Introduction to the Project by Karen Rodgers, May 1998
This study will attempt to evaluate the work of Elizabeth Bonhote, placing her as a writer of essentially "popular fiction", specialising in moralistic, didactic novels advocating correct manners and behaviour. It will focus specifically on two novels and a series of poems that span her literary career. The Rambles of Mr Frankly, her first novel, follows the travels of a clergy man, offering advice and instruction along the way. Bungay Castle, her final novel, is a Gothic romance set in the Middle Ages. Bonhote’s fiction is particularly concerned with the domestic sphere and the problems inherent in the choice of one’s husband or wife. A series of poems written upon the destruction of the Corn Cross in Bungay, Suffolk provide a contrast in tone to the novels, and indicate an awareness of the socio-political situation that is rather less explicit in her fiction.
Bonhote was writing around the same time as women such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Smith and Ann Radcliffe, and this study will examine the ways she expressed similar concerns of society and marriage, and also used similar means - the Gothic, the romantic and the novel of sensibility – as those more famous authors to express them, albeit in a more "popular" manner.
The study will also attempt to show the means Bonhote used, in her work, to circumvent the constraints placed upon her, as a writer during a time of revolutionary fervour in France and civil disobedience and suspicion in England, and as a woman in a confining, patriarchal society. These means included the use of the didactic, moral novel to assert her "seriousness" as a writer (distancing her work from the frivolity of others’ fiction), light-hearted subject matter to convey political comment, the possible use of the Gothic to comment upon the violence and cruelty of the foreign or alien "other", and finally the domestic romance to guide the reader towards an element of happiness, by accepting her position in the class-ridden, masculine-dominated society of late eighteenth and early nineteenth British society.