The Danger of Silly Novels: An Examination of Female Education and Reading in Maria Edgeworth's "Belinda"

Publication Year



literature, literary criticism, gender, education, Maria Edgeworth, gender and society


Comparative Literature | Education | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality


Known for influencing widely studied authors such as Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth is the author of nine novels, munerous children's stories, and multiple educational texts that were influential and innovative, specifically in the ideas surrounding female education. Edgeworth's Belinda, published in 1801, has been both attacked by critics for succumbing to societal gender expectations and praised for questioning them, especially in the contemporaneous debate about how women are educated and what they read. In spite of ambiguity in the reception by critics, Edgeworth reveals through her other texts and through her portrayal of female characters in Belinda that she supports women being educated in the same manner as men. This idea was progressive, as the appropriate way to educate women was a frequently debated, controversial issue in the historical context. The questioning of gender roles and proper education is important in many of Edgeworth's writings, and comes to the forefront of Belinda's themes. Her belief in practical female education echoes Mary Woolstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1792, nine years before her ideas are resonated in Belinda's female characters.

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