Maria Edgeworth's novel Belinda (1801) has received increasing attention in recent years from scholars interested in the author's pedagogical methods (introduced by Edgeworth and her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth in the treatise Practical Education ). Yet there has been little sustained critical assessment of the novel's scenes of empirical inquiry, specifically the two phosphoric spectacles, or attention to how these scenes reflect late-Enlightenment debates and Edgeworth's call for a significant revamping of the period's didactic scientific literature. Far from disavowing the value of all emotional response in favour of a frigid adherence to empirical inquiry, Edgeworth's characters show that empiricism can bolster domestic harmony and strengthen emotional bonds within the household. Edgeworth responds to contemporary debates regarding the use of spectacle in teaching science, suggesting that proper scientific education liberates those benighted by superstition and societal prejudices. The scientific method's appeal lies in its transformative effect on the novel's characters, as it generates a shared empirically grounded discourse, fostering communication between characters differing in race, social rank, education, or age.
Wright, Nicole M.
"Opening the Phosphoric "Envelope": Scientific Appraisal, Domestic Spectacle, and (Un)"Reasonable Creatures" in Edgeworth's Belinda,"
3, Article 5.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol24/iss3/5
Nicole M. Wright is a Provost's Career Enhancement Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago. She received her PhD from Yale University in 2011; her dissertation is entitled "'A Contractile Power': Boundaries of Character in the British Novel, 1740-1830." In addition to the development of the novel, her interests include literary portrayals of the history of science, law in literature, and African-American poetry.