Women, Revolution, and the Novels of the 1790s

By Linda Lang-Peralta | Go to book overview

Introduction

To astonish by the marvellous, and appal by the terrific, have lately been the favourite designs of many writers of novels; who, in pursuit of those effects, have frequently appeared to desert, and sometimes have really transgressed the bounds of nature and possibility. We cannot approve of these extravagances.

--The British Critic, 17961

B ritish novels of the 1790s have often been deemed, in their own day and in ours, excessive, bizarre, or extreme. The indictment above clearly suggests the extent to which the boundaries of prose fiction were shifting. As the essays in this volume demonstrate, however, these extravagant novels also dared to focus on gender, oppression, and rights in this revolutionary period, and in ways in which many readers have found revealing. Of course, the perspective from which we view these texts will significantly affect our judgement of them. Traditionally literary critics who have commented on them have been either dix-huitièmistes more familiar with Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne, and Samuel Richardson, or Romanticists more at home with William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy and Mary Shelley. Both groups have tended to view the novels of the 1790s as a literary badlands, marked by strangely-shaped formations, a desert area generally to be avoided

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