Institution Granting Degree
State University of New York at Buffalo
Evangelical, English, Novel, Eighteenth century, Hannah More
Hannah More was a significant literary, political, and social figure of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Ample evidence exists that More's only novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1808), played a significant role in increasing the popularity and acceptability of the genre of the novel. Yet, More's rightful place in the story of the "rise of the novel" has been largely overlooked in literary criticism today.
This dissertation examines the life, work, and influence of Hannah More, an Evangelical Anglican, feminist, and social reformer. Emphasis is placed on those aspects of her life that demonstrate More's unique position as a bridge between the social, religious, economic, and cultural chasms that helped to define eighteenth-century English society.
As an Evangelical, More helped to shape this influential movement's attitude toward the novel. Evangelicals tended to view the novel as, at best, a diversion from more pious pursuits and, at worst, a means of corrupting readers (particularly female readers) during an era experiencing an increase in leisure time and a perceived decrease in manners and morality. Because she was an Evangelical and because her work was imbued with the language and guided by the perspective of this increasingly influential movement, More exploited with remarkable success an otherwise objectionable art form for her didactic purposes.
The foundation for the success of More's novel can be found, in part, in the didactic tradition in literature. Conduct books, tracts, spiritual biographies and periodical literature all share a tradition whose influence can be seen in More's novel and in its public acclaim.
A survey of the periodical reviews finds a wide range of views on the literary and cultural implications of More's novel. Jane Austen's Mansfield Park provides a case study of how More's novel shaped the development of the novel into the nineteenth century.
Ultimately, however, understanding the limits of the relationship between art and didacticism help to reveal the flaws in Coelebs in Search of a Wife and to explain its failure, despite tremendous contemporary success, to maintain a place in the canon of English literature.