British Women Writers and the French Revolution: Citizens of by Adriana Craciun (auth.)

By Adriana Craciun (auth.)

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Sample text

The most extensive response to Barbauld’s radical critique of British imperial ambition was Anne Grant’s epic Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen (1814), a triumphalist vision of ‘highly favoured Britain’: ‘Well may Britannia boast alike the praise/ Of warlike laurels and poetic bays’ (95). A catalogue of British military victories over France, Grant’s poem explicitly rejects Barbauld’s equation of war with murder by evoking God’s will: ‘Now cannon thundering through th’untroubled air/ Heaven’s blessing on our glorious cause declare’ (141).

The result for ‘those who press forward’ seeking access to both realms, that is Female Philosophers, is ‘moral martyrdom’ according to Hays (Memoirs: 195). Emma Courtney’s ‘moral martyrdom’ deliberately echoed the self-aggrandizing rhetoric of martyrdom in Rousseau’s Confessions, and became the standard conclusion to all subsequent tales of Female Philosophers, Robinson’s included. Boldly allying herself with the ‘illustrious name’ of the recently deceased Wollstonecraft, Robinson’s heroine in The False Friend is dismissed as a ‘he–she philosopher’ by the villain (2: 77–8), and suffers a literal and ‘moral martyrdom’ for her misunderstood passion, effectively connecting Wollstonecraft’s fate with Rousseau’s (and Emma Courtney’s).

When we pay our army and our navy estimates, let us set down – so much for killing, so much for maiming, so much for making widows and orphans, so much for bringing famine upon a district, so much for corrupting citizens and subjects into spies and traitors . . We shall by this means know what we have paid our money for, whether we have made a good bargain. (Sins 312–13, orig. emphasis) In a classic exercise of radical demystification, Barbauld links the actual war against the French and its human costs, to the rhetorical war her government conducted in order to sustain these military efforts.

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