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


This course examines the lives and some of the 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 revolutionary, 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. Throughout, we will reference the first novel written by Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, which she began in the late 1790s, to see how she was influenced by these literary pioneers.

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 peers, Aphra Behn and Delarivier Manley; Haywood’s 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: Chawton village, Hampshire. The Jane Austen House Museum, and Chawton House.


Excursion rating: Easy to 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 per person) £1985.00
Fee option 2 (double en suite accom and meals per person) £1840.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals per person) £1840.00
Fee option 4 (twin set standard accom and meals per person) £1840.00
Fee option 5 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner per person) £1405.00


Please note there are no sources of funding (scholarships, bursaries, etc) available for applicants.


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 enrolment form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date.

Supplementary costs

  • Extended-stay fee: Participants staying multiple, consecutive weeks will be charged an additional £90 for the cost of the Saturday night between courses. An invoice will be emailed to participants alongside confirmation of their enrolment.
  • Excursion fee where applicable: £15-125. This fee is built into the above course fees and will not require a separate payment. If your course includes a day-long excursion, you may need to make your own lunch arrangements.
  • Course change administration fee: Please note that course transfers may be permitted in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the programme administrator, up to the 1 May 2023. In accordance with our Terms and Conditions, an administration fee of £50 will be charged.
  • Any ticketed activities, as outlined in the Social Programme.

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 2023 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-31 May 2023 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 June 2023 - no refunds will be made under any circumstances.

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 2023. 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 2023, 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

All participants need to purchase travel insurance to cover the programme fee, travel costs, and any other expenses incurred. OUDCE cannot be held responsible for any costs you may incur in relation to travel or accommodation bookings as a result of a course cancellation, or if you are unable to attend the course for any other reason. 


Dr Emma Plaskitt


Emma Plaskitt is a graduate of Merton College, Oxford, where she wrote her doctoral thesis on gender and reputation in fiction by eighteenth-century novelists Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, and Frances Burney. Since 1994 she has taught English literature 1640–1901 for various Oxford colleges and OUDCE programmes MSSU, Berkeley, MSU, and Duke/UNC. She has worked for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, where she was responsible for writing many articles on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women writers and is a Tutor and Lecturer in English Literature for Wycliffe Hall’s Study Abroad Programme, SCIO and for Stanford University in Oxford.

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 12 people. The teaching methods used during this course will include:

  • Short lectures/Presentations
  • Physical handouts
  • Seminars/group discussions
  • Video recordings
  • Field Trip

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 1 May 2023.

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 enrolment 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. The course fee includes breakfasts Monday-Saturday, lunches Sunday-Friday, and 3-course dinners Sunday-Friday. All meals are taken in Christ Church’s spectacular dining hall.

Please note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished and do not have air-conditioning. Photographs of example rooms can be found at:

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite;
  • Double en suite;
  • Twin en suite;
  • ‘Twin set’ standard.

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). ‘Twin set’ standard rooms comprise two separate single standard rooms, each with a washbasin and shaver point only, opening onto a private sitting room. Bathroom facilities are shared with other rooms. All twin, twin set and double rooms are shared between participants that apply to the programme together, and cannot be booked by individuals.

Please note that only single accommodation may be booked online; those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an enrolment form (see ‘Application’).

Please note that Christ Church rooms do not have lift access, and the higher rooms can be located up a few flights of stairs. If you need a room on a ground or lower floor please indicate this either online or on your enrolment form, or contact the programme administrator directly at prior to your arrival.

We regret that we are unable to offer 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.

Participants Attending Multiple Weeks

The Oxford Experience welcomes participants who want to attend multiple courses over a number of weeks. Resident participants staying in Christ Church for consecutive weeks will be offered a reduced rate for the Saturday night between their courses.

This extended-stay fee is £90 per person, per Saturday. An invoice will be emailed to participants alongside confirmation of their enrolment. Please note that Saturday lunch and dinner and Sunday breakfast are not provided, however we are happy to make recommendations for alternative places to eat in Oxford.