Sarah Scott: Religion in Millenium Hall and The History of Sir George Ellison

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Curry, Rebecca Lee
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Middle Tennessee State University
Sarah Scott (1723-95), an eighteenth-century writer, historian, and social reformer, wrote in a variety of genres: romance, The History of Cornelia (1750); history, The History of Mechlenburgh (1762); utopia, A Description of Millenium Hall (1762); and novels, The History of Sir George Ellison (1766) and The Test of Filial Duty (1772) - to name a few. Forgotten for almost 250 years, she has begun to attract some critical attention in recent decades, almost all of which focuses on A Description of Millenium Hall and even less frequently, The History of Sir George Ellison. One subject that has hardly received any attention in this reevaluation is religion.
This thesis attempts to show that Christianity - more specifically, Anglicanism - is the basis for the utopian social vision of Millenium Hall and, more than a decade before the mainstreaming of the abolitionist movement, for Scott's critique of slavery and the slave trade in The History of Sir George Ellison, the two texts in which Scott's religious principles manifest themselves most clearly. Following an introductory chapter which briefly addresses relevant biographical contexts and introduces the historical and literary contexts in which Scott has been discussed by scholars, the chapter on Millenium Hall shows how Scott's utopian vision of a landed estate owned and run by women is based on a combination of Enlightenment rationalism and latitudinarian principles. The novel offers, in other words, the construction of a proto-feminist utopian community based on the reconciliation of reason and faith. The following chapter, which focuses on The History of Sir George Ellison, discusses the ways in which the novel offers a critique of slavery from the same perspective, that of religion. Just as the primary focus of Millenium Hall is the construction of a secluded utopian community meant, eventually, to be spread across England - Scott suggests that any estate can, and should be, run like Millenium Hall - so Sir George Ellison suggests that the ameliorationist perspective of the eponymous protagonist, embodied by his planation, should be widely imitated.