Scandal, Satire, Sensibility: 18th-Century Women Novelists


This course examines the lives and published writings of Eliza Haywood, Charlotte Lennox, Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe, and Maria Edgeworth: professional women writers who flourished alongside the great male novelists of the eighteenth century.

Female public writing was seen as transgressive: a subversive, disruptive move from the private (female) to public (male) sphere.  As poet Anne Finch (1661-1720) lamented, “Alas! A woman that attempts the pen, such an intruder of the rights of men”. We will explore the fascinating lives of these disparate women writers and in discussing their pioneering, bestselling novels, examine their literary techniques and treatment of issues affecting women during the period, such as courtship, marriage, the sexual double standard, female friendship, and faulty education. 

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest in and around the city.

Introduction and historical/literary backgrounds; scandal and amatory fiction. Eliza Haywood as a woman with her own disreputable past, taking advantage of the market for fiction and the public appetite for political and sexual gossip to write over sixty works; her 1719 début, scandalous bestseller, Love in Excess; critical backlash,  the enmity of  male poets Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift; her supposed mid-century reformation reflecting changing tastes in popular reading.

Novel reading and female education; Charlotte Lennox’s seeming rejection of the romance with The Female Quixote (1752) which satirises romantic fiction and serves as a model for Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Author and educator Maria Edgeworth presents satirical courtship novel Belinda (1801) to the public, declaring that it isn’t a novel at all; Mary Wollstonecraft, conduct manuals; correct and incorrect reading for young women.

Frances Burney, Evelina (1778): scandal to sentiment; the decorous Burney’s anxiety about novel-writing; her surprisingly event-filled life from friendship with members of London’s cultural elite, to life at court with ‘mad’ George III, to marriage at forty to an aristocratic French refugee; discussion of the anonymously published, bestselling epistolary novel Evelina; her influence on Jane Austen as a writer in using the courtship novel genre for social satire.

Field trip to Chawton, Hampshire: home to the Jane Austen House Museum and the early Women’s Writing centre at Chawton House.

Ann Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest (1791); the post-Revolution mania for gothic novels; Radcliffe’s place as critically approved “Great Enchantress”; discussion of the novel and its engagement with Romantic theories of nature and the sublime, terror versus horror, sensibility, and anti-Catholicism; Radcliffe’s influence on Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Victorian Gothic; conclusions about the eighteenth-century professional women writer and beyond.

Field trip
Destination: The Austen House Museum, & Chawton House; Hampshire
Excursion Rating: Moderate - up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.



Description Costs
Fee option 1 (single en suite accom and meals) £1740.00
Fee option 2 (single standard accom and meals) £1545.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals) £1642.50
Fee option 4 (double en suite accom and meals) £1642.50
Fee option 5 (twin set standard accom and meals) £1545.00
Fee option 6 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner) £1225.00


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments made via non-UK credit/debit cards and bank accounts are subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking.
  • If submitting an application form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date.

Cancellations and refunds

1. Cancellation by you

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to, or by post to The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid.

  • Cancellations received up to and including 30 April 2022 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-31 May 2022 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 June 2022 - no refunds will be made.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

2. Cancellation by us

OUDCE reserves the right to cancel a course where there is good reason, for example, if exceptionally low enrolment would make it educationally unviable. In these cases we will refund the course fees that you have already paid. If we cancel a course, our liability is limited to the fees that we have received from you; this means that we will not compensate you for any pre-booked travel costs or any other expenses incurred.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

The status of this course will be reviewed on 1 May 2022. If it is likely that the course may be cancelled, all those affected will be notified by email within 7 days; if you have not heard from OUDCE by 8 May 2022, you should assume that your course will be running. You may wish to delay finalising your travel arrangements until after this date.

3. Travel insurance

You need to purchase travel insurance to cover the programme fee, travel costs, and any other expenses incurred.


Dr Emma Plaskitt


Emma Plaskitt has a doctorate from Oxford University (Merton College), in eighteenth-century women writers. She is a lecturer in English Literature for Stanford University in Oxford and for Wycliffe Hall’s Study Abroad Programme, SCIO. She has extensive experience teaching eighteenth and nineteenth century literature for a variety of Oxford Colleges as well as OUDCE programmes MSSU, Berkeley, MSU, Duke/UNC.

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 12 people. Elements of this teaching will normally include mini lectures and presentations by tutors and tutor-led class discussions.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 1 May 2022.

Please note: most courses fill up fast so early registration is strongly recommended.

Single accommodation and non-residential places may be booked online by clicking on the “Book now” button in the “Course details” box at the top right-hand side of the course page.

If you experience any difficulties enrolling online please contact the Programme Administrator at

Those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form as these rooms cannot be booked online. Completed forms should be sent:

Level and demands

The Oxford Experience is aimed at non-specialists: no prior knowledge is required, and classes are pitched at an introductory level. The courses are designed for an international audience aged 18 and over.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

Participants should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite

  • Single standard

  • Twin en suite

  • Double en suite

  • Standard ‘twin set’.

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Standard rooms have their own washbasin and shaver point but bathroom facilities are shared. ‘Twin sets’ comprise two single rooms opening off a sitting room.

Please note that only single accommodation may be booked online; those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form. (See “Application”.)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form), together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.

We also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals (lunch and dinner) at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.