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.


Description Costs
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.


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 fee stated includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available*.

There is also a limited number of standard rooms available, which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but shared bath and toilet facilities. 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 en-suite room or a standard twin set room each person should complete an application form and email it to us at as these rooms cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems. Students should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

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.


If accommodation is unavailable in a particular week, we also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

If you wish to enrol on a non-residential basis please complete an application form and email it to us at as this option cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)