Patricia Comitini's study compels serious rethinking of how literature by women in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries should be read. Beginning with a description of the ways in which evolving conceptions of philanthropy were foundational to constructions of class and gender roles, Comitini argues that these changes enabled a particular kind of feminine benevolence that was linked to women's work as writers. The term 'vocational philanthropy' is suggestive of the ways that women used their status as professional writers to instruct men and women in changing gender relations, and to educate the middling and laboring classes in their new roles during a socially and economically turbulent era. Examining works by Hannah More, Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth, and Dorothy Wordsworth, whose writing crosses generic, political, and social boundaries, Comitini shows how women from diverse backgrounds shared a commitment to philanthropy - fostering the love of mankind - and an interest in the social nature of literacy. Their writing fosters sentiments that they hoped would be shared between the sexes and among the classes in English society, forging new reading audiences among women and the lower classes. These writers and their writing exemplify the paradigm of vocational philanthropy, which gives people not money, but texts to read, in order to imagine societal improvement. The effect was to permit the emergence of middle-class values linking private notions of morality, family, and love to the public needs for good citizens, industrious laborers, and class consolidation.
'… compelling and well-argued… a fresh and lucid introduction, complemented with an intelligent and nuanced reading of Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women… Vocational Philanthropy is useful and well-argued, and sets out clearly the historical context and ideological agenda of Romantic-era didactic fiction, as well as elucidating the complex relationship between the private and public spheres that women writers often had to negotiate… an admirable attempt to give us a clearer understanding of a popular and powerful mode of fiction: one which had far greater cachet in its own time that ours and which deserves such unapologetic reassessment.' Romantic Textualities
Contents: Introduction; History, philanthropy and benevolent femininity; The benevolent woman: rereading Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; Beyond the Polite: Philanthropy and the Politics of 'Popular' Tales; Reforming fiction and the middling classes: Maria Edgeworth's Belinda; More than 'half a poet': Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.