Saturday, December 20, 2008


Dorothea; or, A Ray of the New Light (1801) is attributed to a Mrs Bullock, but that is based mostly on educated guessing, as nothing is known of the author. Dorothea is a little-known anti-Jacobin novel about the courtship and marriage of the eponymous heroine. Dorothea has been educated into "radical" beliefs by her careless governess and a radical philosopher called Thomas Williams (obviously named after Caleb Williams, from Godwin's novel). The novel is so aimed squarely at William Godwin that it seems that most of the novel is directly lifted out of the pages of Political Justice, as almost all of the characters quote from it extensively. Of course, as this is an anti-Jacobin novel, the novel explores how Dorothea learns to turn away from her radical beliefs to embrace a life of happy conformity and conventionality. Godwin's beliefs are held up for ridicule, as they lead Dorothea into a lot of pain and suffering.

So, the politics in the book are very unpalatable to the modern reader. Dorothea at the beginning of the novel, whilst immature and a bit too literal, is spirited and independent. By the end of the novel, she's the "perfect" wife - submissive and totally subordinate. And this is presented as a good thing. However, if you can get past the politics, this is actually a surprisingly entertaining novel. It is at its best when it leaves aside its diatribes and focuses on social satire. There are parts that are genuinely funny, and I think even the most conservative reader would have found Dorothea, even at her most radical, quite sympathetic. I found this a much more interesting anti-Jacobin text than something like Waldorf, for example. Bullock provides direct parallels to Godwin's work, and actually demonstrates practical situations where Godwin's idealistic principles can be harmful. While I was not convinced by Bullock's arguments, obviously, Bullock's use of direct quotations is quite a persuasive technique.

I don't know that I would read this if I weren't studying anti-Jacobin novels at the moment, but I did quite enjoy it, despite the ultra conservative politics. And even though I hated the ending!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't definitely comment on A Ray Of New Light buy yes on the Political Justice....If the former is a shadow of the latter, I would definitely like make it as my next order @ A1Books :)