In eighteenth-century England, the upper and middling classes began to see marriage as a matter of emotion as well as duty and socioeconomic necessity. Hester Mulso Chapone (1727-1801) explored the anxious nature of this transition in her writing. In her correspondence with Samuel Richardson, published as Letters on Filial Obedience (1750-51), and her later A Matrimonial Creed (1751), Chapone exploits the rhetoric of feminine sensibility and traditional values to argue for marital choice and thus, indirectly, for gender equality. Responding to Richardson and to Clarissa, Chapone emphasizes her similarities to the novel's heroine in order to suggest that women should have the right to refuse an unwanted marriage. She creates a fictional father-daughter relationship with Richardson that allows her to appear humble and charming while she presents controversial views. This bold strategy from a young single woman created the need for a still more restrained, if equally public, restatement of her views on marriage in the Creed. In the Creed, Chapone attempts to show that she is marriageable, but does so by making an argument that complements, rather than opposes, that of the Letters.
Thomason, Laura E.
"Hester Chapone as a Living Clarissa in Letters on Filial Obedience and A Matrimonial Creed,"
3, Article 2.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol21/iss3/2
Laura E. Thomason, assistant professor of English at Macon State College, is currently working on a study of Sarah Scott's The Test of Filial Duty.