Amelia Opie's 'Adeline Mowbray': diverting the libertine gaze; or, the vindication of a fallen woman.
much we are interested & agitated by the probable event of the approaching
trials ... we are resolved to emigrate if the event of the trial be fatal.(1)
In 1794, the treason trials of Home Tooke, Thomas Hardy, and Thomas Holcroft crystallized the philosophical differences between revolutionary sympathizers and a nervous British government. An ardent admirer of revolutionary principles, Amelia Alderson attended the trials and later "confessed" that they marked "the most interesting period of [her] long life."(2) In letters home, Alderson exults in radical "victories" and scorns governmental treachery. Her father was so disturbed by his daughter's outspoken objections to the trials that he destroyed many of her letters. In surviving letters written to Susannah Taylor, Alderson openly expresses her dissatisfaction with an increasingly reactionary government: "Hang these politics! how they haunt me. Would it not be better, think you, to hang the framers of them?"(3) In yet another letter dated 1794, Alderson writes: "I believe an hour to be approaching when salut and fraternite will be the watchwords for civil slaughter throughout Europe; and the meridian glory of the sun of Liberty, in France, will light us to courting the past dangers and horrors of the republic, in hopes of obtaining her present power and greatness. It will be an awful time; may I meet it with fortitude!"(4) I quote these letters at length to indicate Amelia Alderson's commitment to radical politics throughout the 1790s. As an enthusiastic member of the circle surrounding William Godwin, Holcroft, and Elizabeth Inchbald, and later Mary Wollstonecraft, Alderson participated in "Jacobin" politics and philosophy. Her ties to the group were, however, broken by marriage to John Opie, a painter and member of the Royal Academy, in 1798.
The year in which Amelia Alderson Opie became a respectable wife is also the year in which Godwin wrote and published his Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft. Recent literary scholarship tends to identify the publication and reception of the Memoirs as a watershed moment in the late eighteenth-century "backlash" against outspoken "philosophical women." Such women were a vocal and highly visible part of revolutionary discourse in both France and England and attempts to silence them resonate throughout conservative Regency publications. Yet too often literary criticism has erred in assuming that the eighteenth-century revolutionary woman immediately became the Victorian angel in the house. Modern critics often focus on conservative Regency voices because in retrospect they seem to have won the ideological battle waged over the construction of femininity.(5) Amelia Opie--her life and her works--provides an ideal opportunity to study the manifold subtleties implicit in the highly volatile discourse surrounding the British woman writer between 1798 and 1832. Because Opie forgoes overtly radical "philosophizing" after 1798 she has often been identified as a frightened reactionary, yet another Regency woman writer who abandoned revolutionary philosophy to protect her reputation.(6)
Godwin's revelations about Wollstonecraft's passion for Henry Fuseli, her love affair with Gilbert Imlay, and their own pre-marital relationship gave rise to slanderous attacks against Wollstonecraft in the conservative press. The Anti-Jacobin Review carried out an extensive campaign to discredit Wollstonecraft's political ideas by identifying her as a prostitute rather than as a writer and social critic. In a review of the Memoirs, the Anti-Jacobin makes the following judgment: "We must observe, that Maty's theory, that it is the right of women to indulge their inclinations with every man they like, is so far from being new, that it is as old as prostitution."(7) And as late as 1801, the magazine printed a poem which included the following lines about Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman:
Such license loose-tongued liberty adores,
Which adds to female speech exceeding graces;
Lucky the maid that on her volume pores,
A scripture, archly fram'd, for propagating w--s.(8)
The date of the second quote indicates the degree to which Wollstonecraft and her theories were vilified throughout the early years of the nineteenth century. Indeed, her "reputation" did not fully recover until the final decades of the nineteenth century.(9) Wollstonecraft's posthumous reputation demonstrates how threatening the "political" woman was at the end of the eighteenth century and provides a case study of the ways in which the prostitute is constructed out of the body of the transgressive woman writer. The barrage of moral condemnation which followed the publication of Godwin's Memoirs overwhelmed the evidence of Wollstonecraft's own "female speech."(10) Wollstonecraft's accusers largely ignored the implications of her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which advised against the indulgence of sexual desire and further identified contemporary educational practices for women as, precisely, "a scripture, archly fram'd, for propagating w--s." To quote from Wollstonecraft herself: "Women subjected by ignorance to their sensations, and only taught to look for happiness in love, refine on sensual feelings, and adopt metaphysical notions respecting that passion, which lead them shamefully to neglect the duties of life, and frequently in the midst of these sublime refinements they plump into actual vice."(11) Wollstonecraft, however, became a victim of the world's readiness to judge a woman based on "shew" rather than "substance" (Vindication, p. 135). Indeed, the conservative press seized upon Wollstonecraft's biography as an ideal weapon in the war of ideas ignited by the Reign of Terror. The British public was invited to ostracize and fear the outspoken women who had emerged in the radical 1790s. Any statement of feminine self-assertion--aimed at either political freedoms or sexual fulfillment--could be interpreted as both treasonous and licentious.(12) Indeed, as Claudia Johnson has suggested, the conservative reaction against Wollstonecraftjeopardized all the women writers of the period. Mere association with the author of the Vindication could lead to charges of being a "treasonous Jacobin."(13)
Yet in 1805, Amelia Opie wrote a novel which explicitly addressed many "Jacobin" concerns: free love, free speech, and abolition. Furthermore, her Adeline Mowbray; or, the Mother and Daughter was widely recognized as a roman A clef about Wollstonecraft and Godwin. While there are important differences between Wollstonecraft and Adeline Mowbray and between Godwin and the heroine's lover, Frederic Glenmurray, Opie's novel examines the confusion which ensues when a woman's philosophical beliefs conflict with society's notions about female sexuality. Adeline Mowbray is about naming a woman a "whore" not only because she is sexually transgressive or lacks traditional feminine virtues, but because she is intellectually transgressive. Opie's novel moves beyond the parameters of the "seduction novel" and focuses on the philosophical conflicts of the early nineteenth century. Telling the story of the "sexual" woman can provide an ideal opportunity to critique unjust systems of social and legal regulation. By confounding two familiar narratives--the sentimental bildungsroman and the seduction plot--the novel highlights essential questions about property, freedom of the individual, and female sexuality. Opie draws on elements of the philosophical novel--specifically Rousseau's La Nouvelle Heloise--as well as the conventions of the domestic tale in her characterization of Adeline, but her novel does not idealize either genre. By situating the debate between "radicals" and "conservatives" directly over the heroine's desirable--and commodifiable--female form, Opie exposes the self interest implicit in both radical and conservative prescriptions about female education and citizenship. Ultimately, the novel critiques rather than proselytizes.
Questions about Opie's own political position have been at issue from the time of Adeline Mowbray's publication. In the nineteenth century the novel was widely read as a critique of the 1790s and the radical theories popularized by Godwin, Holcroft, and Inchbald. The same ideology which led to Wollstonecraft's condemnation protected Opie; her reputation as a "respectable" woman ensured a largely positive reception of her work.(14) The Critical Review heralds Adeline Mowbray as a worthy novel by a "lady whose uncommon talents do honour to her sex and country" and The Monthly Review reads the novel as an uncompromising condemnation of Wollstonecraft and Godwin: "It is the intention of this work to portray the lamentable consequences, which would result from an adoption of some lax principles relative to a rejection of matrimonial forms, which have been inculcated by certain modern writers."(15) Forty-eight years later Adeline Mowbray was still being read as a repudiation of "Jacobin" morality. Although Cecilia Brightwell acknowledges Opie's suspect political beliefs, she is at extreme pains to dissociate Opie from any connection with the radicals themselves: "It is evident that a fellowship in political opinions was the only bond which united her to many with whom, at this time, she associated. Her own good sense and firm rectitude of principle, happily preserved her from the follies and errors into which not a few around her were led, by their extravagant zeal for a liberty which speedily degenerated into license" (Brightwell, p. 42). Brightwell stresses that chief among the radicals whom Opie was not "spoiled" by was the "philosophising serpent" Mary Wollstonecraft.(16) She explicitly states that "there was too much of the pure womanly character in [Opie], to suffer her ever to sympathize with the assertors of |woman's rights,' (so called)" (p. 42).
More recently, some feminist criticism condemns Opie based-not on her own "female speech"--but on her reputation as a "flirt" and the romantic triangle which she formed with Wollstonecraft and Godwin. Amelia Alderson was courted by Godwin even as he embarked on a relationship with Wollstonecraft.(17) Claire Tomalin's attack on Opie is particularly virulent. She reads Adeline Mowbray as part of a "steady campaign of denigration" against Wollstonecraft: "It is hard to forgive Amelia Opie for the cool way in which she thus made use of the woman who had certainly done her no harm and who had left daughters, legitimate and illegitimate, who could have done with some kindness from their mother's friends" (p. 236). Both the Victorian Brightwell and the feminist Tomalin fall into the trap of judging Opie based on their own "feminine ideologies." Whereas Brightwell frames Opie as an ideal Victorian "angel," the twentieth-century Tomalin condemns her for not taking the proper "feminist" actions upon Wollstonecraft's death.(18)
Most literary critics--when they do write on Opie--continue to evaluate her novels based on certain "truths" about the femininity of Regency women writers. Richard Holmes characterizes Opie and others as politically timid: "The facts of Wollstonecraft's sufferings, and the truths of her difficult personality, frightened them ... The [Memoirs] made Mary Wollstonecraft seem too romantic and too dangerous a figure."(19) Gary Kelly's portrait of Opie is more even-handed:
She was always known for both her femininity and her independence,
for her sense of propriety and her liberal humanitarianism; and her
fictions exhibit the same somewhat contradictory qualities, preaching
conformity to the conventional sexual and family roles, but fascinated
by deviations from those roles, incorporating criticism of the oppressive
and unjust nature of social institutions and social convention, but
reaffirming the dominance of social institutions and obligations over
Even as Kelly acknowledges the potentially subversive power of Opie's writing, he finally reduces her to a type of literary dilettante. His readings of Opie's life and texts are compromised by his painstaking attempt to construct an ideal relationship between the women of Godwin's circle and the philosopher: "For these women Godwin was more than a Mentor or a father figure, more one might say, than a mere man. The letters and the novels of these women, if read with care and candour, witness their recognition of Godwin's candid and catalyzing personality."(21) Kelly posits a gendered symbiosis between Godwin's "sense" and feminine "sensibility" which would preclude reading Adeline Mowbray as a critique of Godwinian philosophy.(22)
Opie's subversive narrative techniques have been remarked upon by even her most conservative readers. As early as 1805 The Critical Review noted its discomfort with "the fascinating colours thrown over the erroneous virtues of Adeline and Glenmurray, |making ... vice more dangerous by giving it an air of respectability'" (p. 219-220). Lucy Stebbins consistently reads Opie as a proponent of traditionally conservative mores; however, even she recognizes the political subtlety in Opie's treatment of Wollstonecraft's biography: "[Opie] knew that Mary Wollstonecraft's ruin was not the consequence of sin, but the result of her opposition to the moral codes of her time. Through the bathos and flummery in which she veiled this simple fact peeped her private knowledge that her heroine had been wrong because she did what she believed was right" (p. 76). In pointing to the underlying tensions which "peep" through Opie's text, Stebbins anticipates recent feminist analysis of Opie and her contemporaries. Mary Poovey suggests that "the women who grew up [during the decades of the French Revolution and its aftermath], or who immediately inherited their ideological legacy" had to negotiate between a radical past and a conservative present.(23) According to Poovey, strategies of "indirection, obliqueness, and doubling" resulted when women writers sought to express themselves while remaining respectable (p. 42). Claudia Johnson has drawn on Poovey's work in a politicized reevaluation of the "historical truths" which have named Jane Austen and her contemporaries "conservatives." Johnson suggests that Opie "[does] not endorse the status quo without serious qualifications. [She] dutifully denounces reformist zeal, only to tuck away parallel plots which vindicate liberty, private conscience, and the defiance of authority, and thus discretely defines broad areas where conservatives and progressives could agree, surely no part of the reactionary program" (p. xxi). Under the cloak of her own respectability, Opie is able to write on the very dangerous topic of Wollstonecraft's sexuality while criticizing attitudes harbored by both the political left and the political right.
I have already suggested that Opie wrote Adeline Mowbray in response to Godwin's revelations about Wollstonecraft in the Memoirs. Opie had both personal and professional motivation in reacting negatively to the Memoirs and the ensuing assault on Wollstonecraft's character. Her admiration for Mary Wollstonecraft can be seen in an early letter exchanged between the two women: "Will you help me to account for the strong desire I always feel when with you, to say affectionate things to you?" (Wardle, Mary Wollstonecraft, p. 274). In the same letter, Opie's expressions of affection transcend the domestic to include the sublime: "You are one of the few objects of my curiosity who in gratifying have not disappointed it also--you and the Lakes of Cumberland have exceeded my expectations" Wollstonecraft appears to have reciprocated Amelia Alderson's friendship. Epistolary evidence indicates that Alderson was among the first of Wollstonecraft's friends to learn of her marriage to Godwin. That letter also reveals that Alderson--a single woman--was intent on remaining close to the married philosophers in spite of possible damage to her own reputation.(24) Wollstonecraft's letter explicitly discusses the desertion of other members of their circle, including Elizabeth Inchbald, due to the necessary revelations about her illicit relationship with Gilbert Imlay. It is likely, based on the affectionate correspondence between the two women, that Amelia Opie would have been horrified at Godwin's naive and often distorted portrait of his wife.(25)
The publication and reception of Godwin's Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft made clear the untenable position of the intellectual woman; her reputation was shown to be insecure in both radical and conservative camps. Wollstonecraft had earlier been considered a fairly respectable literary personage. Her reputation was destroyed due to Godwin's uncompromising code of honesty; his complete account of Wollstonecraft's life was gleefully received by a conservative audience intent on reading "radicalism" as "licentiousness." I will suggest that Opie's reaction to the Memoirs is somewhat akin to that of Robert Southey, who felt that Godwin displayed "a want of all feeling in stripping his dead wife naked" (qtd. in Holmes, p. 43). The gender implications of such a "stripping" for publication and purchase--Wollstonecraft is indexed under "Prostitution" in the Anti-Jacobin in 1798--is addressed by Opie in her novel, even as she remains a proponent of some of Godwin's philosophical principles. For Opie also criticizes the conservative forces which gleefully attacked the vulnerable reputation of this most prominent Jacobin woman writer.
On the one hand, Opie's criticism of Godwin and his principles seems to be rooted in her intimate knowledge of his personal faults. Amelia Alderson Opie is a particularly apt example of the phenomenon of Mary Poovey's "proper lady" because she managed to present the appropriately feminine demeanor in 1805 after participating enthusiastically in the revolutionary excitement of the 1790s. Opie's enthusiasm for revolutionary politics, however, did not stop her from recognizing the faults of its proponents. She was particularly amused by Godwin's willingness to compromise his theories for the sake of flirtation. In the following letter she recounts a meeting with Godwin during which he turns the conversation from a discussion of her studies to the following:
But was I to acknowledge any other dominion than that of reason?--"but
are you sure that my affections in this case are not the result of reason?"
He shrugged disbelief, and after debating some time, he told me I was
more of the woman than when he saw me last. Rarely did we agree, and
little did he gain on me by his mode of attack ... In short, he convinced
me that his theory has not yet gotten entire ascendancy over his
practice.(26) Opie seems to have taken up the rationalist Godwin on his reluctance to recognize "womanly" affection and learning based upon "reason." As a witness to Godwin's innumerable flirtations, Opie certainly had reason to question his famous objections to marriage. By 1805, she had definitive proof that the twice- married Godwin was prepared to sacrifice "theory" in the name of pragmatism.
Although Opie's novel may have been fueled by her knowledge of the private lives of Godwin and Wollstonecraft, it is not a biographical treatment of their love affair. Written in the aftermath of Godwin's ill-considered revelations about his wife, Opie's satire in Adeline Mowbray is directly aimed at the gendered assumptions which mar radical political theory in general and Godwin's Political Justice in particular. Opie's ur-gynocriticism--which perhaps owes a debt to Wollstonecraft's critique of Rousseau and Milton in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman--results in a deliberate consideration of the consequences of Godwinian philosophy for a female proponent.
Adeline is first seduced by male language; Frederic Glenmurray is perhaps more dangerous on paper than he is in the flesh. Once she subscribes to his progressive ideas that heterosexual relationships can and should exist outside of marriage, she is attacked by a conservative society which finds it impossible to separate virtuous motives from seemingly licentious actions. Society names her a "fallen woman" but is constantly challenged by Adeline's essential virtue and devotion to her principles. Indeed, except for her refusal to marry, Adeline is the ideal sentimental heroine; she is immediately admired by all for a countenance which shines with the "|graceful awfulness of virtue'" (Adeline Mowbray, p. 75).(27) Opie's text forces the reader to distinguish between virtue and vice in the character of its philosophical heroine, while condemning a society which first exposes young girls to the temptations of male language and then cuts them off from the healing language of virtuous women. Adeline Mowbray is not a condemnation of Wollstonecraft but rather a call for more texts like The Vindication of the Rights of Woman and The Wrongs of Woman; or, Maria. Adeline is vulnerable to seduction and stigmatization because she is besieged by male voices; she can only be "redeemed" by reintegration into a community of articulate women willing to offer her compassion and protection. Opie finally rejects both the model of Rousseau's La Nouvelle Heloise and its idealization of the male teacher/female student relationship, as well as the domestic tale's ultimate faith in marriage.
The world of Opie's novel is particularly determined--for better or worse--by the actions of its women. The Mowbray family fortune is inherited through the maternal line; Adeline's mother's great-grandmother, "the sole surviving daughter of an opulent merchant in London," wills the family home to her grandfather (Adeline Mowbray, p. 1). The novel does not indicate the state of Adeline's father's fortune; indeed, he dies before the action of the novel begins. Furthermore, women educate one another in the Mowbray family. Editha Woodville Mowbray, Adeline's mother, "imbibe[s] a love of free inquiry" from her aunt and then takes on the task of educating her daughter (p. 1). Editha is not, however, a Wollstonecraft. She pursues her philosophical studies in isolation, refuses to enter the marketplace as a writer, and neglects the "positive duties" of home and family (p. 2). Adeline's education is determined by Editha's fascination with theoretical treatises and her readiness to experiment with her daughter's mind and body: "Now it was judged right that she should learn nothing, and now that she should learn every thing. Now, her graceful form and well-turned limbs were to be free from any bandage, and any clothing save what decency required,--and now they were to be tortured by stiff stays, and fettered by the stocks and the back-board" (p. 3). Editha is punished for her abstruse reasoning at the end of the first chapter. Unable to decide exactly which "clothes philosophy" to subscribe to, she fails to provide Adeline with any shoes at all. Adeline's body rebels:
"Mamma, mamma?" cried she, "you forget to send for a pair of new
shoes for me; and see, how the stones in the gravel have cut me!"
This sight, this appeal, decided the question in dispute. The feet of
Adeline bleeding on a new Turkey carpet proved that some clothing for
the feet was necessary; and even Mrs. Mowbray for a moment began to
suspect that a little experience is better than a great deal of theory.(p. 5) Unfortunately, Mrs. Mowbray continues to expose her daughter to a succession of questionable theories gleaned from the works of male authors; Adeline's body becomes the proving ground of "experimental philosophy" (p. 3). As Adeline matures, the danger increases, for Editha introduces her to the tenets of Frederic Glenmurray, who bewitches her daughter with "the fatal fascination of his style" (p. 13) and Godwinian schemes of a world rid of false rites such as marriage (p. 41). While the narrator condemns Editha Mowbray for dabbling in "experimental philosophy," I do not mean to suggest that Opie rejects all manner of female education or philosophy. Indeed, it appears as though Opie is responding to Wollstonecraft's own comments on the destructive nature of contemporary education for women: "One cause of this barren blossoming I attribute to a false system of education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers" (Vindication, p. 7). Wollstonecraft points her finger at Dr. Gregory, Milton, and Rousseau among others. Opie would add Godwin to that list, for his theory--when enacted in society--literally results in making his female converts "alluring mistresses."
It is no longer Adeline's bleeding feet which are at issue but her sexuality and consequently her reputation as a "pure" woman. The Christ-like imagery of Adeline's wounded feet in early childhood foreshadows the images of the Magdalen which dominate her adulthood. Yet, Adeline's paradoxical characterization also contradicts traditional Christian iconography of innocence and experience. Adeline, although consistently shown to be a self-sacrificing woman, is nonetheless driven by intellectual independence, as well as filial obedience. She accepts Glenmurray's doctrines because her mother teaches them to her but she puts them into practice because, unlike her mother, she is a believer in practical philosophy." Ultimately, she is most loyal to her own rigorous system of consistent thought and action and she holds both Glenmurray and her mother to that standard. For example, she does not want Glenmurray to abandon his principled rejection of marriage unless directed to do so by her mother, even as she maintains her own objections to wedlock: "|I should think ... my mother must have had too much of marriage to wish me to marry; but if she should insist on my marrying, I will comply, and on no other account'" (p. 92).
Like Godwin, Frederic Glenmurray rejects marriage: "He drew ... a picture of the superior purity, as well as happiness, of an union cemented by no ties but those of love and honour" (Adeline Mowbray, p. 14). Adeline echoes Godwin's rhetoric when she too declares marriage to be an institution "|unworthy of regard from a rational being'" (p. 92). Godwin had rejected "cohabitation" because he believed it to be detrimental to the pursuit of personal liberty and the perfecting of "reasonable men." He did not reject sexual relations between the sexes but assumed that "rational" justice would prevail: "Reasonable men then will propagate their species, not because a certain sensible pleasure is annexed to this action, but because it is right the species should be propagated; and the manner in which they exercise this function will be regulated by the dictates of reason and duty."(29) Opie's novel questions whether or not men can "regulate" their sexual desire through "reason and duty." The world of Adeline Mowbray and Frederic Glenmurray is rife with individuals who heedlessly pursue their own interests. Adeline is constantly at risk; once her reputation is compromised she is fair game for all men--including her stepfather. The most pernicious result of Glenmurray's theory--when adopted by Adeline--is that it puts her in very real sexual danger. The world Opie uncovers is one that teems with male desire, not rational and unprejudiced judgment.(30)
Opie's representation of the conflict between destructive masculine desire and ideal philosophy is based on a very careful reading of Godwin. In Political Justice, Godwin does not abandon the vocabulary which positions the woman as a sexual object in a power relationship between two (or more) men. Even as he sets out his program of "rational" sexual relations, the role of the woman is sexualized. On the one hand, he objects to marriage because it treats the woman as "property," yet his underlying rationale does nothing to displace women from that role: "So long as I seek to engross one woman to myself and to prohibit my neighbor from proving his superior desert and reaping the fruits of it, I am guilty of the most odious of monopolies" (1:273). Godwin idealizes a sort of sharing of the wealth, with femininity as the middle term: "We may all enjoy her conversation; and we shall all be wise enough to consider the sensual intercourse as a very trivial object" (1:274). The "we" who decides on these interactions is most decidedly male and perhaps not as uninfluenced by society's judgments as Godwin would like.
Even as Godwin postulates a utopian society in which individual worth is dependent on reason, and a woman valued for her "accomplishments," he retains prejudices which bias the case against women. In an early chapter on justice, Godwin pragmatically asserts that, regardless of democratic maxims, it is true that one man is of more worth than another. He goes on to argue that just as a man is more worthy than a beast, an archbishop is more valuable than a chambermaid. Not only does this keep intact classist divisions, but, as we shall see, Godwin also sexualizes his argument. Intellectual hierarchy should command greater respect than personal loyalty: "What magic is there in the pronoun |my' to overturn the decisions of everlasting truth? My wife or my mother may be a fool or a prostitute, malicious, lying or dishonest" (1:42). There is in the above statement an explicit judgment based upon received notions of feminine sexuality. Godwin's unquestioning choice of the prostitute as the representation of the absolute nadir of feminine worth is one which Opie takes to task in her novel: Adeline challenges society's ability to make a clear-cut decision as to who is morally unworthy.(31)
Glenmurray, like Godwin, rejects the rites of society which name women "wives" but he continues to use society's vocabulary to name them "whores": "He was firmly resolved never to marry; and it was very unlikely that Adeline, though she had often expressed to him her approbation of his writings and opinions, should be willing to sacrifice everything to love, and become his mistress. But a circumstance took place which completely removed his doubts on this subject" (Adeline Mowbray, p. 26 [emphasis added]). The "circumstance" alluded to is Adeline's "declamation against marriage, as an institution at once absurd, unjust and immoral" (p. 28). This declaration--although it wins the respect of Glenmurray--exposes her to the insults of Sir Patrick O'Carrol. Her mother's lover and future husband can only understand the philosophy of "free love" in terms of his own worldly knowledge of women. He immediately fixes her with his "libertine gaze" (p. 27) and applauds her "honesty": "|I always was sure that what you just now said was the opinion of all your sex, though they were so confounded coy they would not own it'" (p. 29). In the first of several exchanges between Adeline and Sir Patrick, each presents to the other a definition of the phrase: "the life of honour." Sir Patrick employs it as an euphemism for sexual promiscuity; Adeline takes it literally. She innocently accepts it as "|a very excellent name for the pure and honourable union which it is [her] wish to form'" (p. 29). Glenmurray, however, is capable of understanding both ends of the conversation and is given a graphic example of the failure of his theory when put into practice. He is unable to reconcile Sir Patrick's "licentiousness" with Adeline's "innocence" (p. 30). Glenmurray's theory, when read by the "libertine gaze" of Sir Patrick, is anything but radical; it is yet another euphemistic disguise for an age-old illicit relationship between a man and a woman.
Whereas Godwin--and Glenmurray--posit a society in which human reason reigns supreme, Wollstonecraft--and Opie--acknowledge that reason often serves nefarious aims: "Men, in general, seem to employ their reason to justify prejudices which they have imbibed, they can scarcely trace how, rather than root them out" (Vindication, p. 12). Nevertheless, Glenmurray's philosophical belief in "reason" is somewhat exonerated in the context of conservative masculine desire. The introduction of Sir Patrick O'Carrol into the text inaugurates this shift in the representation of Glenmurray. While Opie does not hesitate to suggest that Glenmurray's reluctance to marry contributes to Adeline's "fall," she is also prepared to critique traditional marriage as well. Whereas Glenmurray chooses not to marry because of his theory--a theory he would abandon if Adeline would allow it--Sir Patrick O'Carrol eagerly marries again and again in order to benefit financially and to compel women to serve his sexual appetites. Editha's bigamist husband plots to steal her money and to seduce her daughter. Once he marries Mrs. Mowbray and blocks Adeline's proposed marriage to Glenmurray he can employ the language of fatherhood to enact sexual desire for his stepdaughter: "|You are the most extraordinary motherly young creature ... Instead of your mother giving the nuptial benediction to you, the order of nature is reversed, and you are giving it to her. Upon my word I begin to think, seeing you in that posture, that you are my bride begging a blessing of mamma on our union, and that I ought to be on my knees too'" (p. 54). Once on his knees, Sir Patrick grasps a "weeping" Adeline and "presses her to his bosom" (p. 54). While Adeline is living in his house, she is subject to sexual innuendo and harassment.(32) It is Sir Patrick's final seduction attempt, notable for its tone of sexual violence, which forces Adeline into the arms of Glenmurray. Adeline responds to Sir Patrick's "vehement declaration of the ardour of his passion" by thrusting him away from her; he falls and is knocked unconscious. Fearing that she has killed her stepfather and reluctant to expose his true nature to Editha, she flees (p. 62).
Adeline finds herself "on a turf seat by the road side" because "[her] mother's roof is no longer protection to [her]" (p. 62). Indeed, Editha's passion for Sir Patrick blinds her to his incestuous desire for her daughter and forces Adeline into the marginal position of the "wandering woman." When Sir Patrick speaks of Adeline as his "bride" in the passage cited above, Editha hears him "expressing his hopes of their being blest with progeny" (p. 54). Editha withdraws economic, as well as sexual, protection from her daughter; she epitomizes Wollstonecraft's image of the mother who is "lost in the coquette" (Vindication, p. 49). Adeline had learned of her mother's marriage from a faithful maid whose awareness of the economics of wedlock surpasses that of the educated Editha: "|Only think, miss! they say, and I doubt it is too true, that there have been no writings, or settlements, I think they call them, drawn up; and so Sir Pat have got all'" (p. 51). Adeline's response foreshadows the inevitable rupture between mother and daughter: "|Then has my mother given me up, indeed! ... and the once darling child may soon be a friendless outcast'" (p. 51). This moment of legal vulnerability is the first of a series which unsuccessfully pit Adeline against the laws of England, administered by and for advocates of masculine sexual and economic desire. Editha's |roof' fails to protect Adeline precisely because it no longer belongs to her.
Adeline, in the vulnerable and suggestive position of roadside wanderer, fortuitously encounters Glenmurray. She agrees to live with him but not to marry him: "|I have convinced myself, that to leave home and commit myself to your protection was the most proper and virtuous step that I could take: I have not obeyed the dictates of love, but of reason ... It seems to me so very rational to love you'" (p. 66). At this point in the narrative, Glenmurray again offers to compromise his principles and marry Adeline. It is Adeline who holds him to his word: "|If you are still convinced your theory is good, why let your practice be bad? It is incumbent on you to act up to the principles that you profess'" (p. 67). While Glenmurray is finally a sympathetic character, he is faulted on many levels. In the first place, he is most assuredly the seducer in his relationship with Adeline: "That author whose works [she] had long delighted to meditate, and who had completely led [her] imagination captive, before the fascination of his countenance and manners had come in aid of his eloquence" (p. 19). One of his most compelling faults is his readiness to sacrifice Adeline in the name of theory and in spite of his superior knowledge of the world: "For he knew, though Adeline did not, the extent of the degradation into which the step which her conscience approved would necessarily precipitate her; and experience alone could convince him that her sensibility to shame, when she was for the first time exposed to it, would not overcome her supposed fortitude and boasted contempt of the world's opinion" (p. 38). Glenmurray tests Adeline's intellectual mettle and she emerges victorious. It is precisely Adeline's rejection of society's attempts to treat her as a "whore" which makes the novel of interest. In spite of overwhelming condemnation by those around her, and Glenmurray's willingness to compromise the theory which converted her, Adeline persists in seeing her actions as just and honorable. She refuses to compromise principle by marrying Glenmurray and the novel implicitly values her constancy over Glenmurray's vacillation or her mother's hypocrisy. Furthermore, the narrator explicitly condemns Glenmurray's eager betrayal of his principles:
Glenmurray thought that he was willing to marry Adeline merely for her
sake! but I suspect it was chiefly for his. The true and delicate lover is
always a monopolizer, always desirous of calling the woman of his
affections his own: it is not only because he considers marriage as a holy
institution that the lover leads his mistress to the altar; but because it
gives him a right to appropriate the fair treasure to himself,--because it
sanctions and perpetuates the dearest of all monopolies, and erects a
sacred barrier to guard his rights,--around which, all that is respectable
in society, all that is powerful and effectual in its organization, is proud
and eager to rally. (pp. 38-39) The above quotation--with its echo of Godwinian rhetoric--is representative of the narrator's double discourse on the subject of Adeline and Glenmurray's "left-handed marriage." The narrator asserts that the groom-to-be is a "slave of selfishness" (p. 38) who marries from an egotistical desire to own the woman he loves, rather than solely out of respect for the "holy institution" of marriage. Yet, the passage ends with a seemingly positive paean to marriage. Note, however, that what is lauded is not an intrinsically sacred ceremony but the "power" commanded by the institution. Adeline's "fall" from grace is not a fall out of grace with God but a fall from the good graces of a judgmental and often hypocritical society.
Glenmurray "knows" of the "degradation" heaped on those whom society labels a "whore," but Adeline knows of the dangers of being a "good" woman. Although Adeline's "rational" desire to join Glenmurray in a "|union founded on rational grounds and cemented by rational ties'" is compromised by her obvious need for "protection," she deliberately seeks that protection outside of England's legal and ecclesiastical system (p. 41). Such institutions have been discredited by her mother's betrayal and her step-father's "criminal passion" (p. 44). And while Adeline's reluctance to sign a marriage contract does indicate her loyalty to Glenmurray's philosophical position, this should not obscure Adeline's own investment in remaining a "free" woman. Adeline benefits from her refusal to marry: to paraphrase Locke, she retains the "Property" which she holds within her "own Person." As Carole Pateman points out in The Sexual Contract, the marriage contract in nineteenth-century England required the woman to forfeit all rights over property--both her financial holdings and dominion over her own sexuality--in exchange for the economic and social protection offered by marriage." Adeline continually asserts her right of self-ownership and demands respect based upon her own intrinsic worth. When approached by a former admirer seeking to displace Glenmurray as her "protector," Adeline attempts to define her position as a respectable "sexual" woman who is not a "wife": "|And suppose I am not [Glenmurray's] wife ... is it then given to a wife only to be secure from being insulted by offers horrible to the delicacy, and wounding to the sensibility, like those which I have heard from you?'" (p. 119). Pateman points out that the two most significant "sexual contracts" for women in patriarchal contract theory involve marriage or prostitution (pp. 18-19). Throughout Opie's novel, Adeline must negotiate between these two types of heterosexual contracts even as she searches for a third option.
According to Pateman, social contract theory replaces a paternal patriarchy with that of a "fraternal brotherhood" which is committed to upholding contractual society. Its ties are bound by evidence of sexual triumphs in which ascendancy over women--the "subjects" of patriarchy--also signifies superiority over other men. "The sons overturn paternal rule not merely to gain their liberty but to secure women for themselves. Their success in this endeavor is chronicled in the story of the sexual contract. The original pact is a sexual as well as a social contract: it is sexual in the sense of patriarchal--that is, the contract establishes men's political right over women--and also sexual in the sense of establishing orderly access by men to women's bodies" (p. 2). In Opie's text, both Adeline and Glenmurray must contend against a community of men whose sexual fortunes are inextricably linked together and to whom they represent a threat. Their relationship defies conventional description; Glenmurray writes to one of his opportuning friends: "|Adeline was the victim neither of her own weakness nor of my seductions'" (p. 77).
Adeline's consistent purity of motive and virtuous countenance continually challenge the parade of men who first admire her as an honorable woman, but who can only desire her sexually after she is identified to them as Glenmurray's "mistress." Opie's narrative cleverly plays with the conventional attempts to categorize feminine sexuality based on reputation and appearance.(34) Adeline's "situation" is profoundly ambivalent. Because she appears virtuous in appearance and nature, the men who encounter her assume she is married to Glenmurray. The first male acquaintance of Glenmurray's who meets Adeline is Mr. Maynard. Unaware of the philosopher's radical opinions he treats Adeline as though she were Glenmurray's wife. Ironically, Maynard and Adeline engage in a conversation concerning the habits of streetwalkers. When later recounting this exchange to his sisters, Maynard makes the following comparison: "|Her own dress, manners, and expression, were such an admirable comment on her words, and she shone so brightly, if I may use the expression, in the graceful awfulness of virtue, that I gazed with delight, and somewhat of apprehension lest this fair perfection should suddenly take flight to her native skies, toward which her fine eyes were occasionally turned'" (p. 75). Once Maynard discovers that Adeline and Glenmurray are "merely" lovers, however, all evidence of Adeline's virtue is discarded and the male desire which lies on the other side of honorable regard is exposed. In a letter to Maynard written after he and Adeline have fled, Glenmurray reveals the true nature of their relationship and says he couldn't bear if Maynard's "glance" held even a suggestion of disrespect when cast upon Adeline (p. 77). Maynard is immediately shown to possess that "libertine gaze." In spite of Glenmurray's assertion that "|no wife was ever more pure than Adeline,'" Maynard assumes that the couple's hasty departure was motivated by sexual jealousy on the part of Glenmurray (p. 76). Like Sir Patrick, Maynard cannot resist overreading Glenmurray and Adeline's words through the lens of his own libertine world view.
In the context of a society which overvalues surface appearance, the problematic relationship between Glenmurray and Adeline--neither a marriage contract nor a prostitution contract--is somewhat redeemed. Even as Opie condemns the consequences of radical theory, she satirizes the hypocritical society which shuns the lovers. It is a world which is incapable of understanding the true nature of intellectual thought. This is indicated in an early exchange between Adeline and a respectable acquaintance. Adeline's friend warns her against associating with Glenmurray: "|They say one should not notice him, because he is--... I do not exactly know what; but I believe it is a French spy, or a Jesuit'" (p. 25). Opie pokes fun at the ignorance required of the conventionally naive young woman; Adeline's acquaintance is not quite sure as to why Glenmurray is a dangerous man to know. Perhaps more significant, however, is Opie's acknowledgment of the way in which society turns intellectual and sexual transgression into a political and/or religious bogey. Opie continues this critique in her account of the rumors which surround Glenmurray's duel with Sir Patrick: "It was soon told all over the city that Sir Patrick O'Carrol and Mr. Glenmurray had fought a duel ... the quarrel having originated in Mr. Glenmurray's scoffing at religion, king, and constitution, before the pious and loyal baronet" (p. 35). Just as Adeline's words can only be understood as licentious, Glenmurray's actions can only be perceived as treasonous. Opie points to the ways in which society ignores or misreads even the conventionally appropriate actions of the radical philosopher. The icons of British society, "religion, king, and constitution," are invoked to disguise sexual violence toward unprotected daughters. The unspoken crime here is Sir Patrick's sexual assault on Adeline, an action which is not only violent but incestuous.(35)
A positive reading of the relationship between Glenmurray and Adeline is supported by the narrative voice throughout the novel. Traditional marriages are characterized by bigamy, deceit, and explicitly unequal power relations.(36) Opie's description of the relationship between Adeline and Glenmurray led The Critical Review to accuse her of idealizing "vice" (p. 220):
Hours, days, weeks, and months spent in a manner most dear to the heart
and most salutary to the mind of Adeline!--her taste for books, which
had hitherto been cultivated in a partial manner, and had led her to one
range of study only, was now directed by Glenmurray to the perusal of
general literature; and the historian, the biographer, the poet and the
novelist, obtained alternately her attention and her praises. (Adeline
Mowbray, p. 68) Adeline also learns French and Italian while traveling abroad with Glenmurray; in fact, all the deficiencies of her early education are corrected by her lover. Traditional feminine lessons are not neglected; she nurses Glenmurray through a series of debilitating illnesses and struggles to manage their finances. Their illicit "marriage" is superior to any other heterosexual relationship in the novel: "Their attachment was cemented by one of the strongest of all ties--the consciousness of mutual benefit and assistance" (p. 68). Even in the midst of one of Adeline's worst trials, the illness of her mother, the lovers are shown to be at peace with one another and with nature: "The sun was below the horizon, but the reflection of his beams still shone beautifully on the surrounding objects. Adeline, reclining her cheek on Glenmurray's arm, gazed in silence on the scene before her" (p. 90).
Opie also redeems Adeline in the eyes of the reader by contrasting her true virtue to the assumed virtue of supposedly pure women. Maynard's sisters, who laugh with glee upon learning that Adeline is a "mistress" and not a wife, reveal all the faults of the conventionally pure. They embody the kind of women Mary Wollstonecraft felt her society produced; they relish Adeline's fall because "they confound virtue with reputation" (Vindication, p. 132). Adeline is also shunned by Glenmurray's cousins. They look upon Adeline with "the bold unfeeling stare of imagined superiority" (p. 130). The narrator,
however, reveals to the reader what the innocent Adeline does not know, that one woman is pursuing an affair with a "gallant" under her husband's "accommodating protection" and the other "coquetted with many men, but intrigued with only one at a time" (p. 131). Those who condemn Adeline's supposed vices are inevitably revealed to be in want of virtue themselves.
Nevertheless, Adeline internalizes the prejudices of society. The second and most tragic seduction in the novel is Adeline's acceptance of society's condemnation. Finally, she begins to regret her commitment to a philosophy of free love which the world can only understand as libertinism. Mrs. Mowbray's denunciation of her as a daughter, as well as Adeline's own fear of failing as a mother, initiates her change of heart. In the first case, Opie minimizes Mrs. Mowbray's condemnation by acknowledging its roots in sexual disappointment. At one point in the novel, Mrs. Mowbray rationalizes her abandonment of Adeline to Dr. Norberry: "|Had she not by her coquettish arts seduced the affections of the man I loved?'" (p. 100). Even when reminded of her maternal duty to Adeline, Mrs. Mowbray cannot overcome personal vanity; she vows to forgive her daughter only when Adeline is on her deathbed. She rejects Adeline because her body betrays the sexual nature of her relationship with Glenmurray: "Mrs. Mowbray turned round and fixed her eyes on Adeline ... [her] eyes glanced from her face to her shape. In an instant the fierceness of her look returned: |Shame to thy race, disgrace to thy family!'" (p. 108). Although Mrs. Mowbray's reaction is conventionally appropriate, Opie frames it in the context of sexual jealousy. Again, as in the beginning of the novel, Mrs. Mowbray sees her daughter's body in the context of her own desire. Adeline's pregnancy is undeniable proof of the youthful sexuality which attracted Sir Patrick O'Carrol. Unable to accept Sir Patrick's rejection of her own aging body, she judges Adeline a seductress. The good Dr. Norberry--who represents the voice of the conservative but compassionate community which rejects Adeline and Glenmurray's philosophical position but not the young lovers themselves--judges Mrs. Mowbray much more harshly than he does Adeline. He vows to renounce Mrs. Mowbray because of Adeline, in spite of the heroine's objections: "|Why, how could I have the heart to do otherwise, when she whitewashed herself and blackened you?'" (p. 113).
The pregnant Adeline's feelings of guilt are further increased by a conversation she has with an illegitimate child tormented by his playmates:
"My dear child, you had better go home ... your mother will
certainly be glad of your company."
"No, I won't go to her; I don't love her: they say she is a bad woman,
and my papa a bad man, because they are not married." (p. 134) The above exchange convinces Adeline that she must marry for her child's sake. Adeline, however, is fated to lose her child with Glenmurray: "Anxiety and agitation had had a fatal effect on the health of Adeline; and the day after her encounter on the terrace she brought forth a dead child" (p. 135). It is this stillbirth which, perhaps most significantly, condemns her as truly a "fallen woman" in her own mind: "With her hopes of being a mother vanished her wishes to become a wife" (p. 135). It was commonly believed that the miseries of the mother were visited upon the unborn child.(37) If Adeline's pregnant body serves as a marker for her sexual relationship with Glenmurray, the stillbirth of her child acts as a indictment of that relationship.
Glenmurray's health also fails in the course of the same chapter; while on his deathbed he attempts to atone for his "seduction" of Adeline by planning her marriage to his cousin. Charles Berrendale is a gentleman, similar to the philosopher in appearance, but different in principle. Glenmurray, although aware of his cousin's faults--Berrendale had been married to the daughter of a slave owner from the West Indies and on his wife's death had "sold" his son to his father-in-law for an annual income--entrusts Adeline to him. Indeed, Glenmurray encourages his cousin's suspect admiration of Adeline. At one point, Adeline's lover perceives that Berrendale "feed[s] his passion" for "the unconscious Adeline" by pretending to read even as he observes her every action (p. 148). The two men proceed to negotiate for Adeline and Glenmurray panders to his cousin's desire:
"It is a book, Charles ... which the more you study the more you
will admire; and I wish to give you a clue to understand some passages
in it better than you can now do."
This speech deceived Adeline, and made her suppose that
Glenmurray really alluded to the book which lay before Berrendale: but
it convinced him that Glenmurray spoke metaphorically. (p. 149) Whereas Glenmurray had once been determined to protect Adeline from the "licentious gaze" of desiring men, he now encourages it by "selling" Adeline as a good nurse and housekeeper. He chooses to adopt the "metaphorical" language which turns Adeline into a sexual object; it is his final betrayal of his avowed philosophy of plain speech and sincerity. On his deathbed, he encourages Adeline to marry his cousin, asking her to give up both her philosophical and moral principles by embarking on a legal union with a man she does not love.
Before marrying Berrendale, however, Adeline struggles to secure a social position which is not dependent on a heterosexual relationship. Although Glenmurray wills Adeline what remains of his fortune, she cannot claim it because of the legally unsanctioned nature of their relationship. She first embarks on a teaching career only to see it destroyed when Mary Warner, a former maid, reveals Adeline's past. She is finally successful in writing moral tales for children, a profession which she continues to pursue throughout her marriage to Berrendale. The text never suggests that imparting morality to young minds is an inappropriate task for the heroine. Indeed, the novel represents Adeline's writing as empowering: "Glenmurray's bookseller accepted [her work]; and the sum which he gave, though trifling, imparted a balsam to the wounded mind of Adeline: it seemed to open to her the path of independence; and to give her, in spite of her past errors, the means of serving her fellow-creatures" (pp. 176-177).
The independent Adeline does not marry Berrendale until her position as a compromised and unprotected woman becomes untenable. In an encounter with a lustful lawyer, Mr. Langley's fee is taken out in sexual violence:
"Charming fine woman upon my soul! " cried he, speaking through
his shut teeth, and forcibly squeezing her fingers as he spoke; "and if you
ever want advice I should be proud to see you here, (with a significant
Here Adeline, too angry to speak, put the fee in his hand, which he
insisted on returning, and, in the struggle, he forcibly kissed the
ungloved hand which was held out, praising its beauty at the same time,
and endeavoring to close her fingers on the money. (p. 179) Finally, Adeline throws the money onto the floor and runs into the street, only to be accosted by two men who recognize her as Glenmurray's former "mistress" and assume that she is in the market for a new protector. The 1805 edition of the novel makes quite clear the sexual nature of their interest in Adeline:
"How do you do, my fleet and swift girl?" said one of the gentlemen,
patting her on the back as he spoke:--and Adeline, roused at the
insult, looked at him proudly and angrily, and walked on. "What! angry!
If I may be so bold," (with a sneering smile), "fair creature, may I ask
where you live now?"
"No, sir," replied Adeline; "you are wholly unknown to me."
"But were you to tell me where you live, we might cease to be
strangers; pray who is your friend now?"
"Oh! I have but few friends," cried Adeline mournfully.
"Few! the devil!" replied the young templar; "and how many would
you have?" Here he put his arm round her waist: and here his companion
gave way to a loud fit of laughter." (1805, 3:38)(38) In this second instance of roadside wandering and now without the alternative of radical philosophy, Adeline chooses the "safety" of the marriage contract in order to escape the stigma of prostitution. Her experiences serve to illustrate Godwin's critique of Locke: "Acquiescence [to the social contract] is frequently nothing more than a choice on the part of the individual of what he deems the least evil" (Political Justice, 1:93). Adeline names Berrendale her protector and then must marry him: "|I have used the sacred name of wife to shield me from insult; and I am therefore pledged to assume it directly'" (p. 181). All of Adeline's encounters with men after Glenmurray's death, from Langley to Berrendale, share a common theme: women are restricted to sexual "intercourse" with male society. Adeline's attempt to enter into an economic relationship with Mr. Langley is refused. Although she wants to purchase the services of Mr. Langley, Adeline soon learns that her role is delimited by her own position as a beautiful body that men expect to purchase themselves. Just as Langley takes a kiss rather than a coin--indeed, he tries to pay her for the kiss--Charles Berrendale gives Adeline his name in exchange for her body.
Opie's negative characterization of Adeline's legal marriage is perhaps her most overt subversion of conventional morality.(39) Yet Adeline persists in seeing her marriage as due punishment for past "errors": "She fancied that all the sufferings she underwent were trials which she was doomed to undergo, as punishments for the crime she had committed in leaving her mother and living with Glenmurray. She therefore welcomed her afflictions, and lifted up her meek eyes to her God and Saviour ... with the look of tearful but grateful resignation" (p. 187). The reader, however, is given a grim picture of the powerlessness of the married woman. Berrendale is a man of mammoth appetites; Adeline's self-denial is taken for granted: "She ate her simple meal in silence: and while her pampered husband sought to lose the fumes of indigestion in sleep, she blessed God that temperance, industry and health went hand-in-hand" (p. 184). In this portrayal of Berrendale's food-induced stupor, Opie indirectly alludes to his sexual demands upon Adeline and the brutality of a marriage of convenience.(40) Adeline quickly becomes pregnant and after the birth of Editha--named for Mrs. Mowbray--Berrendale's behavior worsens. He tells the world that Adeline is his mistress and not his wife, engages in affairs in their home, and then finally abandons Adeline altogether. He returns to Jamaica and illegally marries again; significantly, the woman he marries is a slave owner known for her own prodigious sexual appetites. The marriage contract which Adeline had signed in order to avoid the prostitution contract only exposes her to further insult; in order to marry again, Berrendale denies its existence and Adeline is once again named a "whore" by men who seek to possess her.
Throughout her final trials, Adeline maintains a meek and demure demeanor, as well as an intense belief in her own guilt. Adeline's self-condemnation allowed Opie's contemporaries to read her novel as a conventional indictment of radical philosophy. Yet the narrative continually disrupts this portrayal of Adeline by introducing into the text alternative readings of her life. One of the determining factors in Adeline's self-denunciation is her interaction with Mary Warner. The housemaid convinces Adeline that it was the "illicit" relationship between Adeline and Glenmurray which led to her own subsequent fall into vice: "|You taught me that marriage was all nonsense, you know ... I followed your example'" (pp. 205-206). Adeline reacts to this statement with a "phrensy" of "anguish" (p. 206). Later in the novel, we are told that her languishing death is fueled by the "remorse and horror" she feels "for having led by her example and precepts an innocent girl into a life of infamy" (pp. 225). Adeline's belief in her own guilt, however, is undercut by the narrator's careful revelation that Mary Warner had fallen long before she was employed by Adeline. First Mr. Langley and then Mrs. Pemberton indicate that Mary's sexual fall took place prior to meeting the heroine (pp. 206; 273).
Furthermore, Opie goes to some lengths to indicate that Adeline's example leads to a respectable engagement. Colonel Mordaunt, Adeline's first and most persistent suitor, falls in love with Emma Douglas because she values Adeline: "|I shall ever regret, not that I saw and conversed with Miss Mowbray, but that I did not see and converse with her again and again'" (p. 234). Emma's defense of Adeline leads Colonel Mordaunt to see a resemblance between the two women, even though Emma's plainness and Adeline's beauty are commented upon (p. 239). It becomes clear that the resemblance is based not on physical beauty, but on the innate purity of spirit which characterizes both women. They share "|a countenance never distorted by those feelings of envy, and expressions of spite, which so often disfigure some women,--converting even a beauty into a fiend'" (pp. 239-40). Opie rewards the free thinking and generous Emma by marrying her off to Colonel Mordaunt, thereby ending her novel with one conventionally "happy" marriage. Significantly, it is most decidedly a "companionate marriage," again revealing Opie's reinscription of Mary Wollstonecraft's precepts.
The most compelling disruption in the novel is the presence of Adeline's black servant, Savanna. The revolutionary nature of Savanna's characterization is undercut, however, by the romantic racism which pervades Opie's characterization. Opie's representation of Savanna may be radical for the nineteenth century but as a twentieth-century critic I must also note the ways in which Adeline Mowbray rearticulates racist ideology. Savanna is presented as an ideal British heroine: self-sacrificing and Christian. Her Afro-Caribbean past is almost entirely subsumed in a colonized present. Homi Bhaba's critique of post-enlightenment representations of the colonial subject as a form of mimicry which is "a complex strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which |appropriates' the Other as it visualizes power" has limited but significant application to Opie's text.(41) In order to accompany her white "other," Adeline, Savanna gives up her son to the care of a presumably white benefactress and sees her husband only once after entering Adeline's employ. Furthermore, Savanna defies Berrendale not because he once held slaves but because he is cruel to her "angel lady." Although Savanna's actions are those of a strong and independent heroine, Opie's attempts to replicate Caribbean dialect also diminish Savanna's forthright statements of defiance.(42)
Savanna, an escaped black slave, enters the narrative just prior to Berrendale, a character who benefits from the plantation system. Adeline encounters Savanna in a moment of mutual trial. On the way to spend two of their last three guineas on a pineapple to tempt Glenmurray's failing appetite, Adeline comes upon a public drama which seems to foreshadow her own future. Savanna, her fainting husband, and their crying child are about to be arrested for debt: "Adeline thought on Glenmurray's danger, and shuddered as she beheld the scene; she felt it but a too probable anticipation of the one in which she might soon be an actor" (p. 141). While others in the crowd dismiss Savanna as an "ugly black b--h," Adeline sees a reflection of her own experience and gives the black couple her small cache of money (1805, 2:157).(43) Indeed Adeline's identification with Savanna is so intense that she fails to note that Savanna is black until the crowd's deprecating remarks draw her attention to it.
Opie's intent in introducing Savanna into her text appears to be twofold. On the one hand, she contributes to an abolitionist discourse which sought to represent black men and women as thinking subjects.(44) She also overturns notions of female sexuality which sought to stigmatize all black women--understood to be naturally promiscuous--by associating them with white prostitutes.(45) In Opie's text Savanna and Adeline are linked because they challenge conventional prescriptions of how a proper British woman should look and behave; they are both persecuted by an ignorant populace which does not recognize their true virtue. Furthermore, Opie refigures radical constructions of slavery. Her text revises Wollstonecraft's metaphor for eighteenth-century British women: "They may be convenient slaves, but slavery will have its constant effect, degrading the master and the abject dependent" (Vindication, p. 5). Opie suggests instead that the escaped black slave can serve as an empowering model for the psychologically shackled white British woman. Just when Adeline abandons her quest for self-ownership, Savanna enters the novel as an individual who has literally reclaimed herself from an economic and legal system which had considered her "chattel."(46)
Savanna continually counters Adeline's meekness with expressions of anger. Whereas Adeline endures Berrendale's tyrannies, Savanna protests them: "Though she did not vow eternal hatred to her master, she felt herself very capable of indulging it, and from that moment it was her resolution to thwart him" (p. 184). At one point, Savanna buys Adeline a delicacy with her own money, indicating that as a paid servant she has more freedom than a British wife. When she sees Berrendale's disapproval, Savanna "snap[s] her fingers in his face ... exclaim[ing]: |I buy dem, and pay for dem wid mine nown money; and my angel lady sall no be oblige to you!'" (p. 184). Savanna continually subverts the power structure which indebts women to men and makes them "property." She breaks Adeline's habit of tolerance in her relations with Berrendale by revealing the true extent of his perfidy. When Savanna returns from a visit to her husband in Jamaica, she makes known not only Berrendale's bigamy, but also his attempt to silence her by returning her to slavery.
In counterpoint to Savanna's defiance, Adeline comes to accept her role as a "fallen woman." Even when widowed by Berrendale, her looks marred from small-pox, she refuses to engage herself to Colonel Mordaunt, who loves her with "a real and lasting passion" (p. 219). In her rejection of Colonel Mordaunt Adeline betrays her past beliefs and personal experience:
"I look on all suffering and mortifications which I meet with as latent
blessings, as expiations inflicted on me in mercy by the Being whom I
adore, for the sins of which I have been guilty; and, in the second place,
because it gives me an opportunity of proving, incontrovertibly, my full
conviction of the fallacy of my past opinions, and that I became a wife,
after my idle declamations against marriage, from change of principle,
on assurance of error, and not from interest or necessity." (1805,
3:147)(47) In the above passage, Adeline represents herself as a "good" woman who desired marriage for its own sake. Yet, Adeline marries Berrendale solely from "necessity"; she accepts his protection only in the face of encroaching male violence. Significantly, Adeline comes to articulate a conviction of sinfulness and past error. She internalizes the contemporary attitude that women who transgress sexual mores are necessarily evil.
In spite of Opie's attempts to redeem Adeline in the eyes of the reader, the heroine herself is forever just outside redemptive influences in the novel itself. The most pernicious result of succumbing to the seductions of male language is that once fallen, Adeline is cut off from the society of "pure" women. While Adeline perceives her unconventional actions as just, as in the beginning of the novel, she seeks out the companionship of respectable women. Once she believes herself to be "fallen," however, she hides from their eyes. In the final chapters of the novel, Adeline's reluctance to emerge from her self-imposed solitude leads directly to her death; she isolates herself from the powerfully redemptive triad formed by the Quaker minister Mrs. Pemberton, her atoning mother, and the outspoken Savanna.
Throughout the novel Adeline's narrative is paralleled by that of her mother. Just as Savanna counters Adeline's self-denunciation, the Quaker minister Rachel Pemberton teaches Editha Mowbray the virtues of generosity and loyalty. From their first meeting the friendship between Mrs. Pemberton and Mrs. Mowbray is based upon interdependence and shared experience. Editha saves the Quaker from an attacking bullock while Rachel, in her turn, provides Adeline's mother with the information she needs to actively search for her daughter. With novelistic serendipity, Rachel Pemberton has met Adeline and approved of the woman while regretting her actions. Although Rachel Pemberton is critical of Adeline's choice to become Glenmurray's mistress, she acknowledges her intrinsic virtue and actively works with Mrs. Mowbray to bring her home to Rosevalley.(48)
But just as Adeline was prepared to succumb to societal pressure and marry Glenmurray for the sake of their child, she determines to die for her daughter Editha, thereby freeing her from the "|dangerous example'" of a redeemed fallen woman (p. 244). She does, nonetheless, will two legacies to her daughter. The first is a "written record" which teaches that "|the woman who feels justly, yet has been led even into the practice of vice, however she may be forgiven by others, can never forgive herself'" (p. 245). The conventional moral of Adeline's memoirs, however, is undercut by two elements. Adeline foregrounds her own innate--albeit misunderstood--goodness: "|I did not act in defiance of the world's opinion from any depraved feeling, or vicious inclinations'" (p. 245). She also insists that her daughter know the truth about her life. Editha's innocence will not depend upon a naive acceptance of society's rules. As a mother, Adeline can break the silence between the "fallen woman" and the virgin. The second gift Adeline leaves to her daughter is the protection of Mrs. Mowbray, Mrs. Pemberton, and Savanna. This triad finally forms itself around the dying body of Adeline; although it is too late for Adeline herself, her daughter Editha will benefit from a powerful and multi-faceted community of women.(49)
To a certain extent, Adeline's daughter Editha Berrendale, functions as a final "proof" of Adeline's own intrinsic purity. Editha is like her mother in appearance. In a letter to Mrs. Mowbray, Adeline writes: "|O! look on her, my mother, nor shrink from her with disgust, although you see in her my features; but rather rejoice in the resemblance, and fancy that I am restored to you pure, happy, and beloved as I once was'" (p. 264). Throughout most of the novel Adeline defies categorization because her appearance belies her reputation; she reproduces that virtuous visage in her child. Indeed, Editha functions not only to remind Mrs. Mowbray of how Adeline once was but also as a mirror for Adeline herself. Even as Adeline desires death, Editha reminds her of her own self-worth: "As she gazed on Editha, and thought that Mrs. Mowbray might be induced to receive her again to her favour, she wished even on any terms to have her life prolonged" (p. 246). If the "written record" stands as a badge of her shame, it is tempered by the manifest purity of her daughter: Editha is living testimony of Adeline's virtue.
Whereas Adeline had been assaulted by the "libertine gaze" of Sir Patrick and others, her daughter is entrusted to the protective looks of loving and powerful women. Opie's ideal community possesses the traditional strengths of Mrs. Pemberton's piety and Mrs. Mowbray's philanthropy--conventional feminine virtues undercut by Rachel Pemberton's unorthodox position as a female minister and Editha Mowbray's administration of her own wealth--as well as the defiant figure of Savanna. If Editha Berrendale serves as a testimony of Adeline's purity, Savanna remains as an emblem of Adeline's earlier political radicalism.
Opie's final response to the twin dangers of male philosophers and bigamist husbands is a withdrawal into the woman-centered fortress of Rosevalley, structured by traditional religious piety and female virtues, but safe because women hold the economic and moral power in trust for one another. Adeline's "memoirs"--unlike Godwin's Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft--are circulated between women who read her story with compassion and understanding. If Adeline Mowbray; or, The Mother and Daughter documents the woman writer's retreat--on the part of both Opie and her writer heroine--from public politics at the end of the eighteenth century, it simultaneously positions a realm of influence outside of patriarchal power structures. Opie's vision at the end of Adeline Mowbray is evocative of the "feminist counter public sphere" theorized by Rita Felski in Beyond Feminist Aesthetics:
Like the original bourgeois public sphere, the feminist public sphere
constitutes a discursive space which defines itself in terms of a common
identity; here it is the shared experience of gender-based oppression
which provides the mediating factor intended to unite all participants
beyond their specific differences ... The consciousness of membership
in an oppressed group engenders a solidarity rooted in collective
identity and in theory grants all participants equal status.(50)
At the end of Opie's text women from diverse backgrounds and of varying sexual reputation are linked by a commitment to one another which encompasses economic as well as emotional support. Adeline entrusts not only her daughter but Savanna to Editha and Rachel. In a letter to her mother she writes: "|I owe [Savanna], my mother, a world of obligation! She will make my last moments easy, and you must reward her. From her you will receive this letter when I am no more, and to your care and protection I bequeath her"' (p. 266). Although marred by implications of ownership, Adeline elaborates a complex system of duty and debt which will ensure that Savanna remains free; she will be protected by other women. Significantly, the women of Rosevalley have economic power. Savanna points out that without money, compassion and care are thwarted. After observing Editha's efforts to prepare food which might "tempt Adeline's weak appetite," she says: "'This it be to have money .. poor Savanna mean as well--her heart make all these, but her hand want power."' (p. 272).
The powerful "world of obligation" which brings together women of different races also extends itself to the "fallen." By the end of the novel, Mrs. Mowbray uses her financial resources to help women less powerful than herself. Instead of punishing Miss Woodville, the young woman who kept Adeline's letters from her, she gives her enough money to save her from "ruin." She also promises Adeline that she will give Mary Warner a living if she gives up her "|vicious habits'" (p. 273). Unlike Wollstonecraft's Vindication which ends with an appeal to the powerful male reader, Opie's text concludes with a vision of interdependent female unity: "As [Adeline] lay half-slumbering with her head on Savanna's arm ... [near] Mrs. Mowbray, lulling Editha to sleep on her lap ... a smile illumined [the heroine's] sunk countenance" (p. 275).
While I am tempted to end with this compelling vision of feminine unity--female bodies entwined in "obligation" to one another and no longer vulnerable to purchase in the marketplace of masculine desire--I want to pose a question instead. Is this exclusively female "world of obligation" an entirely positive alternative to inherently flawed heterosexual union? On the one hand, Opie posits an empowering space of freedom; yet it is a world which is entirely cut off from the masculine "public sphere." Whereas Editha Woodville had once unabashedly propounded her philosophical opinions, Adeline had challenged notions of female sexuality openly, and Rachel Pemberton had preached in public, their words now circulate only in the contained space of Rosevalley. Opie's novel embeds within it both the positive and negative virtues of an isolated utopia. Such visions of female power become increasingly problematic as the century progresses. The intimacy of Rosevalley threatens to become the claustrophobic space of the "domestic sphere" later in the century. It becomes an exclusive retreat which makes connections between "public" and "private" women increasingly difficult to negotiate.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES
(1) Amelia Alderson to Susannah Taylor, 1794, Huntington Collection of Opie Manuscripts, OP 59. (2) Cecilia Lucy Brightwell, Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie (London: Longman and Brown, and Co., 1854), p. 52. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. Brightwell reprints a "reminiscence" written by Opie and found among her papers after her death. (3) Amelia Alderson to Susannah Taylor, 1794, Huntington Collection of Opie Manuscripts, OP 59. (4) Amelia Alderson to Susannah Taylor, 1794, (qtd. in Brightwell, pp. 48-49). (5) Feminist criticism needs to recognize the dominance of theories about Victorian literature and women. Too often feminist history plots events on an axis leading to the Victorian period. For example, Nancy Armstrong's chronology of the "domestic woman" tends to erase the proto-feminist texts of the Regency period. See Armstrong, Desire anddomestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989). (6) Opie's reputation as a "conservative" author is often based on readings of texts heavily revised after she converted to Quakerism in 1825. For the purposes of this essay I do refer to the more readily available 1986 edition of Adeline Mowbray which is derived from the revised text (Pandora Press Reprint: Mothers of the Novel Series. London: Pandora Press, 1986). Where the editions vary, however, I refer to the original 1805 text Adeline Mowbray; or, The Mother and Daughter, 3 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1805). (7) "Review of Memoirs of Mrs. Wollstonecraft by William Godwin," The Anti-Jacobin Review 1 (July 1798): 97. (8) "The Vision of Liberty," Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine 9 (1801): 518. (9) Ralph Wardle dates the first significant reevaluation of Wollstonecraft as 1876 with the publication of Kegan Paul's biography of Godwin. See Wardle, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Critical Biography (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1951 , p. 338. In fact, George Eliot wrote on Mary Wolistonecraft's Vindication in October of 1855 for The Leader. Eliot opposes the "vague prejudice" felt by some towards the work. She counters accusations of promiscuity by noting that the tone of Wollstonecraft's work is "eminently serious, severely moral, and withal rather heavy" (qtd. in the Norton edition of the Vindication, p. 244). (10) Although I later take issue with Claire Tomalin's reading of Adeline Mowbray, her analysis of Godwin's representation of Wollstonecraft in the Memoirs and the subsequent harm done to early feminism is extremely useful. See Tomalin, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974), pp. 238-39. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. (11) Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792; reprint, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1988), p. 183. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. (12) As Ruth Yeazell notes in Fictions of Modesty: Women and Courtship in the Domestic Novel, there is a "nearly hysterical obsession with sexual difference that [surfaces] in England in the aftermath of the French Revolution--an obsession that makes female modesty, in the words of one anti-Jacobin tract, |the last barrier of civilized society"' (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 23. Yeazell goes on to point out that during times of "social upheaval," societies often attempt to regulate notions about purity and pollution. I would further suggest that intellectual women, with "impure" ideas, become targets of such a campaign. (13) Claudia Johnson, Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1986), p. xxiii. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. (14) Jane Spencer, The Rise of the Woman Novelist: From Aphra Behn to Jane Austen (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986). Spencer discusses the gender-bias in the reviews of books by eighteenth-century women writers: "Women were defined by their sexuality: and so were women writers. A woman's writing and her life tended to be judged together on the same terms. The woman novelist's sexual behavior was as much a subject for concern as her heroine's" (p. 32). (15) "Review of Adeline Mowbray; or the Mother and Daughter: A Tale, by Amelia Opie," The Critical Review, 3rd ser., 4 (1805): 219 and in The Monthly Review, 2nd ser., 51 (1806): 320-21. Subsequent references to these essays will appear in the text. (16) As the first biographer of Opie and the daughter of the executor of Opie's estate, Cecilia Brightwell is perhaps most responsible for the author's reputation of Victorian "respectability." Brightwell's published versions of the original letters were edited heavily, all with the intention of portraying Opie as an eminently proper "lady writer." For example, in one letter Opie openly--and cynically--speculates as to whether or not Helen Maria Williams is the virgin she claims to be (Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor, March 23,1801, Huntington Collection of Opie Manuscripts, OP 61). Brightwell carefully edits out all speculation about Williams' sexual status. In this particular case the original letter is intact; many other letters are heavily scored over in ink. (17) Literary critics are divided on the extent of Godwin's interest in Opie, nee Alderson. At issue is a journal entry in which Godwin notes: "Propose to Alderson." Most critics have assumed that the "proposal" was one of marriage to Amelia. See Claire Tomalin, p. 206 and Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel (London and NY: Pandora Press, 1986), p. 317. William St. Clair has suggested that the letter concerned a "proposal" to support an indigent poet arrested for debt. St. Clair's evidence, however, is based on a rather tenuous paper trail of hints rather than facts. See St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1989), p. 164. Although it seems that a proposal of marriage cannot be definitively proven, Godwin was certainly romantically interested in Alderson in the years just prior to his relationship with Wollstonecraft. (18) Opie's life encompasses so many contraries--from radical bluestocking to conservative Quaker--that it allows her biographers to recreate her in their own image. Cecilia Brightwell and Lucy Stebbins writing in 1854 and 1952, eras of the "domestic heroine," frame Opie's life according to that standard. See Brightwell, cited above, and Stebbins, London Ladies: True Tales of the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1952). Biographers writing during periods of the "suffragette" and the "flapper" tend to stress the irreverent and radical Opie. See Clara Whitmore, Woman's Work in English Fiction from the Restoration to the Mid-Victorian Period (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 19 10) and Jacobine Menzies-Wilson and Helen Lloyd, Amelia: The Tale of a Plain Friend (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1937). Not insignificantly, these shifts correspond to a lesser or greater respect for Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication. Margaret Eliot MacGregor's treatment of Opie's life is the most even-handed of the various biographies. See MacGregor, Amelia Alderson Opie: Worldling and Friend, Smith College Studies in Modern Language, no. 14 (1-2) (Northampton, MA: Departments of Modern Languages of Smith College, 1933). Subsequent references to these editions will appear in the text. (19) Richard Holmes, Introduction to "A Short Residence in Sweden" and "Memoirs of the Author of |The Rights of Women"' by Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), p. 45-46. Subsequent references to this essay will appear in the text. (20) Gary Kelly, "Amelia Opie, Lady Caroline Lamb, and Maria Edgeworth: Official and Unofficial Ideology," Ariel 12 (1981): 5. (21) Gary Kelly, The English Jacobin Novel 1780-1805 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976), p. 266. (22) Epistolary evidence indicates that Opie's attitude toward Godwin was rather more playful then Kelly suggests: "It would have entertained you [Mrs. Taylor] highly to have seen [Godwin] bid me farewell. He wished to salute me, but his courage failed him. |While oft he looked back, and was loth to depart.' |Will you give me nothing to keep for your sake, and console me during my absence,' murmured out the philosopher, |not even your slipper? I had it in my possession once, and need not have returned it!' This was true; my shoe had come off, and he had put it in his pocket for some time" (Alderson to Susannah Taylor, qtd. in Brightwell, pp. 59-60). (23) Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen and Mary Shelley (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 30. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. (24) Ralph Wardle, ed., Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1979), p. 389. (25) Ralph Wardle and Richard Holmes provide excellent accounts of the reception of the Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft. See Wardle, Mary Wollstonecraft, pp. 314-324 and Holmes, pp. 43-50. Both writers point to the fatal combination of Godwin's anarchic commitment to sincerity and the anti-Jacobin desire for a scapegoat as the deciding blows to Wollstonecraft's reputation. (26) Amelia Alderson to Susannah Taylor, 1794, (qtd. in Brightwell, p. 43). (27) Adeline is an exception to Susan Staves' definition of the "British seduced maiden": "The pathos of the seduced maiden depends upon her being a modest girl who strenuously resists invitations to illicit intercourse, yielding only after a protracted siege and under otherwise extraordinary circumstances." See "British Seduced Maidens," Eighteenth-Century Studies 14 (1980-81): 115. Although Opie's heroine is modest, she is also a free thinker who believes her actions to be just. (28) Adeline's practical philosophy is learned from her very traditional grandmother who teaches her the requisite "feminine" virtues: "In a short time Adeline, stimulated by the ambition of being useful, (for she had often heard her mother assert that utility was the foundation of all virtue), became as expert in household affairs as Mrs. Woodville herself" (p. 8). (29) William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, 2 vols. (1 798; reprint, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), 2:274. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. (30) In order to mount her critique, Opie does ignore certain aspects of Godwin's theory. Godwin acknowledges that theory and practice do not proceed at the same pace and he rejects martyrdom as counterproductive to the "duty" of the philosopher. Yet Godwin continually asserts that opinion changes only when individuals adopt new practices. His formulation of abolition is particularly problematic in its optimism: "Is there a mind that will conceive no indignation at so horrible a tyranny? In reality the chains fall off themselves when the magic of opinion is dissolved. When a great majority of any society are persuaded to secure any benefits to themselves, there is no need of tumult or violence to effect it. The effort would be to resist reason, not obey it" (1:32). (31) In later editions Godwin changes his analogy: the chambermaid becomes a valet and the prostitute a profligate. Such changes are consistent with Godwin's later revisions to Political Justice. Mark Philp suggests that Wollstonecraft's influence inspired Godwin to so thoroughly revise his work. See Philp, Godwin's Political Justice London: Gerald Duckworth and Co., 1986), pp. 175-192. (32) The description of Sir Patrick O'Carrol's library is rife with allusions to his promiscuity: "Scarcely had the works of our best poets found their way to [Mrs. Mowbray's] library; and novels, plays, and works of a lighter kind she was never in the habit of reading herself, and consequently had not put in the hands of her daughter. Adeline had, therefore, read Rousseau's Contrat Social, but not his Julie; Montesquieu's Esprit des Loix, but not Lettres Persanes; and had glowed with republican ardour over the scenes of Voltaire's Brutus, but had never had her mind polluted by the pages of his romances" (p. 57). The narrator is at some pains to indicate that it is not "republican" narrative which endangers young girls, but instead it is the novel and the romance. However, in the 1805 edition of the novel Adeline actually begins to read La Nouvelle Heloise and she finds it the best novel in the library. Editha discovers her reading it and takes it away from her. Oddly enough, given her earlier indictment of Rousseau's novel, the narrator chides Editha for her narrow-mindedness and suggests that La Nouvelle Heloise has an important moral point to make about filial obedience. More significantly, perhaps, Rousseau's Julie foreshadows Adeline's own future as an unhappy but ideal wife and mother. (33) Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1988). Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. (34) Mary Poovey discusses this eighteenth-century convention in The Proper Lady and the Woman Novelist: "The assumption that one can interpret a woman's subjective feelings by visible, objective sights--her |look and manner'--has an even more embracing, but equally delimiting, counterpart: the notion that one can interpret a woman's essence by her context--by her reputation or her 'situation."' (p. 24) (35) See Sybil Wolfram, In-Laws and Outlaws: Kinship and Marriage in England (Breckenham, Kent: Croom Helm Ltd., 1987), p. 29. (36) The best example of a bad "good" marriage is that between Dr. Norberry and his wife. Afraid of being abandoned for the more attractive Mowbray women, Mrs. Norberry enforces her husband's "proper" behavior by manipulating the social laws which protect her as a wife. Adeline becomes the victim of Mrs. Norberry's insecurities: "' It does not signify talking, Dr. Norberry, while I have my senses ... the hussey [sic] shall never come near us"' (p. 99). (37) See Dolores Peters, "The Pregnant Pamela: Characterization and Popular Medical Attitudes in the Eighteenth Century," Eighteenth-Century Studies 14 (1981): 437. (38) In the revised edition of the novel, Opie deletes all descriptions of the men physically touching Adeline, as well as allusions to her possible willingness to sexually accommodate more than one mad at a time. In the later edition, Opie also fails to identify the most aggressive "gentleman" as a law student, thereby lessening the social critique implicit in the passage. (39) Their marriage is a textbook illustration of "legalized prostitution" as it is represented in numerous political tracts by women writers. See Wollstonecraft's Vindication, p. 60. Also Mary Hays, Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women (I 798; reprint, New York: Garland Publishing, 1974), pp. 86-89 and Mary Robinson, Letter to the Women of England, on the Cruelties of Mental Subordination, 3rd ed. (London: Longman and Rees, 1799), p. 11. (40) Charles Berrendale is the type of man described as a "voluptuous tyrant" by Mary Wollstonecraft: "Passions are spurs to action, and open the mind; but they sink into mere appetites, become a personal and momentary gratification, when the object is gained, and the satisfied mind rests in enjoyment. The man who had some virtue while he was struggling for a crown, often becomes a voluptuous tyrant when it graces his brow" (Vindication, p. 30). (41) Homi Bhaba, "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse," October 28 (1984): 126. (42) See Moira Ferguson, Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670-1834 (New York: Routledge, 1992). Representations of black speech in the early nineteenth century mark "the introduction of linguistic difference--the alleged and erroneously perceived contrast between speech in |format' English and slaves' 'scant' English--[and] emphasize the |stupidity' of slaves. This in turn reinforces the need for British intervention" (p. 103). Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text. (43) In the revised edition Savanna is referred to as an "ugly black toad" (1986; p. 141). (44) Opie remained an ardent supporter of abolition throughout her life. In 1829 she went to France to petition Lafayette for his support in the abolition movement. Many of Opie's poems are also aimed at changing attitudes about slavery: "The Negro Boy's Tale" (I 802), "The Lucayan's Song" (1806), and "The Black Man's Lament; or How to Make Sugar" (1826). As a child, Opie's parents responded quickly to her fears of a black servant: Missey [sic] was forced to shake hands with the black the next time he approached her, and thenceforward we were very good friends. Nor did [my parents] fail to make me acquainted with negro history; as soon as I was able to understand, I was shewn on the map where their native country was situated; I was told the sad tale of negro wrongs and negro slavery; and I believe that my early and ever-increasing zeal in the cause of emancipation was founded and fostered by the kindly emotions which I was encouraged to feel for my friend Aboar and all his race" (Brightwell, p. 13). (45) See Sander Gilman, "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature," in Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., "Race," Writing, and Difference (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 223-61. (46) One way of unpacking the revolutionary and racist implications of Adeline Mowbray is to contextualize it in terms of Opie's other writing. The character of Savanna is markedly different from that of Zambo in Opie's "The Negro Boy's Tale" in Poems, 3rd ed. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1804), pp. 53-69. Zambo, a West Indian slave determined to accompany his British mistress and her father to freedom in Britain, drowns while attempting to reach their departing ship. Throughout the poem Opie stresses the powerlessness of both Zambo and the compassionate but ineffective Anna. Her pleas for Zambo's life are ignored and her father carries her onto the ship. She, like the riches won in Jamaica, is his property. That equation of powerlessness is broken in Adeline Mowbray. My reading of Opie's abolitionist commitment has been particularly informed by the work of Moira Ferguson, Homi Bhaba, and Patrick Brantlinger. See Brantlinger, "Victorians and Africans: The Genealogy of the Myth of the Dark Continent," in Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., "Race," Writing, and Difference (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 185-222. (47) Opie changes this passage in later editions: "|I look on all suffering and mortifications which I meet with as merciful chastisements"' (1986, 219-20). (48) Interestingly, it is in the history of this unorthodox woman minister that we find the novel's most overt allusion to Wollstonecraft's biography. In an episode early in the novel, Rachel departs for Lisbon in order to care for a friend (p. 126). Furthermore, her calling as a female minister is more unusual than would first appear. According to Jennifer Carter Gadt women were welcomed into the Quaker ministry in the early part of the eighteenth century, but due to increasing strictures against women ministers their numbers were declining in the 1780s and 1790s. See Gadt, "Women and Protestant Culture: The Quaker Dissent from Puritanism," (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1974). Opie, an intimate acquaintance of the prominent Quakers Elizabeth Fry and John Joseph Gurney, would have been aware of the status of female ministers at this time. I find Opie's linkage of the outspoken--but disenfranchised--Quaker minister and Mary Wollstonecraft particularly clever. Throughout the novel Rachel preaches about both religion and women's education. If Adeline represents one half of Wollstonecraft's history--the half Opie would like to "vindicate"--then Rachel represents the aspects of Wollstonecraft's life and work which require no defense at all. (49) See Nina Auerbach, Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1978). Auerbach discusses the evocation of communities of women in literature by women: "As a recurrent literary image, a community of women is a rebuke to the conventional ideal of a solitary woman living for and through men; attaining citizenship in the community of adulthood through masculine approval alone. The communities of women which have haunted our literary imagination from the beginning are emblems of female self-sufficiency which create their own corporate reality, evoking both wishes and fears" (p. 5). (50) Rita Felski, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1989), p. 166.
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|Title Annotation:||The Romantic Novel|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1994|
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