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Territoires de diplomatie: Le monde anglo-américain et ses relations extérieures

The English Didactic Novel (1778-1814) and the Paradox of the Genteel Ambassador

Juliette Misset


Au XVIIIe siècle, on pensait que la production littéraire en général, et les romans en particulier, avaient la capacité d’influencer les lecteurs et les lectrices, ce dont témoigne la préoccupation des critiques de l’époque pour la "teneur morale" de ces œuvres (moral tendency). Cependant, pour les critiques, une morale irréprochable n'implique pas nécessairement une instruction morale active, et les exemples d'activité diplomatique dans deux corpus de romans britanniques publiés entre 1778 et 1814 illustrent la centralité du territoire anglais à la fois comme espace géographique et comme représentation symbolique d'un certain idéal moral dans la réception précoce du didactisme dans les romans. Une étude comparative des ambassadeurs et envoyés qui apparaissent dans les romans décrits par les premiers critiques comme didactiques et d'autres qui n'ont pas été perçus comme tels montre comment l'activité diplomatique dans les romans didactiques sert la représentation d'une masculinité distinguée et respectable (proper genteel masculinity) conçue comme spécifiquement anglaise, pendant masculin de la figure de la dame distinguée et respectable (genteel proper lady), pour emprunter à Mary Poovey (1984), dont le concept est central dans les romans didactiques.

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1 In Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684-1750, William Warner contends that the change in the conception of the novel from mere entertainment to a literary genre "is coextensive with the nationalization of culture and the rise of the discipline of English literary studies" (19). The very nature of the novel as a literary genre is here linked to territory, and the elusive notion of Englishness. According to Warner, this process takes place throughout the nineteenth century, and eventually looks back to eighteenth-century novels "that happen to have been written in England […] as the first instances of that complex and valued cultural object known as ‘the English novel’" (19). My research focuses on the early reception of moral didacticism in novels from the turn of the nineteenth century in Britain, a subgenre of fiction building on the heritage of Samuel Richardson and the later works of Eliza Haywood from the middle of the eighteenth century (Havens 5-6; Warner 230). Didactic novels are primarily associated with female authorship, and have been defined as works of fiction containing obvious prescriptive moral lessons that coexist with or subsume aesthetic content (Havens 5, 8; Wood 62).

  • 1 For more information on the Monthly and the Critical, see Frank Donoghue’s The Fame Machine: Book (...)

2 My own work seeks to approach didacticism in the novel less as thematic content than through its reception, in order to investigate the initial perception of moral didacticism and arrive at a working definition of the didactic novel as a subgenre in this period. The present paper stems from this wider project. I created two corpora of eighteen novels each, primarily set in late-eighteenth-century Britain, published between 1778 and 1814. Both were built using the reviews of the Monthly Review and the Critical Review. A number of other literary magazines, such as the anti-revolutionary Anti-Jacobin or the radical Analytical Review, flourished at the turn of the nineteenth century. The Monthly and the Critical were chosen to explore early reception of didacticism as the most established publications within this landscape, the first of their kind when they were created in the middle of the eighteenth century and spanning the entire period of inquiry.1 The Monthly is associated with comparatively more liberal politics than the Critical (Donoghue 26). The initial aim of the Monthly Review and the Critical Review upon their creation in the middle of the eighteenth century was to cover all output of prose fiction, although by the end of the century this became untenable given the amount of new publications, and they eventually had to reduce their scope (Christie 282). Beaudoin Millet contends that the opinions expressed in the Reviews constituted a first attempt at defining a standard for literature in prose (342). The critics writing in these publications may therefore be seen as arbiters of literary taste in the growing book market, "discriminat[ing] among reading practices, creating hierarchies among [their] audience by assessing the habits and tastes of different kinds of readers" (Donoghue 28). These particular publications were therefore chosen as the point of departure to assess cultural attitudes toward moral didacticism in fiction during the period.

  • 2 The introductory essay to Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s 1810 seminal anthology of English novels The B (...)

3 Only the novels that were described by Monthly and Critical contributors as morally instructive and entertaining or amusing were selected to create the "didactic corpus," in keeping with the traditional dulce et utile formula (Table 1).2 These inclusion criteria reflect Samuel Johnson’s view that novels "are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions to life" in the form of "entertainment" (17). The "reference corpus" includes novels from the same time period, also primarily set in eighteenth-century Britain, that were not described in such terms (Table 2), providing a relative norm against which to compare the primary corpus (Mahlberg 24). My methodology includes a combination of computer-aided analysis and close reading; it follows that all novels had to already be available in digital form, on Gutenberg, Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, or Chawton House’s Women’s Novels Online. I come to two main conclusions in my research: first of all, novels received as didactic do not express moral lessons and sentiments particularly more overtly than others; secondly, and this is the starting-point for this paper, the difference between the two corpora is primarily one of engagement with a certain definition of Englishness, which we see enacted in their representations of diplomatic activity.

  • 3 In Tables 1 and 2, the protagonists in bold are those which travel beyond the borders of England, (...)

Table 1. The Didactic Corpus3







Frances Burney

Evelina Anville


Munster Village

Lady Mary Hamilton

Lady Frances



Frances Burney

Cecilia Beverley


Mary, A Fiction

Mary Wollstonecraft



Julia, A Novel

Helen Maria Williams



Hermsprong, or Man as He Is Not

Robert Bage



Memoirs of Emma Courtney

Mary Hays

Emma Courtney


Edgar; or, The Phantom of the Castle

Richard Sicklemore



Maria; or, TheWrongs of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft




Maria Edgeworth

Belinda Portman


The Father and Daughter

Amelia Opie



The Nobility of the Heart

Elizabeth Spence



Cœlebs in Search of a Wife

Hannah More



Romance Readers and Romance Writers

Sarah Green

Mary and Margaret


Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen

Elinor and Marianne



Mary Brunton

Laura Montreville


Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennet



Maria Edgeworth

Percy family

Table 2. The Reference Corpus






Learning at a Loss

Gregory Lewis Way

W. Easy


Emmeline; or, The Orphan of the Castle

Charlotte Smith



A Simple Story

Elizabeth Inchbald

Lord Elmwood


Anna St. Ives

Thomas Holcroft

Anna St. Ives


Caleb Williams

William Godwin

Caleb Williams



Richard Cumberland



Nature and Art

Elizabeth Inchbald

William and Henry


Rosamund Gray

Charles Lamb



The Vagabond

George Walker

Frederick Fenton


Adeline Mowbray

Amelia Opie



Fleetwood; or, The New Man of Feeling

Caleb Williams




Maria Edgeworth

Lady Leonora


The Wild Irish Girl

Sydney Owenson

H. M.


The Son of a Genius

Barbara Hofland



The Heroine

Eaton Stannard Barrett

Cherry Wilkinson


Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

Fanny Price



Mary Brunton

Ellen Percy


The Wanderer

Frances Burney

Juliet Granville

  • 4 It should be noted that tourism, including the Grand Tour, was periodically affected by war in th (...)
  • 5 Generated by TXM, a textometry software which produces concordance lines where the searched keywo (...)
  • 6 See for instance Anne Bandry-Scubbi’s ‘Chawton Novels Online, Women’s Writing 1751-1834 and Compu (...)
  • 7 In the didactic corpus, 45% of the occurrences of "ambassador" or "embassy" and 95% of the instan (...)

4 Although Englishness and Britishness are sometimes used interchangeably, the two concepts are different and my choice to use the former must be substantiated. Linda Colley argues that the concept of "Britishness" was invented in the eighteenth century, in the context of continual war with several European countries and growing colonial expansion (5). As such, Britishness "was superimposed over an array of internal differences in response to contact with the Other, and above all in response to conflict with the Other" (6). Although Colley resists the notion of "an English ‘core’ imposing its cultural and political hegemony on a helpless and defrauded Celtic periphery," the distinction remains useful in the context of my study: didactic novels center Englishness over Scottishness, Welshness, and indeed Britishness in important ways. Contrasting with Colley, Simon Gikandi claims that Englishness is the product of "a continuous conflict between the center and its Celtic and colonial peripheries," a conflict which the comparison of my two corpora illustrates (xvii). Jennifer Mori also alludes to the tension between the English core and the Celtic margins in the distinction she draws between Britishness and Englishness, specifically in the context of diplomatic activity abroad. For ambassadors, envoys, and their families, she writes that Britishness was "a public identity deliberately assumed, to share in the social and political privileges of Englishness," while "the ethnic self [Scot, Welsh, Irish] was reserved for the company of family and friends" (4). Central to this distinction is the performance of genteel Englishness on the continent for the diplomat and his family, which was linked to values of private domestic virtue over those of public honor (Mori 3). The novels of my didactic corpus foreground and mediate this ideal of proper genteel Englishness for readers, acting as metaphorical territories of diplomacy. Their use of the actual figure of the ambassador or envoy highlights the inherent paradox in developing a cultural ideal of Englishness set in the national territory yet anchored in gentility, a social category associated with international travel, including in the context of diplomatic activity (Black 1-2).4 An overview of the representation of genteel English masculinity in these novels is first of all provided, in contrast with the greater variety of male protagonists featured in the reference corpus. Then, the use of the language of diplomacy is traced in the two corpora along with side characters belonging to the diplomatic profession, using concordance lines.5 The computer-aided analysis conducted singles out two novels from the corpora which materially differ from the rest in their narrative portrayal of diplomatic activity, indicating that they are worth exploring in more detail.6 Consequently, this paper ends on a comparative analysis of two novels by Maria Edgeworth where vocabulary frequency indicates the extensive use she makes of characters involved in diplomatic activity, compared to the rest of the corpora: Patronage from the didactic corpus, and Leonora from the reference corpus.7

Didactic v. Reference Corpus: Promoting Contending Ideals of Englishness

5 There is something inherently paradoxical about diplomatic activity taking place by essence at a point of contact between nations and the focus on English national identity in the didactic corpus, particularly as largely portrayed within the borders of England. Indeed, one of the discriminating features between these two corpora is that the mostly female protagonists of the didactic corpus travel little beyond those borders—they do so in 27% of the novels—while 78% of the novels of the reference corpus feature main characters, whether male or female, traveling to the Celtic nations or overseas (in bold in Tables 1 and 2). In his Atlas of the European Novel, Franco Moretti notes the pattern of geographical exclusion in Austen's novels:

6No Ireland; no Scotland; no Wales; no Corwall. No ‘Celtic fringe,’ as Michael Hechter has called it; only England: a much smaller space than the United Kingdom as a whole. And not even all of England: Lancashire, the North, the industrial revolution—all missing. Instead, we have here the much older England celebrated by the ‘estate poems’ of topographical poetry: hills, parks, country houses. (13)

  • 8 Anthony Mandal has stressed the "dislocation of Austen from the nuanced dialectic between her nov (...)

7Although Moretti claims that Austen is the first author to convincingly offer "a symbolic form capable of making sense of the nation-state," the comparison of the two corpora presented in this study highlights that her narrative use of space exists within a greater tradition of the novel of the period, received as didactic by Monthly and Critical contributors (19).8 The focus on England over its Celtic neighbors in the didactic corpus overshadows the personal ties that some authors had with the latter, such as Irish Maria Edgeworth and Scottish Mary Brunton. Neither Belinda nor Patronage feature Ireland, and while Self-Control starts in Scotland, the greater part of the narrative takes place in London, and the heroine ultimately marries an English gentleman, consequently settling on his estate south of the Scottish border.

  • 9 Translations into French facilitated wider dissemination of the works through various European co (...)

8 We might see the novels of both corpora as cultural agents of negotiation of the notion of Englishness with the continent: 83% percent of the works were translated into at least French or German, often both, and in one instance in Spanish as well, within a decade of first publication.9 The proportion is perfectly evenly distributed across the corpora: in both cases, seven novels out of eighteen were translated into one language and eight into two languages, totaling fifteen novels each. Culture, including literary culture, has been both associated with the construction of the idea of the nation and shown to be central to the exercise of diplomacy (Blanning 2; Mori 8). We can see in the widespread practice of translation a possible participation in what Jennifer Mori calls "cultural diplomacy," though of course, not all translated material supported the official diplomatic policy of governments, especially in the particularly polarized 1790s (149).

9 The question of what the novels do as diplomatic artifacts must consequently be asked. According to Timothy Hampton, diplomacy involves negotiation, mediation, and representation (8). He writes that "the ambassador is thus a figure of suture. He is both a facilitator of contact between nations and a marker of their difference from each other" (8). If novels are akin to ambassadors, we may see those of the corpora negotiating, mediating, and representing Englishness, with the didactic corpus putting forth a highly restricted vision of the notion through the elevation of the figure of the private country English gentleman and his domestic family life. Such a vision echoes Edmund Burke’s, articulated in the context of the French revolution and the attending wars with Britain. In Reflections on the French Revolution (1790), Burke draws a parallel between the state and the father figure deriving his authority over his children—the nation’s subjects—from divine law: "man […] should approach [the state’s] faults as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude" (93). This vision is opposed to that of the "new philosophy," epitomized by Rousseau in his novel La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), accused of attacking the very fabric of society through a lack of reverence for tradition, destabilizing the family structure with atheist moral corruption (Burke 265). Strikingly, several novels of the didactic corpus were penned by staunch revolutionaries and francophiles, such as Helen Maria Williams or Mary Wollstonecraft. Nevertheless, on the whole, the unifying features of the selection of novels perceived to be morally instructive by the Monthly and the Critical support this largely conservative perspective. Several authors appear in both corpora, illustrating that the ideological tendency specific to the didactic corpus does not necessarily align with the opinions of individual writers, but rather reflects a cultural discourse stemming from the novels’ early reception.

  • 10 There is a striking uniformity in the social categories represented in the novels of the didactic (...)

10 The novels of the didactic corpus may largely be defined as domestic novels, "based upon a plot of courtship that makes explicit some of the text’s central lessons" (Wood 69). Even though the main protagonists are overwhelmingly female, the plots often center on their place in and interactions with their wider social circle, where they inevitably meet different types of men, including the proper gentleman whom they eventually marry and settle with on his landed property in the English countryside.10 Margaret Anne Doody ascribes the following recognizably Christian qualities to the "true gentleman," whose seminal model may be seen to be Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison: "magnanimity, generosity, self-control, humility, sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others" (246). Characters such as Lord Orville in Evelina (1778), Edgar in Edgar; or the Phantom of the Castle (1798), Mr. Hervey in Belinda (1801), Charles from Cœlebs in Search of a Wife (1808), Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1811) or Mr. De Courcy in Self-Control (1811), just to name a few, embody these virtues, and the implication of the novels’ endings is that they will continue to epitomize these with their equally virtuous wives as private men on their estates.

11 For instance, in the closing paragraph of Self-Control, the female protagonist Laura has been married three years to Mr De Courcy. Virtue is shown to be what unites them in "the tranquil current of domestic happiness" on his estate in the north of England, as the narrator notes that "the same qualities which made her youth respectable, endear her to the happy partner of her maturer life" (356). Happiness and virtue are explicitly linked, and the subsequent claim that such domestic bliss "affords no materials for narrative" further idealizes virtuous married life on a private estate as the natural endpoint of the story, whose joys, according to the very last words of the novel, "must be felt―they cannot be described" (356).

  • 11 In the novels of the reference corpus, only 44% of protagonists are clearly part of the landed ge (...)

12 The novels of the reference corpus, on the other hand, offer a wider panel of masculinities, including but not limited to the private English gentleman. Some heroes are of lower social standing, such as in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794) or Barbara Hofland’s The Son of a Genius (1812), and the private English estate is less often the stage and ultimate goal of the novels’ plots.11 Elizabeth Inchbald’s Nature and Art (1796) is a notable example of this. The novel opposes two brothers, William who sells his life to "art," has all the outward attributes of the English gentleman but none of his virtues, whereas his penniless brother Henry who marries a singer and raises their son, who shares his father’s name, in an unspecified country in Africa away from English society is portrayed as the "natural" and virtuous one. The younger brother eventually moves back to England, and lives with his son and daughter-in-law in a seaside hut by the end of the novel. The narrative ends on a discussion of poverty and wealth, concluding that the rich have a warped perception of their own affluence, leading to their unhappiness. Young Henry asserts that his genteel uncle, ironically titled the Honourable Justice Norwynne, "in all his writings sacrificed his duty to avarice," leading Henry to "rejoice" in the humble but happy and virtuous laboring life he and his family lead (552).

13 Thus, the novels of the two corpora promote ideals of virtue which are sometimes at odds, which the examples of Self-Control and Nature and Art illustrate. Although the morals espoused are similar across the corpora, they are clearly associated with the dominant class in the didactic corpus, in contrast to the reference corpus which includes virtuous protagonists from other walks of life as well as corrupt men of the gentry. As mentioned above, the corpora feature similar numbers of novels that were translated into at least one continental language. The two sets of novels therefore embody a territory of diplomacy of their own, a site of debate and negotiation regarding their representations of Englishness abroad, a major feature of everyday diplomatic activity.

Envoys and Ambassadors in the Corpora

  • 12 In The Culture of Diplomacy in Britain, c. 1750-1830, Jenifer Mori "diplomacy as a profession req (...)
  • 13 Didactic novels where envoys or ambassadors appear: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) and Cecilia ( (...)

14 We see a similar distinction across the corpora in the representations of Englishness through the portrayals of actual envoys and ambassadors. As Jennifer Mori notes, "most envoys and their wives came from the gentry or the middling sort, the boundaries of which were blurred. Men and women were also under increasing pressure to conform to domestic norms that prioritized private virtue over public honour" (3). This quote largely illustrates the narrative trajectories underpinning the didactic novels. The fact that the value of private virtue over public honor increasingly conflicted with the cosmopolitan codes of conduct which ambassadors and envoys were required to adopt may shed light on the scarcity of actual characters from this walk of life in the novels, in spite of the predominance of the gentry.12 Nevertheless, some ambassadors and envoys do appear, in five novels of the didactic corpus and in three of the reference corpus.13 Through these characters, we see that the world of diplomacy is even more peripheral in the reference corpus than in the didactic corpus, reflecting the lesser concern with proper genteel Englishness found in the novels of the former. Conversely, diplomatic activity appears to hover on the outskirts of the didactic novels, highlighting the inherent tension in crafting an ideal of Englishness anchored in the domestic territory and embodied in a social category historically associated with international travel and political dealings.

  • 14 Percentages are given to facilitate comparison, with the understanding that these are relatively (...)
  • 15 G. E. Mingay defines this quality as "a distinction acquired principally by birth, education, and (...)

15 The terms "diplomat(s)," "diplomacy," "ambassador(s)", and "envoy(s)" appear 87 times in the didactic corpus, and only 37 in the reference one, highlighting the greater engagement with the topic of diplomacy in the former, whether literal or metaphorical, as discussed below. Seventy occurrences from the didactic corpus may be found in Patronage, or 80%, and in the reference corpus 24 are from Leonora, amounting to 65%.14 Unlike the rest of the corpora, these two novels written by Maria Edgeworth feature main characters who are diplomats; as such, they warrant a separate discussion, provided in the last section of this paper. The "ambassadors" and "envoys" in the novels of both corpora tend to be unnamed, as shown in the context surrounding these keywords in the concordance lines generated by TXM (Table 3). They may be referred to simply as "the ambassador," meaning the English ambassador abroad (Evelina, Anna St. Ives), or with the country they belong to, such as "the Spanish ambassador" (The Heroine). In Evelina and Anna St. Ives, the English ambassadors in France are briefly mentioned to advance the plot in a minor way, by delivering a letter or introducing the main characters to high society in their country of residence, and the Spanish ambassador simply features in the social background of the protagonist in The Heroine. In Hermsprong, the unnamed son of a Nawdoessie chief in North America is also mentioned as having sufficient English to be "employed on a trading embassy" as a negotiator. Diplomacy as a profession is also alluded to as a desirable means to climb the social ladder in Cecilia, for the son of a tradesman to attain the elusive quality of gentility.15

Table 3. Unnamed Ambassadors and Envoys

DID Evelina

her letter to town, to be forwarded in the


's packet;

DID Cecilia

but had a little courage he might have been an


by this time.

DID Hermsprong

son of a Nawdoessie chief, employed on a trading


He had sufficient English to be understood;

REF Anna St Ives

as we are intimate with our


we have more invitations than we can accept

REF Heroine

once for having swindled the

Spanish ambassador

out of a golden snuff-box

REF Heroine

the very fellow that swindled the

Spanish ambassador

out of a diamond snuff-box

16 All of these are very minor characters. Aside from Patronage and Leonora, which are discussed in detail in the next section, the only novel featuring a protagonist who partakes in official diplomatic activity is Helen Maria Williams’s Julia. Frederick Seymour, who is in love with the eponymous character Julia but married to her cousin Charlotte, worked as secretary to the ambassador in France for some years before meeting his future wife abroad. Diplomacy as a profession is used as exposition, merely mentioned twice, to explain how the characters meet (33). The protagonists therefore come in contact with the world of diplomacy in rather oblique and minor ways, rendering it a subdued presence in the background of these novels.

17 A similar force is at play in the metaphorical uses that the novels make of the vocabulary referring to diplomatic activity, though the difference is less obvious. There again, the novels of the reference corpus appear farther removed from the world of international politics, which is suggested in their slightly greater propensity to use words such as "embassy" or "ambassador" metaphorically than literally (Table 4). Five novels of the reference corpus use these terms to describe a personal mission or errand (Emmeline, Caleb Williams, Fleetwood, The Wild Irish Girl, and The Wanderer), amounting to 10 occurrences overall, and 75% of the mentions of these terms in the reference corpus—still excluding the particular case of Edgeworth’s Leonora. The same is true in four novels of the didactic corpus (Evelina, Cecilia, Hermsprong, and Belinda), where the 8 occurrences found make up only 50% of the uses of these words, similarly not taking into account Edgeworth’s Patronage. Combined with the greater number of actual ambassadors and envoys in the novels of the didactic corpus, we can see that these novels which heavily center on the world of the gentry and its spaces of sociability do not completely do away with diplomacy, either as an actual profession, or as a source of imagery. Diplomatic activity implies travel and political work, both of which are central to the ethos of the "true gentleman," who has been on the Grand Tour, often in the company of ambassadors and their social circle (Mori 149), and who may take an active part in politics, whether national or international, as a marker of his genteel social status (Mingay 39). However, these aspects of the gentleman’s life tend to be glossed over or merely implied in the didactic corpus, present yet pushed to the margins of the stories. The ambivalent engagement of the novels of the didactic corpus with the diplomatic profession highlights the tension inherent in the narrative construction of a sense of Englishness tied to the national territory through characters who are expected to move in and out of that territory due to their station in life.

Table 4. Metaphorical Uses of Terms Related to Diplomacy

  • 16 Three more occurrences appear in Belinda mentioning a "Spanish ambassador," which cannot be descr (...)

DID Evelina

presently announced to me the failure of her


Finding that she did not speak,

DID Evelina

Macartney has just been with me, on an


from my father. He has sent me his kindest love

DID Cecilia

for my credentials, the pretence of my


might be lost, and other couriers, less scrupulous,

DID Cecilia

She told them with much concern the failure of her


which Mr Harrel heard with visible resentment and discontent

DID Cecilia

Fearfully he went to the


but speedily, and with a look wholly dismayed,

DID Cecilia

When he returned from his


he found Delvile in her room, and each waiting

DID Cecilia

Will you appoint me your


Shall I demand the cause of these hostilities?

DID Hermsprong

might even be her own


and bring at once the olive branch

DID Belinda16

The dog, unconscious of his dignity as an


or rather as a chargé d'affaires

REF Emmeline

and went out of the room; leaving the unsuccessful


astonished at that strength of mind, and dignity of manner

REF Emmeline

Sir Richard Crofts, relating the ill success of his


but adding, that he would bring Rochely to his Lordship

REF Emmeline

returned home to relate the little success of his


while the terror and alarm of Emmeline were only encreased

REF Caleb

Mrs. Marney (this was the name of my


was in all cases a perfect indication of her success

REF Fleetwood

your professions, of becoming the


of peace to all?

REF Irish Girl

I suspect that the


of the good priest is not of the most pleasant nature

REF Irish Girl

The priest is gone on his


The rain which batters against the casement of my little hotel

REF Irish Girl

early this morning on his evidently unpleasant


On his return we visit the Giant’s Causeway,

REF Wanderer

how will he refrain, in answering your


to betray himself? If, on the contrary,

REF Wanderer

in a melancholy tone, "and is this the success of my


"Did you, then, wish—"

Edgeworth’s Leonora (1806) and Patronage (1814): Diplomacy as a Site of Debate around Proper English Masculinity

  • 17 In her 1883 biography of Edgeworth, Helen Zimmern writes: "that Delphine in a manner suggested th (...)
  • 18 An ambassador also appears as a prominent character in Edgeworth’s last novel Helen (1834), showi (...)

18 Two novels feature central characters engaged in diplomatic activity who illustrate the debate around proper genteel Englishness found in the two corpora. Maria Edgeworth’s Leonora (1806) and Patronage (1814), from the reference and the didactic corpus respectively, both include main protagonists employed as envoys. Leonora has been considered to be a direct response to Madame de Staël’s Delphine (1802), published in France just a few years earlier, illustrating the kind of transnational dialogue and debate that could take place through works of fiction.17 In their narrative treatment of the figure of the diplomat, the two novels exemplify the dividing line between the corpora in terms of the framing of proper genteel Englishness, which is all the more striking, given that the works are by the same author.18

  • 19 The embassy offered to Mr. L―― is referred to 19 times over the course of the novel, making up 52 (...)

19 In Leonora, Mr. L――, Lady Leonora’s husband, is offered a position as ambassador at the Russian court, which he considers taking only as a means of enjoying his illicit romance with Lady Olivia while not abandoning his wife in the eyes of the world—she would remain on his estate in England and be shielded from a possible scandal. Mr. L―― explicitly expresses in a letter to his friend his "wish to have some ostensible reason for going abroad, and this embassy is the only one that presents itself in an unquestionable shape" (149-150). Mr. L―― eventually realizes that he has been manipulated by his mistress Lady Olivia, and never actually takes the embassy, preferring instead to go back to his wife. Although the embassy is mentioned often in the book, it operates as a plot device, with no discussion of what makes a good diplomat, in relation to the qualities of the "true gentleman."19 While English domesticity is preserved by the end of the story, Mr. L―― is by no means presented as a moral equal to his ideally virtuous wife Leonora, whose "temper, fortitude, and persevering affection" have won her a proper domestic ending (224). In this book, diplomacy as a line of work is divorced from the moral ideal of the English gentleman; instead, it symbolically stresses Mr. L――’s deviation from that national ideal through the association of the embassy with infidelity.

20 On the other hand, Edgeworth’s Patronage portrays several characters in the diplomatic profession in ways that delineate through contrast the qualities of the true English gentleman. While diplomatic activity hovers in the background in most didactic novels where it appears, this profession is at the forefront of Patronage, along with other genteel lines of work, such as the law and the army (Stone 225-226). The novel essentially opposes two families: the Falconers who rely on patronage to secure their children’s futures, to disastrous effect and often at the expense of virtue, and the Percys, whose central ethos is self-reliance on one’s own capabilities and moral worth. Four characters are employed or proposed to be employed as some type of diplomat: Englishmen Cunningham Falconer and Mr. Temple, Anglo-Prussian Count Altenberg, and Frenchman M. de Tourville.

  • 20 M. de Tourville, a "diplomatist" by profession, is immediately perceived by the young ladies of t (...)
  • 21 The term "duplicity" is mentioned 37 times in the didactic corpus, with a quarter appearing in Pa (...)

21 M. de Tourville and Cunningham Falconer are portrayed as conniving "diplomatists," a term almost synonymous in the novel with duplicity.20 The narrator directly opposes "the plain sincerity of the Count" and "the artful plan of the diplomatist," in this case that of the aptly named Cunningham Falconer, which Count Altenberg successfully thwarts (565). Cunningham Falconer is particularly interesting as a negative double of the true gentleman, since he is an English man of the gentry, but is far from embodying the qualities associated with that ideal. He loses his place as envoy and the patronage of the influential politician Lord Oldborough when his self-interested "intrigues" lead to trading secret information with M. de Tourville, to the detriment of Lord Oldborough and the English crown (521). The term "duplicity" appears in this context again to describe Cunningham Falconer, thereby establishing a direct parallel between the English envoy and his French counterpart M. de Tourville.21

22 M. de Tourville and Cunningham Falconer are opposed to Mr. Temple and Count Altenberg, who embody the virtues of the true gentleman, making them valuable and capable diplomats—and not diplomatists. Mr. Temple is "the younger son of a younger brother," and although educated as a gentleman must provide for himself (76). When Lord Oldborough suggests diplomacy as a possible professional avenue, Mr. Temple answers "I have not the habits of dissimulation, which, as I have always understood, are necessary to success in the diplomatic line" (436). Lord Oldborough contradicts him, asserting that

a man of sense, who knows what he is about, who says the thing that is, who will tell at once what he can do, and what he cannot, would succeed better as a negotiator in the present state of Europe, than could any diplomatist with all the simulation and dissimulation of Chesterfield, or with the tact of Mazarin. (436, author's emphasis)

23 This exchange illustrates the tension between the "perfect ambassador" and the more pragmatic embodiment of the figure, as theorized in several manuals of the Renaissance. Aside from having wealth, genteel birth, and classical education, an ambassador "should be loyal, brave, temperate and prudent" (Mattingly 184, 187). He also "ought to appear to be a good Christian," possessing such virtues as humility, patience, piety, charity, beneficence, and good will (188). These virtues are all echoed in Doody’s definition of the "true gentleman," clearly establishing a link between diplomacy and gentility. Nevertheless, as Garrett Mattingly observes, "the discussion of the moral qualities an ambassador should possess occurs in these late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers in a kind of vacuum," divorced from the pragmatic realities of a diplomat’s work (187). The arduous question of the type and degree of fidelity that ambassadors owe to the prince they serve and to the one they are sent to underlines the tension between the theoretical virtues of the perfect ambassador and the actual circumstances in which he is to exercise them (188). Writers circumvent the issue through a number of caveats, such as Don Juan Antonio De Vera who argues in El Embajador (1620) that deception is permissible in war for the sake of advancing the interests of one’s country and likens diplomacy to a kind of perpetual warfare (191). Such a conclusion is not perfectly satisfactory for De Vera, who admits that deception remains a sin. He consequently suggests that "a truly Catholic king will never command his subjects anything to the danger of their souls" (191). In contrast, Jenifer Mori notes that many eighteenth-century texts on "prescriptive masculinity" in general and "the art of diplomacy" in particular stressed that "men who wished to shine at courts were advised to practice dissimulation and flattery" (106). Chesterfield illustrates this view in his Letters to His Son (1774), criticizing the many British ministers abroad who "never get into the secrets of [foreign] courts, for want of insinuation and address" (78).

24 The question of honesty is therefore a contentious one when it comes to defining the ideal diplomat, and Patronage, through the characters of Mr. Temple, Count Altenberg, and Lord Oldborough, champions the abstract paragon over the pragmatic manifestation, as the disdainful reference to Chesterfield quoted above makes clear. It is Mr. Temple’s virtues of sense and integrity which position him as the perfect replacement for duplicitous diplomatist Cunningham Falconer. In a similar vein, Count Altenberg, who is both a courtier to his Prince at home in Germany and an ambassador for his interests abroad, is shown to be a capable envoy by virtue of his impeccable moral standing. The Count, despite wishing to return to England to marry Caroline Percy, a paragon of English domestic femininity, remains at his post, since "he had offered his services, and he gave them generously" (566). Count Altenberg is here explicitly said to be generous, and shown to exhibit self-control in resisting his desire to repair to England, thereby embodying two virtues of Doody’s true gentleman. Count Altenberg’s moral worth is all the more obvious when he refuses the position of minister of state in his country following his Prince’s death in battle, because he cannot abide by the values of the new ruler, whom he sees as "a weak character" who "had been secretly intriguing with the enemy" (603). In acting on his principles, Count Altenberg encapsulates Torquato Tasso’s claim on the necessity of having "the perfect prince" in order for an ambassador to live up to the moral ideal of "the perfect ambassador" (Mattingly 191).

  • 22 Even long-time politician Lord Oldborough eventually makes the same choice; he retires from his p (...)

25 Significantly, Mr. Temple and Count Altenberg, the two men presented as best suited to diplomatic work through their gentlemanly virtues, both decide to relinquish their line of work in order to retire to the English countryside, each marrying one of the Percy daughters. Ultimately, the kind of virtue needed in the perfect ambassador is ironically suggested to be incompatible with the actual exercise of diplomacy, and private domestic life away from the bustle of the world of international politics is portrayed as the best alternative for the true English gentleman to thrive personally and morally.22 Count Altenberg is a particularly interesting figure, since he is both German and English by birth, and has property in both countries. Thus, his decision to retire to the English countryside "where he can enjoy, better than on any other spot now in the whole compass of the civilised world, the blessings of real liberty, and of domestic tranquility and happiness" is presented as a conscious choice, and operates symbolically as one in favor of Englishness (604). Through the characters of Cunningham Falconer and Count Altenberg who function as doubles, the Englishness of the true gentleman is clearly highlighted as a construction, defined by one’s moral worth and specific qualities over one’s actual country of origin, while not entirely doing away with the latter. In addition, the favorable portrayal of Count Altenberg’s decision to refuse on moral grounds to work for the new German Prince perfectly aligns with and illustrates the framework of these didactic novels, whose distinguishing feature is to foreground domestic happiness on an English country estate as the embodiment of virtuous life.


26 Patronage at once diverges from and illustrates the norm of the didactic corpus in its engagement with and portrayal of diplomatic activity. The novel dramatizes the inherent conflict in the way the works of the didactic corpus negotiate the establishment of an English ideal. Indeed, this ideal is anchored in both the national territory and a set of virtues which were culturally associated with a social category often involved in international political dealings and travel. As Timothy Hampton writes, "the artifice of literary form, like the carefully molded word of the treaty or protocol, functions as a space and tool of compromise, an aesthetic response to political and ideological struggle" (5). The examples studied in this paper from novels of both corpora illustrate how the novel genre, which at the turn of the nineteenth century was not quite yet a fully legitimate form of art, constitutes a metaphorical territory of diplomacy all of its own, with the didactic corpus specifically mediating to readers from Britain and beyond the contours of Englishness as an imagined cultural and geographical national ideal.

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Primary Sources

Barbauld, Anna Laetitia. The British Novelists. London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1810.

Brunton, Mary. Self-Control. 1811. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. 1790. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1951.

Burney, Frances. Cecilia. 1782. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope. Letters to His Son, by the Earl of Chesterfield on the Fine Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman. Volume 1. 1774. Washington and London: M. W. Dunne, 1901.

Edgeworth, Maria. Leonora. 1806. London: J. M. Dent, 1893.

Edgeworth. Belinda. 1801. Clarendon, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Edgeworth. Patronage. 1814. London and New York: Pandora, 1986.

Inchbald, Elizabeth. Nature and Art. 1796. London: T. De La Rue, 1880.

Williams, Helen Maria. Julia, A Novel. 1790. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2010.

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Black, Jeremy. The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century. London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985.

Blanning, Tim. The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe 1660-1789. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002.

Christie, William. "Critical Judgment and the Reviewing Profession." The Oxford Handbook of British Romanticism. Ed. David Duff. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018.

Cointre, Annie. "Prose narrative." Histoire des traductions en langue française, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle. Ed. Yves Chevrel, Annie Cointre, and Yen-Maï Tran-Gervat. Paris: Verdier, 2014.

Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837. London: Pimlico, 2003.

Donoghue, Frank. The Fame Machine: Book Reviewing and Eighteenth-Century Literary Careers. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.

Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.

Gikandi, Simon. Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism. New York: Columbia UP, 1993.

Hampton, Timothy. Fictions of Embassy. Literature and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2009.

Havens, Hilary, ed. Didactic Novels and British Women's Writing, 1790-1820. New York and London: Routledge, 2017.

Heiden, Serge et al. "TXM : Une plateforme logicielle open-source pour la textométrie - conception et développement." 10th International Conference on the Statistical Analysis of Textual Data - JADT 2010 (June 2010): 1021-32.

Mahlberg, Michaela. Corpus Stylistics and Dickens's Fiction. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.

Mandal, Anthony. Jane Austen and the Popular Novel: The Determined Author. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. New York: Dover Publications, 1988.

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Mingay, G. E. The Gentry: The Rise and Fall of a Ruling Class. London and New York: Longman, 1978.

Mori, Jennifer. The Culture of Diplomacy in Britain, c. 1750-1830. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2011.

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1 For more information on the Monthly and the Critical, see Frank Donoghue’s The Fame Machine: Book Reviewing and Eighteenth-Century Literary Careers.

2 The introductory essay to Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s 1810 seminal anthology of English novels The British Novelists illustrates the dual importance of amusement and sound morality to the late-eighteenth-century reception of prose fiction. While she states that "the unpardonable sin of a novel is dullness," she also asserts that "vice must be punished and virtue rewarded" in the end (48, 55).

3 In Tables 1 and 2, the protagonists in bold are those which travel beyond the borders of England, as discussed in section I.

4 It should be noted that tourism, including the Grand Tour, was periodically affected by war in the eighteenth century, but was otherwise booming during times of peace (Towner 58). The chronological scope of the corpora under study overlaps with the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1792-1815), which may in part explain why we find relatively few depictions of international travel in the novels published during that period. Nevertheless, John Towner notes that such journeys never ceased completely, with many travelers seeking safe destinations rather than abandoning their plans, and immediately flourished whenever peace was signed, however briefly (58-59).

5 Generated by TXM, a textometry software which produces concordance lines where the searched keywords appear in context. For further examination of the different uses of a given keyword, TXM makes it possible to show the page where each occurrence originates alongside the concordance lines. This facilitates the fruitful integration of quantitative and qualitative methods, where the latter is derived from the data generated from the former (Mahlberg 175).

6 See for instance Anne Bandry-Scubbi’s ‘Chawton Novels Online, Women’s Writing 1751-1834 and Computer-Aided Textual Analysis’ (2015), which similarly hones in on a specific text following wider comparison of two corpora.

7 In the didactic corpus, 45% of the occurrences of "ambassador" or "embassy" and 95% of the instances of "envoy" appear in Patronage. In the reference corpus, 63% of the mentions of "ambassador" or "embassy" occur in Leonora. The term "envoy" is not used in the reference corpus.

8 Anthony Mandal has stressed the "dislocation of Austen from the nuanced dialectic between her novels and those of her contemporaries" as a result of her canonization, asserting in contrast that "her fictions are not the works of an author isolated from her context, but the results of a unique negotiation with that very context" (210, 216).

9 Translations into French facilitated wider dissemination of the works through various European countries where knowledge of French was prevalent, and could also form the basis for translations into other languages; though it should be noted that the liberties often taken by translators could lead to some substantially different texts in their French and French-derived versions in comparison with the original (Cointre 1203-1204).

10 There is a striking uniformity in the social categories represented in the novels of the didactic corpus: 72% of the protagonists come from genteel landed families. 22%, which amounts to four cases, hail from the nobility, and only one protagonist is part of a merchant family.

11 In the novels of the reference corpus, only 44% of protagonists are clearly part of the landed gentry, 33% are noblemen and noblewomen, 22% make up a middling sort consisting of members of the middle class, dependents, or "petty urban gentry," and 16% continuously or at some point qualify as working class (Mingay 3).

12 In The Culture of Diplomacy in Britain, c. 1750-1830, Jenifer Mori "diplomacy as a profession required its practitioners to observe cosmopolitan codes of conduct increasingly regarded at home as alien.

13 Didactic novels where envoys or ambassadors appear: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) and Cecilia (1782), Helen Maria Williams's Julia, A Novel (1790), Robert Bage’s Hermsprong; or, Man As He Is Not (1796), and Maria Edgeworth’s Patronage (1814).

Reference novels where envoys or ambassadors appear: Thomas Holcroft’s Anna St Ives (1792), Maria Edgeworth’s Leonora (1806), and Eaton Stannard Barrett’s The Heroine (1813).

14 Percentages are given to facilitate comparison, with the understanding that these are relatively small numbers.

15 G. E. Mingay defines this quality as "a distinction acquired principally by birth, education, and the wealth and leisure to follow gentlemen’s pursuits" (3). The gentry represented a class of its own, which was "constantly replenished and revitalised by the arrival of new families from office, trade, finance, farming and the professions" (5). In Cecilia, Mrs. Belfield wishes that her son had taken this route as a means to rise up in the world (726-27).

16 Three more occurrences appear in Belinda mentioning a "Spanish ambassador," which cannot be described as either actual or metaphorical uses of the term. The character is not an actual ambassador, but simply a Spanish gentleman on a trip to England. He is called the "Spanish ambassador" in jest in the context of a witty dialogue between fashionable Lady Delacour and Clarence Hervey, when they spontaneously assume the identities of Queen Elizabeth I and a courtier respectively (104).

17 In her 1883 biography of Edgeworth, Helen Zimmern writes: "that Delphine in a manner suggested this story, that but for this romance Leonora might not have assumed its peculiar shape, may be taken almost for granted. A certain notion of refuting this corrupt story, then at the high tide of its popularity, may also have been present in Miss Edgeworth's mind, who at no time was so much self-absorbed as to lose sight of the ultimate aim in all her writings" (85).

18 An ambassador also appears as a prominent character in Edgeworth’s last novel Helen (1834), showing the author’s particular interest for this figure.

19 The embassy offered to Mr. L―― is referred to 19 times over the course of the novel, making up 52% of the mentions of the terms "embassy" or "ambassador" in the reference corpus.

20 M. de Tourville, a "diplomatist" by profession, is immediately perceived by the young ladies of the Percy household as dishonest (12). Caroline, characterized as a paragon of virtue, senses and dislikes "the duplicity of [his] character, which was always endeavouring to seem, instead of to be" (11). Cunningham Falconer is said to be "so complete a diplomatist that he would not commit himself by giving up his authority, even for a quotation, and that when he knew the author of an excellent thing, he, with admirable good faith, kept it to himself" (167-68, author’s emphasis).

21 The term "duplicity" is mentioned 37 times in the didactic corpus, with a quarter appearing in Patronage.

22 Even long-time politician Lord Oldborough eventually makes the same choice; he retires from his position by the end of the novel to enjoy domestic tranquility himself, exclaiming "I too shall know the pleasures of domestic life.―Now I am happy!" (631). These form part of the closing words of the novel, emphasizing their importance through their position in the narrative.

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Juliette Misset, « The English Didactic Novel (1778-1814) and the Paradox of the Genteel Ambassador »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 79 | 2022, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2022, consulté le 23 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Juliette Misset

Juliette Misset is a fifth-year PhD candidate working under the supervision of Pr. Anne Bandry-Scubbi within the department of English Studies at the University of Strasbourg, France, where she also teaches. Her research centers on the manifestation and reception of moral didacticism in novels from the turn of the nineteenth century in Britain. She represented graduate students within the SEAA 17-18 from 2019 to 2022.

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