Empiricism, Romanticism, Maria Edgeworth


In her 1801 novel/moral tale Belinda, Maria Edgeworth presents a story of love, family, reconciliation, and education in a time when the popularity of companionate marriages was rising in British society along with the acceleration of scientific innovations and advancements. Belinda mixes these two interests of love and science as Edgeworth, empirically minded like her inventor father, frequently has her characters debunk illusion and deceit through induction and logic. Critics, such as Nicole Wright, have argued that Belinda is a far more significant character than is often recognized because of her logic and reason—especially as she helps other characters find relief from “the negative feelings, supernatural preoccupations, and antiquated beliefs that haunt and isolate” (512). There is a lack of discourse, however, concerning an active science of love: the inductive methods used by Belinda’s characters to achieve conjugal bliss. While Andrew McCann focuses on the “process by which rationality overcomes . . . various forms of fetishism” (57) in the text, I argue that Maria Edgeworth presents love as a science in Belinda by demonstrating that romantic relationships are successful and avoid the pitfalls of artifice and deceit when they are built upon empirical principles. Looking at the experimental, scientific processes of love in Belinda will expand the reader’s understanding of how Maria Edgeworth’s dual, seemingly unrelated interests of love and logic connect in her literature and life in a way that promotes the power and responsibility women have to make judgements and decisions for themselves.

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