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Parodying Corinne: Foster's The Corinna of England

 

  1. Corinne, or Italy was translated into English in 1807, the same year of its first publication in French, and was soon a phenomenal success. The novel went through fourteen editions between 1807 and 1810, and it circulated all over Europe. According to Ellen Moers, Corinne influenced at least three generations of British women writers. [1] In particular, the character of Corinne became a widespread model for a woman of genius with a public voice. Maria Edgeworth, for instance, called Staël's novel a "work of splendid genius". [2] Similarly, Sydney Owenson praised the enthusiasm and independence of its heroine. [3] Fanny Burney became an open supporter and intimate friend of Staël, whom she met and frequented during the author's stay in England. Anna Jameson considered Staël an extraordinary woman, and Corinne a remarkable character, while Mary Shelley planned to write a biography of her. [4]
  2. However, before the figure of the Italian improvisatrice became popular and fashionable with the works of Byron, Hemans, Landon and later Browning, Corinne was often seen as a dangerous reading for young women and a morally ambiguous novel. Numerous conservative reactions were published which tried to demonstrate the implausibility of the character of Corinne, especially in relation to British culture and society. [5] Foster's The Corinna of England is one of the most striking examples of this conservative reception. As A Feminist Companion to Literature in English comments, the novel wreaks retribution on a travesty of Germaine de Staël's Corinne. [6]By reading these two novels together, I intend to demonstrate how both texts cooperate in the delineation of an imaginary geography of Europe. More specifically, Foster's novel seems to confirm indirectly Staël's polarity between an imaginary Italy, where women can obtain public success without endangering their moral integrity, and a provincial England, where women are expected to be domestic beings with no desire for popularity.
  3. Contemporary British reviews generally welcomed Corinne, or Italy as a novelty and as the most successful work by Staël. Critics tended to focus on the character of Corinne and to emphasise her eccentricity, her foreignness and her cultural specificity. In 1807, The Annual Review claimed that Corinne's apparent forwardness and freedom of manners "would be deemed perfectly irreproachable in the softer climate of Italy", but they "might be received with a frown in these drilling regions of the north". [7] The anonymous reviewer seems to be aware of the social, cultural and geographical specificity of Staël's heroine and stresses that national difference is a fundamental element in the novel:

    In appreciating its merits, we must constantly bear in mind that the scene does not lie in England, but in Italy. Nothing can be more improbable than the conduct of Corinna, or more unnatural than her character, if, as is commonly the case, with vulgar and ordinary readers, our own country is to be considered as the epitome of general character, and as the standard of propriety for general conduct. [8]

    As the reviewer observes, the character and behaviour of Corinne would be inappropriate in England. The singularity of Corinne, the extravagance of her genius, and the peculiarity of her conduct make her utterly an un-English heroine. More precisely, Corinne's liberality of manners and the public dimension of her genius would be unsuitable for English moral customs. The reviewer of Le Beau Monde shares the same opinion. In September 1807 he comments that Corinne is a character utterly incomprehensible for Englishwomen accustomed to a different social environment. The reviewer also remarks that Madame de Staël should "give us one of her own accomplished and fascinating heroines, in an English customs, and with English virtues, and English morality". [9] The necessity of creating an English equivalent of Corinne confirms the foreignness of Staël's heroine to English readers.

  4. The English counterpart of Corinne was, in fact, soon created. Foster's The Corinna of England, or a Heroine in the Shade, published in 1809, is a clear derivative of Staël's novel. A Feminist Companion describes the author as an obscure but prolific novelist, publishing in London usually as "E.M.F". She published at least fourteen novels between 1795 and 1810, most of which reflected the author's conservative views (Blain, 1990: 338). The Corinna of England is also a conservative novel, which aims to demonstrate the implausibility of Corinne's character and the moral danger that the novel could constitute for young Englishwomen. Although the main intent of the author is to ridicule Corinne, the result is actually a perpetration of Staël's geographical and cultural mapping of Europe. The most important elements that define Foster's novel as a parody of Corinne are the conversion of the Italian setting into an English provincial setting, and the transformation of the artistically talented Corinne into the untalented Clarissa.
  5. Foster recreates in The Corinna of England the dynamic of Staël's novel. The opposition between the Italianate Corinne and the angelic Englishwoman, Corinne's half-sister Lucile, is replicated in Foster's novel, only in a reversed way. Clarissa, the Corinna of England, is an eccentric, untalented and morally ambiguous anti-heroine, while the young, timid and chaste Mary Cuthbert, Clarissa's orphaned cousin, becomes the real heroine of the story, or, as the novel's subtitle suggests, "a heroine in the shade". Clarissa's unconventional and scandalous behaviour threatens to spoil the innocent Mary, and to compromise her reputation throughout the novel.
  6. The story begins when Mary Cuthbert, the daughter of a humble and devoted parson, is left orphaned. Mr. Cuthbert, feeling his approaching death, decides to entrust the education of his eighteen-year old daughter to the care of her older and rich cousin, Clarissa Moreton, who is also an orphan. The dying parson does not know that Clarissa is not the sensible and considerate young woman that he thinks, and he is confident that he has found in her the perfect protector for his daughter. Mary Cuthbert and Clarissa Moreton appear soon as antithetical characters. An important aspect at the origin of their diversity is the different education their parents imparted to them. In particular, Mary's dutiful, religious, and morally strict education has made her a perfect example of female decency and propriety. Clarissa's "liberal" education, on the contrary, has turned her into a young woman with no social and moral restraints, and no control over her feelings, her ambitions and desires. As the narrator explains, Clarissa was the only child of a rich merchant, and, since her childhood, she "had been her father's idol, for he saw in her enough of his own disposition, and of the traits which marked his character, to make her so". [10] Accustomed to have no moral obligations, and to behave independently of the usual restraints that English society imposes on women, Clarissa grows into a superficial, immoral and eccentric woman. In vain, the narrator continues, Mrs. Moreton wanted to teach her child "to work in the path prescribed to her sex", when her father, "proud of her superior mind", and of "her bold and inquiring spirit", encouraged her in asserting her opinions, and in "deviating in her behaviour and manners from all with whom she conversed" (I, iii). This unrestrained upbringing is at the origin of Clarissa's firm belief in her exclusivity, her prodigious artistic talents, and of her disdain of mediocrity and conformism. Clearly, Clarissa's education does not respect the social and moral customs of the provincial England where she grows up, which would impose on women a strict code of behaviour. Mary Cuthbert, on the contrary, has received a very strict education, in total respect of English moral and social customs. At Woodberry, her home place, "duties had been her delights", and "regularity and social order had presided" over her house and her life (I, iii). Mary always keeps in mind her mother's teaching, which have helped her to become a perfect example of a proper lady: "always avoid singularity, never wish to deviate from the beaten track; never imagine that you show understanding in despising common terms, and those rules of decorum which the world has prescribed for your sex" (I, iv).
  7. The consequences of Mary and Clarissa's different education are evident throughout the novel. Clarissa's behaviour is often considered as immoral and inappropriate, while Mary is taken as the perfect example of a proper woman. In terms of social and moral customs, Mary feels utterly in harmony with the English provincial mores, whereas Clarissa feels completely out of place. Clarissa's liberal education has turned her not simply into an eccentric and morally ambiguous woman, but also into an exclusive creature, who has nothing in common with the other English women in the novel. Clarissa's father has ignored English provincial mores and their limitations on women's social and cultural freedom. As a consequence, Clarissa's education is not culturally and socially appropriate. Thus, Clarissa becomes an eccentric woman, with no moral and social sense of decorum, but also with no real intellectual and artistic talents.
  8. The comparison with Staël's Corinne is of fundamental importance in order to understand fully Foster's parody and its social and cultural implications. In Corinne, Staël makes clear that the heroine's liberal Italian education plays a fundamental role in the development of Corinne's genius. As the author points out, Corinne has been brought up in Italy. On her dying bed, Corinne's mother expressively demands that her daughter continue her education in Italy. Thus, by the time Corinne is rejoined with her father in England, "[her] talents, [her] tastes, [her] character itself were formed". [11] The Italianness of Corinne's education will be a major problem in her relations with English people, especially in the provincial setting of Northumberland. Corinne's Italian education parallels Clarissa's liberal education, and both lead to a state of estrangement from the surroundings. Corinne clearly feels out of place in the claustrophobic domestic environment of his father's home; in a similar way, Clarissa's eccentric behaviour is unacceptable for English people. Corinne's sense of displacement is at the origin of her choice to return to Italy, where she can freely cultivate her artistic talents and display them publicly without disapproval from a moralistic society. In Italy, Corinne can gain the success and notoriety that England had denied her. To some extent, Clarissa and Corinne's conditions are quite similar. Both are inheritors of a large fortune which make them economically independent women; both invest their money in nurturing the arts, in sponsoring international artists and in organising literary salons. However, Clarissa, unlike Corinne, lives her entire life in an English provincial setting and, more importantly, she lacks either intellectual talents and artistic genius.
  9. The fact that Clarissa has no real talent is made clear from the beginning of the story. The narrator comments that "Miss Moreton's talents were calculated only for display", and that there is nothing solid or substantial in her abilities or acquirements (I, iii). Her declamatory speeches, the narrator continues, have no depth of argument. Her general knowledge appears superficial, and the result of fashionable conduct, rather than of a genuine interest in the arts. Similarly, her manifold genius is "superficial in every acquirement and every accomplishment" (I, iii). The narrator also explains that Clarissa has no real philosophical and artistic knowledge, but that she only parrots the modern school of thought: "philanthropy and benevolence were words which were constantly jingling in her ears", and the "inflated victim of vanity and self-conceit" was easily persuaded that she could patronise genius and virtue (I, iii). Clarissa has obviously none of the talents that Corinne so proficiently displays in Italy.
  10. Foster's parody of Corinne, or Italy, however, implies an important process of revision and reconsideration of Staël's geographical and cultural mapping of Europe. In Staël's novel, Corinne makes clear that her genius is not simply a natural gift, but that it has been nurtured and developed by the Italian environment. Furthermore, Corinne's poetic genius is the result of her receiving a liberal education, which promoted her talents and natural inclinations, rather than encapsulating her in rigorous and strict moral customs. Similarly, Clarissa's lack of genius is not simply ascribable to her lack of natural talents, but also to her education and to the environment she has lived in for most of her life. As the narrator comments, "Miss. Moreton's heart might have been rightly formed, but her good qualities were entirely obscured", and "the extravagance of her opinions, the pertinacity with which she maintained them, and the most overweening vanity" have hidden her good qualities (I, iv). Had Clarissa received a more responsible education, she may now be a different person, maybe not a talented one, but surely a more sensible woman. Since "there was not stability enough in her formation to call her any one distinct thing", Clarissa's character appears contradictory, and her ideas the result of inconsistent and superficial interests (I, iv). In presenting Clarissa as a caricature of Staël's Corinne, however, Foster seems to suggest that a liberal education has different results in England and in Italy. In other words, the artificiality of Clarissa's talents and the eccentricity of her behaviour are partly the results of the unconventional education she has received. While the liberal education of Corinne is somehow justified by her living in a country that welcomes female genius and its public manifestations, Clarissa's unrestrained upbringing does not have any cultural or social justification. The different cultural and social contexts play a fundamental role in the delineation of the two characters. If Corinne's talents are encouraged and nurtured by the artistically stimulating Italian environment, Clarissa's accomplishments are distorted and misled by the rigidly domestic English society. As a consequence, the natural artistic talents of Corinne are transmuted into artificial eccentricities in Clarissa. The result is clearly different: Corinne matures into a woman artist whose genius is celebrated and worshipped throughout Italy, while Clarissa remains an eccentric, atypical, immoral young lady, and the object of derision.
  11. In this context, the motivations behind Foster's representation of the Corinna of England as a caricature of the Italian Corinne are of fundamental importance. The implications of transforming the talented Corinne into the eccentric Clarissa are evident. First of all, the transformation implies that Corinne is specifically an Italian character, and that such character has no equivalent in England. Corinne's talents are not acceptable in nineteenth-century England. At the same time, Foster seems to warn young English women of the dangers of novels such as Staël's Corinne. The popularity of Corinne, had made the character of the improvisatrice very fashionable. The danger was that young women, encouraged by Corinne's success and popularity, wanted to emulate Staël's character and become women artists with a public voice. With The Corinna of England, Foster wanted to caution young and vulnerable women that they may become eccentric and superficial beings, displaying talents they don't really possess. The ridiculousness of Clarissa's character and behaviour exhorts women not to nurture inexistent talents and not to display them in a society which is predominantly domestic and conservative.
  12. From this point of view, Foster seems to validate Staël's geographical and cultural mapping of Europe. In her treatise On Literature (1800), Staël first theorised her philosophical approach to Europe. In it she argues how European literature, and consequently culture and society, can be divided into northern and southern. By developing Montesquieu's theory of climates, Staël focuses on the link between geography and people. [12] The opposition between north and south is principally constructed upon differences of climates. This, Staël argues, has inevitable repercussions on culture, literature and society. Inserted in this geographical and cultural mapping, Italy appears as a warm, sensuous and effeminate country, while England appears as a cold, conservative and masculine country. While travelling Europe, Staël observed how women held different positions in English and in the Italian society. The author comments that women in England had little place in social life, and were "accustomed to remain silent in the company of men, where politics are concerned". [13] Furthermore, women had no active personal existence; while men could have an active life, "women must stay in the shadows" (Sourian, 1987: 36). During her journey in Italy, in 1803-1804, Staël was impressed by the warm welcome. As the daughter of Necker and as a major thinker, she was enthusiastically received by the population and the Italian aristocracy. As Avriel Goldberger comments, Staël was deeply affected by the freedom with which she could express her thoughts and feelings in Italy. [14] Unlike in England, in Italy Staël did not have to be reticent about any of her knowledge, and she could freely display her talents and opinions. There, she also met "charming, educated, intelligent and passionate women", among which were poets, professors, translators and, of course, improvisatrici. [15] These women and her Italian experience inspired Staël to write Corinne, or Italy. As a result of this, Corinne is entirely a product of the south, and the public dimension of her genius, her extravagance and her enthusiasm are deeply influenced by the Italian setting of the novel.
  13. In The Corinna of England, Foster seems to validate Staël's theory. In creating the English Corinna as a caricature of the Italian Corinne, Foster confirms the Italianness of Corinne and the impossibility of adapting such a character to English culture and society. In this way, Foster is also warning Englishwomen not to follow such an unconventional path, but rather to conform to English moral customs. Following Staël's mapping of Europe, the eccentricity and ridiculousness of Clarissa's character are the result of a contamination between English and Italian elements. By trying to emulate Corinne's life and behaviour in a provincial English setting, Clarissa is depicted as an unrealistic and absurd character. She is also turned into an outcast, since she clearly cannot comply with the British model of femininity. As a result, Foster confirms the cultural and geographical specificity of the character of Corinne, and the impossibility to replicate it in an English context.
  14. In order to demonstrate this idea, Foster disseminates the novel with comical episodes where Clarissa tries to emulate Corinne with disastrous consequences. Clarissa, for example, patronises an international group of artists which reminds the reader of Corinne's cosmopolitan salon, with the important difference that Clarissa's protégés are actually people with no talents, rather than promising artists in search of success. The group consists of an extravagant Italian singer who spends her days reclining on a sofa, a French musician with ridiculous manners, a painter who can only paint copies of copies, and an old biologist whose only field of research is Clarissa's garden. Clarissa's closest friend, Chevalier d'Aubert, is a married French emigrant, who enchants her patroness with the reading of Staël's Delphine and Corinne. All, the author clearly suggests, live in promiscuity and against the laws of common decency. By re-constructing Corinne's international circle of friends in a comical way, Foster seems to criticise Staël's philosophical considerations on nationalism and cosmopolitanism.
  15. In De la Litérature (1800) and De l'Allemagne (1810), Staël articulates the importance of national distinctiveness and cosmopolitanism at the same time. While she still promotes national identity and cultural specificity, Staël also suggests the need to overcome the limits of national belonging in the effort to integrate and amalgamate aspects from different cultures and societies. By celebrating the possibility of choosing "une patrie de la pensèe" over any imposed ideal of national identity. Staël promotes forms of interaction and cooperation between different national and cultural entities. This idea emerges clearly in Corinne, where the heroine freely chooses to identify with the maternal Italian national identity rather than the paternal English one. In the novel, instead of promulgating the idea of nationalism constructed in terms of opposition, Staël celebrates nationalism in terms of confrontation and interaction. Corinne's multicultural salon, where different cultures and societies are discussed and compared, is exemplary of Staël's promotion of national interaction. Foster's comical reproduction of Corinne's international circle of friends clearly suggests a critique of Staël's ideas. In The Corinna of England, Foster exaggerates national stereotypes in a way to present them as irreconcilable. More specifically, she depicts Clarissa's international friends in contrast to English values and customs. The laziness, promiscuity and superficiality of Clarissa's multicultural salon is clearly in opposition to the integrity and morality of the conservative English characters who embody English values in the novel. By ridiculing Staël's philosophy of multiculturalism, Foster promotes national and cultural purity. More importantly, she depicts conservative English values and customs as superior to those of the other nations represented in the novel, such as Italy and France. In Foster's novel, national purity clearly triumphs over any form of cultural contamination.
  16. References to Staël's works become explicit in the course of The Corinna of England. Clarissa and her French friend are enchanted by the reading of Delphine and Corinne. Clarissa is particularly fascinated by Staël's enthusiasm, pathos and dramatic feelings. The reading of Corinne enraptures her. She feels that she can fully identify with the Italian woman of genius. The narrator observes that Corinne "was the very work to suit the taste of Miss Moreton; for though she had neither judgment nor knowledge to appreciate the beauty of the truth of the historical remarks, yet her imagination was enamoured with the character of Corinne" (II, xv). The reading of Staël's novel triggers in Clarissa the need to emulate Corinne with evident comic outcomes. Clarissa perceives in the heroine's energetic pursuit of Lord Nelvil, in her rejection of all common forms, her enthusiastic disposition and her extemporising faculty an image of her own character and talent. Chevalier d'Aubert remarks that Clarissa's genius is similar to Corinne's, and he starts addressing her as "the Corinna of England". From here, the narrator explains, "the sickly brain of Miss. Moreton became inflamed, and she resolved to imitate the inimitable Corinna, whenever opportunities should offer of discovering her genius to the word" (II, xv).
  17. The opportunity for a public display of Clarissa's talent soon occurs in the novel. With the intention of imitating Corinne, Clarissa decides to improvise a speech for the peasants of Coventry gathered to celebrate Lady Godiva .[16] Her improvisation is an overt mockery of Corinne's improvisation at the Capitol, with the difference that Clarissa's performance has disastrous effects. While she celebrates, like the ancient Lady Godiva, the glory and power of the arts, she also instigates the peasants to abandon their honest and humble jobs in order to pursue artistic careers:

    Citizens of Coventry! My countrymen, attend! Accident has led me hither to be a pleased witness of the patriotic enthusiasm which is excited in your bosoms!- […] Ye Citizens of Coventry, free men of an ancient city, behold this day another woman speaks! Another woman asserts the glorious prerogative of her sex the bold freedom of thought and action, hitherto so exclusively, so unjustly associated with men alone! People of Coventry, and I behold you sunk in a state of effeminacy and servitude! Men! Possessed of capricious minds, of soaring genius, of depth of intellect; how do I behold you engaged? (II, xvi).

    At the answer that they are engaged in providing bread for themselves and their children, and in "honest industry", the Corinna of England replies saying: "Shame, shame on these inglorious occupations", since men have arms "to chisel out the hero's form", and eyes that "with Promethean fire can animate their works" (I, xvi). Significantly, the result of the Corinna of England's improvisation is the instigation of a riot and public turmoil among the peasants.

  18. The Corinna of England tries then to imitate Staël's heroine and to act as Corinne does in the novel. She, for example, prefers walking the streets of London unprotected instead of going in a carriage, since, in strict obedience to Corinne's model, she chooses the pedestrian excursion, like Staël's heroine had done in Rome. Of course, Clarissa observes, Corinne had never chosen a female companion; but "had she been left the guardian of an orphan cousin, Clarissa was confident she would not have left her behind" (II, xix). In hearing of the illness of one of her friends, Clarissa rushes to visit him, since "Corinne had gone immediately to visit Nelvil on hearing his illness!", even if this means worsening her already scandalous behaviour and compromising her cousin's reputation (II, xix). The effects of all her actions are disastrous, and the Corinna of England dies while trying to escape a fire in a Covent Garden theatre. This leaves the true heroine, Mary Cuthbert, the only inheritor of a large fortune. With the death of Clarissa and the marriage between Montgomery, the Lord Nelvil of the novel, and Mary Cuthbert, Foster replicates the ending of Corinne.
  19. Although The Corinna of England is mainly an attempt to ridicule Staël's more famous Corinne, the novel also deals with some important issues connected with Staël's original, such as nationalism and women's position in society. Clarissa's improvisation for the peasants of Coventry, for instance, is an explicit effort to assert women's rights to artistic and intellectual expression, "so unjustly associated with men alone!". Not even Staël's Corinne had ever dared to utter such a bold and direct declaration of freedom. Similarly, the fact that her improvisation summons up a popular riot implies that her words are effective and powerful on the masses. However, the superficiality and unreliability of Clarissa, along with the ridiculousness of the situation, reduce this apparently feminist attempt simply to another sign of Clarissa's eccentricity. Corinne and Clarissa are actually represented as similar characters. Clarissa is often associated with Corinne and Delphine not simply for comical purposes. The narrator and the most conservative characters consider Delphine, Corinne and Clarissa as characters belonging to the same category of women. All are seen as unconventional, eccentric, feminist, egocentric, and exhibitionist women. More importantly, they are seen as "foreign" to English customs and society. Montgomery, one of the most conservative characters in the novel, describes Delphine as "impetuous in her feeling, so hasty in her resolves, so regardless of the customs of the world!" (I, xi). In the narrator's words, Delphine, like Clarissa and Corinne, appears as "no common" character. Similarly, Corinne is described as a passionate, unconventional and enthusiastic character, while her artistic talents and poetic genius are never mentioned in the novel. It seems that, from the conservative English point of view, the authenticity of genius in women is not the main issue. What is important, however, is women's ability to conform to the English idea of femininity.
  20. The fact that in England genius in women is often associated with eccentricity and immorality confirms what Staël argues in Corinne. Corinne's English experience is not so different from the story of Clarissa. While in her father's small town in Northumberland, Corinne has to hide her artistic talents, since they are considered inappropriate in a young lady. Corinne's exceptional gifts are something to hide and to be ashamed of in England. [17] Like Clarissa, Corinne is seen only as an eccentric being, an exotic woman with unusual accomplishments, and thus unlikely to be integrated in the English provincial society. In her depiction of English provincial mores, Staël makes clear that Corinne's genius and talents are not appreciated. Corinne's vivacity and exuberance have constantly to be repressed in a society where conformism, domestic duties, and moral respectability are the only virtues expected in a woman. Corinne's exceptional gift of improvisation is a shameful feature of her feminine character, something to be hidden and silenced. As her father explains to Corinne, household duties are a woman's vocation in England, and isolation is the only destiny for a woman whose tastes are perceived as foreign to English customs. This is why Lord Nelvil, in spite of his recognition and appreciation of Corinne's talents, refuses to bring her to England and accept her as a wife.
  21. This reading of Foster's novel implies a harsh depiction of English society, as one unable to recognize and appreciate genius in women. However, the final message of the novel seems clear: the death of the eccentric Clarissa erases from English society the unordinary woman, while the triumph of the timid and chaste Mary re-establishes the supremacy of the proper lady. In this way, Foster confirms what Staël had first suggested. England, specifically provincial England, does not welcome eccentric, exuberant, artistic women who want to display their more or less genuine talents in public. This does not exclude the possibility that England would welcome a different kind of genius in women, one that could co-exist with the ideal of the proper lady. In The Corinna of England, however, Foster does not suggest any alternative model for female talent. The other female characters are only concerned with domestic duties, and do not show any interest in the arts. In accordance with Staël's Corinne, therefore, The Corinna of England asserts the impossibility for Englishwomen to gain public success without compromising their moral integrity.
  22. On the whole, The Corinna of England shows how British reaction to Corinne was not always favourable. Some readers and writers considered the novel deeply immoral and dangerous. Foster's novel is an important response to the publication of Corinne in Great Britain, one that emphasises the difference between a realistic English provincial setting and an idealised Italian society. In her novel, Foster re-asserts the oppositional construction of Europe that Staël had suggested. The dichotomy is between Corinne's Italy and Clarissa's England. Foster seems to confirm that the two different ideals of womanhood that Staël proposes in Corinne are irreconcilable. Clearly, the public dimension of Italian culture cannot be incorporated in the domestic structure of English society. As the anonymous critic of Le Beau Monde observes in 1807, "Corinne is a character that Englishwomen happily cannot comprehend" (II: 91). The death of both Corinne and Clarissa, although tragic in Staël's novel and comical in Foster's, takes us straightforwardly to a conclusion: there is no place in English society for unconventional and unordinary women, but only for chaste and angelic women, like Lucile and Mary. The triumph of the Lucile/Mary kind of woman implies that the talented Corinne and the eccentric Clarissa are both unfitted for English society. Their strangeness eludes the passive end domestic ideal of womanhood that England seems to propose as the only acceptable model.
  23. Foster's effort to parody Staël's Corinne is overall successful, though it failed in the intention to ridicule the novel to the eyes of British readers. After 1809, in fact, Corinne became more and more popular, and the Italian improvisatrice was taken as the ideal prototype of the successful woman of genius. On the whole, Corinne became a metaphor for a general feeling of foreignness in women. This feeling included, not only national, ethnic or geographical differences, but it was extended to other types of alienation. Particularly, all those British women writers who felt estranged from the predominant social, artistic and intellectual milieu found in Corinne an inspiring model. In some way, the following generations of British women poets, such as Felicia Hemans, Letitia Landon and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, represent another example of the adaptation of Corinne to English culture and society. Their works, however, tell a different story from The Corinna of England.

Sylvia Bordoni, University of Nottingham

Endnotes:

[1] Ellen Moers, Literary Women: the Great Writers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) 173-178. [back]
[2] Qtd in Angelica Goodden, Madam de Staël: Delphine and Corinne (London: Grant and Cutler Ltd., 2000), 64.[back]
[3] Sydney Owenson, France, 3 vols. (London, 1818) II: 383-384. For more information on the intellectual influence of Staël on Lady Morgan, see: Mary Campbell, Lady Morgan: the Life and Times of Sydney Owenson (London: Pandora Press, 1988). 156-189.[back]
[4] The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 3 vols., ed. by Betty Bennett (London: the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) II: 89-90. [back]
[5] See, for example: Ann Harding Raikes, The Refugees (1822) and Hannah More, Moral Sketches of Prevailing Opinions and Manners, Foreign and Domestic; with Reflections on Prayer (1819). For the analysis of a British countertradition to Corinne, see: Erik Simpson, " 'The Minstrels of Modern Italy': Improvisation comes to Britain", European Romantic Review 14:3 (September 2003), 345-368.[back]
[6] Virginia Blain, Patricia Clemens and Isobel Grundy (eds.), A Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present (London: Bastford, 1990) 338.[back]
[7] The Annual Review 6 (1807), 673.[back]
[8] The Annual Review 6 (1807), 673.[back]
[9] Le Beau Monde 2 (September 1807), 91.[back]
[10] E.M. Foster, The Corinna of England, or a Heroine in the Shade: a Modern Romance, 2 vols. (London, Crosby, 1809) I, iii. Electronic version: http://www.chawton.org . All subsequent references are to the electronic edition and will be given in the texts.[back]
[11] Germaine de Staël, Corinne, or Italy, transl. and ed. by Avriel H. Goldberger (London: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 251.[back]
[12] Charles Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (London: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1990).[back]
[13] Qtd in Eve Sourian, "Madame de Staël and the position of women in France, England and Germany", Avriel H. Goldberger (ed.), Women as Mediatrix: Essays on Nineteenth-Century European Women Writers (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), 35.[back]
[14] Avriel H. Goldberger, "Introduction" to Corinne, or Italy, xxix.[back]
[15] Qtd in Madelyn Gutwirth, Madame de Staël, Novelist: the Emergence of the Artist as Woman (London: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 172.[back]
[16] According to Anglo-Saxon legends, lady Godiva was a gentlewoman, patron of the arts, equestrienne, and tax protester. She lived circa 1040-1080 AD. The legend says that lady Godiva in order to remove the heavy taxes that her husband Leofric had imposed on the citizens of Coventry, traversed on horseback and completely naked the entire village. [back]
[17] Although Staël seems to suggest that Corinne could have lived in "big cities", since they "are right for people who depart from the common run", the possibility is only briefly mentioned and never demonstrated in the course of the novel, (Corinne, or Italy, 260). [back]

Works cited

Bennett, Betty, ed. The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. London: the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clemens, and Isobel Grundy. Eds. A Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present. London: Batsford, 1990.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. Ed. Margaret Reynolds. London: W. Norton & Company, 1996.
Foster, E.M. The Corinna of England. London, 1809.
Goldberger, Avriel. Women as Mediatrix: Essays on Nineteenth-Century European Woman Writers. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.
Goodden, Angelica. Madame de Staël: Delphine and Corinne. London: Grant and Cutler Ltd, 2000.
Hemans, Felicia. Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Prose, and Letters. Ed. Gary Kelly, Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2002.
Landon, Letitia Elizabeth. The Improvisatrice and Other Poems. Ed. Jerome McGann and Daniel Reiss, Peterborough: Broadview, 1996.
Moers, Ellen. Literary Women: the Great Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Montesquieu, Charles. The Spirit of Laws. London: Encyclopedia Britannic, 1990.
Owenson, Sydney. France. London, 1818.
Staël, Germaine. Corinne, or Italy. Ed. Avriel Goldberger, London: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

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