to book overview

AMELIA ALDERSON OPIE
(NOVEMBER 12, 1 769-DECEMBER 2, 1853)

Daughter of Doctor James Alderson and Amelia Briggs from Norwich, England, Amelia Alderson Opie authored thirty-three volumes of fiction (moral “tales,” short stories, drama, and so on) and four collections of poetry during the early nineteenth century, or Romantic period. Her husband, John Opie (the Cornish painter and member of the Royal Academy), encouraged her to write, especially when his art could not sustain them (Balfour 84; Simmons 265; Reiman vi). Furthermore, while she lived in London, she joined progressive literary salons known to William Godwin, John Aiken, Harriet Martineau, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Elizabeth Inchbold (Buck 879; Simmons 262; Reiman v). When her husband died suddenly in 1807, Opie returned to care for her father in Norwich, where she met William Wordsworth, Walter Scott, and Sarah Siddons (Simmons 265). Each of these relationships with contemporary literati impacted her work. Early in her career she wrote primarily domestic, sometimes sentimental, novels with female protagonists. Later, her affiliations with the Quaker Society of Friends resulted in increasingly didactic and moral tales. Because she was so prolific (and well connected), her works eventually reached American markets. Opie’s abolitionist literature for children may have inspired American women authors to use children’s literature as a means to express their antislavery views when doing so in the public arena would have been deemed inappropriate.

Scholars of nineteenth-century British literature consider Opie a foremother of the domestic novel and compare her to Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney, and Jane Austen (Kelly 198). Her best-known works, The Father and Daughter, a Tale in Prose (1801) and Adeline Mowbray; or, The Mother and Daughter, a Tale (1804), epitomize the sentimental, morally didactic, and realistic qualities of her fiction. Susan Staves suggests that The Father and Daughter exemplifies “the seduced maiden novel,” a pop-

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