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The  Life  of  Harriot  Stuart,  Written  by  Herself 

Charlotte  Lennox 

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The  Life  of  Harriot  Stuart,  Written  by  Herself  presents  a  complex  and  problematic  view  of  self-creation  in 

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the  eighteenth  century.  Within  the  novel,  there  is  a  constantly  reoccurring  theme  of  self-invention  through 

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fiction,  which  is  echoed  by  the  author's  own  use  of  the  novel  to  shape  her  identity.  Published  in  December 

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of  1750,  Harriot  Stuart  gained  critical  praise  as  a  successor  of  Richardson's  Clarissa  and  by  1752,  Charlotte 

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Lennox  had  become  a  protege  of  Johnson.  Lennox's  second  novel  reflects  the  influences  of  men  like 

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Richardson  and  Johnson.  Their  individual  styles  and  commitments  to  moral  and  social  education  are 

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evident  in  the  arguments  and  plot  of  The  Female  Quixote.  Despite  these  associations  with  the  didactic 

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tradition,  Harriot  Stuart's  resemblance  to  it  is  only  superficial.  Although  Harriot  makes  gestures  toward 

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repentance  and  acknowledgment  of  her  faults,  the  work  of  the  novel  is  not  to  redeem  Harriot's  coquetry 

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through  marriage,  but  rather  allow  her  to  control  her  own  identity  through  the  manipulation  of  language  as 

both  coquette  and  narrator.  As  coquette,  Harriot  Stuart  uses  the  language  of  courtship  to  manipulate  the 

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perceptions  of  her  male  admirers.  The  object  of  the  male  gaze,  traditionally  considered  a  passive  role,  is  a 

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site  of  empowerment  for  the  coquette  as  she  exploits  it  to  create  and  re-create  herself  in  society's  eyes.  As 

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narrator,  Harriot  uses  the  telling  of  her  courtship  as  a  vehicle  of  self-invention.  In  controlling  the  telling  of 

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her  own  history,  she  in  effect  reconstructs  her  identity.  Lennox,  who  arrived  at  London  in  1742  with  no 

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recorded  past,  also  engages  in  this  self-narration  as  author.  The  history  that  Lennox  claims  for  herself 

parallels  that  of  Harriot  Stuart,  whose  fictional  autobiography  was  accepted,  with  Lennox's  implicit 

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consent,  as  the  author's  own.  The  implications  of  Lennox's  choice  of  an  American  autobiography  raise  two 

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questions.  First,  what  exactly  was  American-ness  in  1750  and  what  did  it  represent  to  Lennox  specifically. 

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Second,  how  did  this  American  quality  manifest  itself  within  Harriot  Stuart  as  both  fiction  and 

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autobiography.  The  particularly  ambiguous  relationship  between  author,  narrator,  and  heroine  in  The  Life 

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of  Harriot  Stuart  complicates  the  reader's  interpretation  of  Harriot's  character  and  lifestyle.  Along  with  the 

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implications  of  Harriot's  invention  of  her  identity  as  coquette  and  historian,  are  those  of  Lennox's  own  self¬ 

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invention  as  author  through  genre,  gender,  and  geography. 

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Read  by  volunteer  readers.  24  Tracks.  Total  running  time:  10:37:34 

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This  recording  is  in  the  public  domain  and  may  be  reproduced,  distributed,  or  modified 

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without  permission.  For  more  information  or  to  volunteer,  visit  librivox.org. 

Cover  image  of  embossed  leather  (Netherlands),  ca.  1750.  Copyright  expired  in  US,  Canada, 
EU,  and  all  countries  with  author’s  life  +70  yrs  laws  Cover  design  by  TriciaG.  This  design  is  in 
the  public  domain. 

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