Mary Wollstonecraft and the Historical Romance Heroine

If you don’t take care my gel, you’ll turn into a radical like that Wollstonecraft woman.”
The Stanforth Secrets, Jo Beverley, 1989.

Mary Wollstonecraft John Opie Tate Museum
Mary Wollstonecraft, 1790.
by John Opie
(The Tate)

Born on April 27th 1759, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 when she was only thirty-three years old.  In it, she argued against the natural inferiority of women, writing that “…it cannot be demonstrated that woman is essentially inferior to man, because she has always been subjugated” and that it was the neglected education of her “fellow creatures” that was the primary source of their misery.

As modern readers, it seems to be a perfectly reasonable, wholly uncontroversial argument.  Indeed, basic commonsense.  But what of readers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, you ask?  Surely they must have been scandalized by Wollstonecraft’s arguments for equality.[…]Continue Reading


Villains, Shysters, and Pettifoggers: The Lawyers and Law Clerks of Bleak House

Charles Dickens, 1852.

In my last article on Law and Literature, I discussed the workings of the early nineteenth century British Court of Chancery, both in reality and as portrayed by Charles Dickens in his magnificent novel, Bleak House.  Such a serious subject in a work of fiction, especially one written in serial form for the Victorian masses, must necessarily be offset by a strong cast of characters with whom the reader can relate.

As always, when it comes to depicting the frailties of human nature, Charles Dickens does not disappoint.  From the noble to the ridiculous, we are given a glimpse of the people whose lives have been touched by the infamous lawsuit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.  And none of them are more fascinating than the range of lawyers and law clerks that navigate (with varying degrees of skill) the murky waters of Chancery dysfunction.

[…]Continue Reading


Edwin Henry Landseer: 19th-Century Britain's Foremost Animal Painter

Many of us know Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (7 March 1802 – 1 October 1873) as the sculptor of the four magnificent bronze lions that guard Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square.  During the mid-19th century, however, Landseer’s fame derived from his unrivalled talent as an animal painter.

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society exhibited 1838 by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1802-1873
A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, 1838.
by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer
(Tate Collection, London)

From the upper echelons of Victorian society to the working middle-class, there were few who were not familiar with Landseer’s work.  […]Continue Reading


Law Meets Literature: Bleak House and the British Court of Chancery

By the early nineteenth century, the British Court of Chancery had become synonymous with procedural dysfunction and injustice.  This was especially so for the middle classes, who could not afford to bring a claim lest they end up having their entire fortunes swallowed up by the process.

This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
Court of Chancery, 1808.

However, though “the evils of Chancery were well known and had been exposed over and over again,” the 1852 publication of Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House shone an even brighter light both on the Court and on the lives ruined by its corruption and dysfunctionality.[…]Continue Reading


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