Infamous Scribblers

women writers of the long eighteenth century

Empires of the Self: Mary Brunton and the “Nonfamous” Scribbling Woman

imagesMary Brunton (1778-1818) was a Scottish novelist and wife of a clergyman. Although she only wrote three novels, Self-Control, Discipline, and Emmeline, her work was widely read by her contemporaries, including Jane Austen.

Brunton is an immensely under studied early nineteenth-century author, due in no small part, I imagine, to both her apparent religious zeal and her Scottish heritage. Yet in her novels Brunton uses these two aspects that threaten to marginalize her to develop strategies of resistance, to interrogate methods of political survival, and to explore the connection between subjectivity and empire, self-government and imperialism. Though few in number, Brunton’s contributions to the development of the novel are surprisingly rich, teeming with issues of the dangers of domesticity, the prejudices of empire, poverty, and the problem of women’s education and labor–issues that will be taken up by the likes of Austen, Gaskell, the Brontes, Dickens, etc.

No major (or even minor) academic press has taken up a critical edition of her works, and the number of articles or chapters written about her add up to about eleven (according to MLA International Bibliography). She belongs amongst these infamous scribblers in large part because she redefines the words: not infamous, perhaps, but non-famous, at least by our 20th- and 21st-century standards. As we (rightfully) add Burney, Robinson, Inchbald, Edgeworth, Wollstonecraft, C. Smith, and many more women to our syllabi and prospective projects, I think the time has come to consider this rather enigmatic and obscured Mary Brunton to see if we can determine to what extent she is, in fact, one of those infamous scribbling women.

About Rachel

Doctoral Candidate in Literature

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This entry was posted on March 11, 2013 by .
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