'White Lies': Amelia Opie, Fiction, and the Quakers
Cosgrave, Isabelle Marie
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I am looking to publish some of this thesis, perhaps even to publish it as a monograph. I am also looking to produce a digitised collection of Amelia Opie's letters, a project which would be compromised in the immediate if detailed information were readily available about the archives and sources I used for this thesis.
This thesis offers a reconsideration of Amelia Opie’s career as a novelist in the light of her developing religious allegiances over the period 1814-1825 in particular. In twentieth-century scholarship, Opie (1769-1853) was often treated primarily as the author of Adeline Mowbray (1805) and discussed in terms of that novel’s relationship with the ideas of Wollstonecraft and Godwin. Recent scholarship (Clive Jones, Roxanne Eberle, Shelley King and John B. Pierce) has begun a fuller assessment of her significance, but there is still a need for a thorough discussion of the relationship between her long journey towards the Quakers and her commitment to the novel as a moral and entertaining medium. Many scholars (Gary Kelly, Patricia Michaelson, Anne McWhir and others), following Opie’s first biographer Cecilia Lucy Brightwell (1854), have represented Opie as giving up her glittering literary career and relinquishing fiction-writing completely: this relinquishment has been linked to Quaker prohibitions of fiction as lying. My thesis shows that Quaker attitudes to fiction were more complicated, and that the relationship between Opie’s religious and literary life is, in turn, more complex than has been thought. This project brings evidence from a number of sources which have been overlooked or under-utilised, including a large, under-examined archive of Opie correspondence at the Huntington Library, Opie’s last novel Much to Blame (1824), given critical analysis here for the first time, and the republications which Opie undertook in the 1840s. These sources show that Opie never abandoned her commitment to fiction; that her move to the Quakers was a long and fraught process, but that she retained a place in the fashionable world in spite of her conversion. My Introduction gives a nuanced understanding of Quaker attitudes to fiction, and the first chapter exposes the ‘white lies’ of Opie’s first biographer, Brightwell, and their legacy. I then move on to examine Opie’s early works – Dangers of Coquetry (1790), “The Nun” (1795) and The Father and Daughter (1801) – as she flirts with radicalism in the 1790s, and Adeline Mowbray is explored through a Quaker lens in chapter 3. I juxtapose Opie’s correspondence with her Quaker mentor Joseph John Gurney and the celebrated writer William Hayley with her developing use of the moral-evangelical novel – Temper (1812), Valentine’s Eve (1816) and Madeline (1822) – as Opie was increasingly attracted to the Quakers. Chapter 5 analyses Opie’s anonymous novels – The Only Child (1821) and Much to Blame (1824) – alongside her Quaker works (especially Detraction Displayed (1828)) around the time of her official acceptance to the Quakers (1825). The final chapter investigates how Opie balanced her Quaker belonging with her ongoing commitment to fiction, exemplified in her 1840s republications, which I present in the context of her correspondence with publisher friends Josiah Fletcher and Simon Wilkin, and with Gurney. Opie’s ‘white lies’ of social negotiation reveal her difficulties in maintaining a literary career from the 1790s to the 1840s, but her concerted effort to do so in spite of such struggles provides a highly significant insight into the changing religious and literary climates of this long period.
Mack, Robert L.
PhD in English