Scandal, Satire, Sensibility: Eighteenth-Century Women Novelists

Course details

From £1145.00

Sun 05 Jul 2020 - Sat 11 Jul 2020

Scandal, Satire, Sensibility: Eighteenth-Century Women Novelists


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

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, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places 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.

Recommended reading

Burney, Frances & Cooke, Stewart (Ed.).  1998.  Evelina; or, the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World.  W. W. Norton & Company.

Edgeworth, Maria & Kirkpatrick, Kathryn (Ed.).  2009.  Belinda.  Oxford World’s Classics.

Lennox, Charlotte & Dalziel, Margaret (Ed.).  2008.  The Female Quixote; or, the Adventures of Arabella. Oxford World’s Classics.

Radcliffe, Ann & Chard, Chloe (Ed.).  1998.  The Romance of the Forest.  Oxford World’s Classics.


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. Bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The fee £1640 includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form.  Early application for these rooms is essential.

Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

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.


Programme fee (no accom–incl. field trip, lunch and dinner): £1145.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom, field trip and meals): £1640.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom, field trip and meals): £1455.00


Dr Emma Plaskitt


Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.