By Adriana Craciun (auth.)
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Additional resources for British Women Writers and the French Revolution: Citizens of the World
In his Confessions, Rousseau had made shocking revelations of adultery, incestuous passion, homosexuality, masturbation and, most disturbing of all, the abandonment of his children to a foundling hospital. Burke ingeniously framed Rousseau’s British reception as Modern Philosopher according to the contradictions between the sexual and philosophical, the private and public, the practical and theoretical, embodied in the philosopher’s treatment of his children. ‘Thousands admire the sentimental writer’, wrote Burke, evoking that classic critique of cosmopolitanism’s disregard for local ties, ‘but the affectionate father is hardly known in his parish’ (Letter 35).
Barbauld’s poetry is ‘chaste and elegant’, yet she is now ‘classed with such females as a Wollstonecraft’ because of her recent political prose: ‘Mrs. B[arbauld] has lately published several political tracts which, if not discreditable to her talents and virtues, can by no means add Female Philosophers 29 to her reputation’(16). The pattern is the same for Charlotte Smith, Helen Maria Williams and Mary Robinson, praised for their appropriately feminine lyrical verse, yet each of them unsexed by their political prose in favour of the French Revolution, infected with the ‘Gallic mania’ (18, 15–20) introduced by Wollstonecraft.
Their counterrevolutionary opponents were at a loss as to how to classify such critiques, hence Polwhele’s (in this respect representative) exasperation at these writers’ failure to fit any ‘sexed’ model of writing. The emergence of Female Philosophers as a cause for counterrevolutionary agitation coincides with Rousseau’s transformation from sentimental seducer to dangerous republican philosopher. Sexualization and radicalization remain inseparable in the figure of Rousseau, who, though he died before 1789 and had been neither an atheist, feminist nor a democrat, profoundly influenced generations of French revolutionaries who then traced their political roots to the Citizen of Geneva.