- eighteenth-century British novel,
- nineteenth-century British novel,
- gender studies,
- post-colonial studies,
- public woman,
In Belinda (1801), Maria Edgeworth forges parallel subplots between Juba, a former African slave residing in England, and Lady Delacour, a wealthy and dissipated London socialite, both of whom undergo a process of domestication during the course of the novel. The connection Edgeworth creates between these characters allows her to explore a version of womanhood that promotes domesticity by negotiating the boundary between domestic and public life; at the same time, however, it reveals the anxieties surrounding this understanding of womanhood. Edgeworth’s novel configures Lady Delacour as a plotting woman who bridges the public/private divide, revealing domesticity to be as much a public construct as a private reality. The public representation of domesticity that Lady Delacour constructs at the end of the novel functions as a stimulant to and a channel for domestic sympathies and, in doing so, shapes private interactions in a positive way. In this way, Edgeworth acknowledges the positive potential inherent in the power Lady Delacour claims. However, by connecting Lady Delacour with the figure of the colonized other, whose domestication was frequently read as a performance that hid threatening, rebellious impulses, Edgeworth also identifies this power as a source of anxiety. In Belinda, Juba functions not as a distinct character, but as the racialized reflection of Lady Delacour’s public/private hybridity and the embodiment of the disruptive impulses that drive her considerable, though never total, resistance to the domesticating influence exerted by Belinda, the novel’s heroine. Even more than the process of assimilation, which the novel ultimately rejects as impossible and undesirable, it is this troubling configuration of character that threatens to bring about Juba’s erasure from the text.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/sharon-smith/1/