The life and prose works of Amelia Opie (1769-1853)

Jones, Clive (2001). The life and prose works of Amelia Opie (1769-1853). PhD thesis The Open University.


This thesis examines the life and prose works of Amelia Opie. It explores the moral and social ideology of the novels and tales, setting them in the context of Opie's own ideological development as she moves from the radicalism of the 1790s, through a period of intellectual and religious uncertainty to her conversion to Quakerism in 1825. It draws on a detailed analysis of all Opie's extant writing in prose, including a comprehensive survey of her letters.

Biographical criticism has been rather unfashionable in recent years, though this is beginning to change. The argument put forward here is that only through detailed biographical case studies is it possible to understand the complex and shifting alignments and allegiances of the period 1790 to 1830. This has often been characterised as an era in which both society and literature were highly polarised, with a clear division between radicals and conservatives. Careful analysis of Opie's life and work reveals the difficulties involved in categorising her in either camp, and her case exemplifies the way in which this very limited, and limiting, perspective can misrepresent or oversimplify the position of individuals within this period. Opie's position was both complex at any given time, embodying elements of both radical and conservative thought, and developed and changed over time in response to public and private events. Attempts to see her as a radical, on the one hand, or conservative, on the other, are bound to distort the interpretation of her writings and the assessment of her wider significance as a writer.

This thesis therefore aims to provide a new insight into the work of Amelia Opie and also to represent the importance and value of a biographically sensitive criticism to a full understanding of both individual writers and the periods in which they work. An appendix to the thesis provides an annotated register of approximately four hundred of her letters, giving details of their location.

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