Female Roles and Moral Education in Maria Edgeworth's Works

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Evans, Jessica
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Middle Tennessee State University
Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) devoted her life to educating her readers, children as well as adults, in a variety of genres--educational treatises, moral tales, novels, and children's stories to name a few. Edgeworth's career-long devotion to reforming the educational system of her time was a way for her to further her desire to improve women's status in society. Edgeworth's skillful techniques of changing, correcting, and questioning gender stereotypes from within the patriarchal system made her appear to her contemporaries as a dedicated educational reformist without an interest in larger political concerns, even as an outright conservative, but as this thesis shows, many of Edgeworth's ideas on education are virtually indistinguishable from those advanced by eighteenth-century women writers often categorized as political radicals.
In order to develop this argument, this thesis engages Edgeworth's major novel <italic>Belinda</italic> (1801) as well as several of her other novels and writings with the work of other women writers interested in similar concerns: Sarah Scott, Frances Burney, and Mary Wollstonecraft. The chapter on Scott is interested in teasing out the utopian dimensions of Edgeworth's perspective on women's education by comparing Scott's utopian novel <italic>A Description of Millenium Hall</italic> (1762) to Edgeworth's moral tale <italic>Belinda</italic>. The chapter on Burney considers both the strong literary influence of Frances Burney's novel <italic>Evelina</italic> (1778) on <italic>Belinda</italic> and Edgeworth's revisions and deliberate departures from <italic>Evelina</italic> in order to establish Edgeworth's views on women's social roles. Finally, the chapter on Wollstonecraft contextualizes Edgeworth within the 1790s debate concerning women's education and places her views in close relationship with those of Wollstonecraft's <italic>A Vindication of the Rights of Woman</italic> (1792).
Edgeworth, Education, Eighteenth century, Feminism, Sarah Scott, Wollstonecraft