Monday, December 1, 2008

The Life of Harriot Stuart

Charlotte Lennox's The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself (1750) is a Richardsonesque novel about a young woman's process of maturation. However, unlike Richardson's "angelic" victims, Harriot is a fiesty, fiery woman with a lot of flaws. She likes attention rather too much. She gets herself into all kinds of scrapes. She refuses to succumb to the eighteenth-century seduction plot (she actually stabs the man who is trying to rape her, which is awesome). She falls in love with one man, but admits to enjoying flirting with other men. Above all, Harriot is an intelligent heroine who never lets circumstances control her. I was surprised by how much agency Lennox gives her - she never has to "learn" as much as Arabella from The Female Quixote does, and her judgment and actions are almost always vindicated.

This novel has additional historical interest, as it is partly set in mid eighteenth-century America. While Lennox never actually names New York and Albany (calling them N- and A- respectively), it's pretty clear that she is talking about them. Lennox provides an interesting glimpse of American society, based on her own experiences. Harriot has dealings with the native Americans, makes various observations on the nature of the American landscape, and at one point wanders through American wildlife by herself.

While I still think that Lennox's The Female Quixote is a stronger novel, The Life of Harriot Stuart is a very enjoyable novel, especially if you want to get something vaguely Richardsonesque, with a proto-feminist twist.


Dorothy W. said...

I really enjoyed The Female Quixote (and wrote on it in grad school) but I haven't read any of her other work, and would like to. The proto-feminist stuff sounds interesting.

Scarlettfish said...

You should definitely read this one! Harriot is very feisty and self-possessed, which is so much fun (despite her tendency to faint at crucial moments). It's really interesting.