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The French Revolution and the British Novel in the Romantic Period

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A.D. Cousins, Dani Napton and Stephanie Russo

This book is a major reassessment of the French Revolution’s impact on the English novel of the Romantic period. Focusing particularly – but by no means exclusively – on women writers of the time, it explores the enthusiasm, wariness, or hostility with which the Revolution was interpreted and represented for then-contemporary readers. A team of international scholars study how English Romantic novelists sought to guide the British response to an event that seemed likely to turn the world upside down.

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Chapter 9 ‘Adapted to Her Meridian’: The Novel, The Woman Reader, and the French Revolution Deirdre Coleman, University of Melbourne 179

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Chapter 9 ‘Adapted to Her Meridian’: The Novel, The Woman Reader, and the French Revolution Deirdre Coleman ‘ ‘If a kingdom be ... a great family, a family likewise is a little kingdom, torn with factions and exposed to revolutions” —Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759) The good-humoured commentator who reviewed the anti-Godwinian novel Dorothea; or, a Ray of the New Light (1802) defended its conserva- tism, arguing that, given the extent to which novels had been employed as the vehicles for disseminating radical views, ‘it will be deemed fair to have recourse to the same means for their refutation’.1 The ‘New Light’ of the sub- title of Mrs Bullock’s novel is William Godwin’s radical ‘New Philosophy’, with its critique of aristocracy, of opaque government, and of institutions such as property holding and marriage. For ease of consumption, a simpli- fied version of Godwin’s work, together with a set of repackaged ‘infidel’ writings by Rousseau, Voltaire, and Hume, are adapted to the heroine’s ‘meridian’. By the end of the novel, however, the ‘new light’ has been well and truly extinguished. Duped by a cold-hearted philosopher, Dorothea decides to drop radical politics, finding happiness instead in a sensible marriage to an aristocrat and in ‘the duties and pleasures of domestic life’.2 As is clear from the Monthly Review, the novel was a key player in the tumultuous period of revolution and counter-revolution covered by the essays collected together in this book. The novel was, as our editors argue, a...

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