Corvey home page    
 Sheffield Hallam University
 Corvey home page
 Introduction to the Corvey collection and SHU Corvey project
 Guided tours around the Corvey website
 Corvey Women Writers on the Web
 Belles Lettres, Women's Writing, and Travel Writing Catalogues
 Students' Journals, Adopt-an-Author projects
 News, Events, Activities, Conferences, Updates

Corvey ‘Adopt an Author’ |
Elizabeth Helme

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

Essay on the Work of Elizabeth Helme by Sharon Watson, May 1998

Helme, Her Contemporaries, and the Background to the Didactic Novel

Elizabeth Helme began writing novels during the latter half of the eighteenth century and continued to write until shortly into the nineteenth century. She was a prolific Minerva Press novelist, but whilst her works were frequent, this did not necessarily detract from either their quality or their popularity. The majority of her texts were published over a period of approximately fifteen years, although some of her works were completed by her husband William Helme, who also produced morally instructive texts, and these were published posthumously. She died in 1810.

Unlike many of the female authors writing at this time, Helme did not belong to the upper echelons of the hierarchical system. She could not simply write at her leisure, as did Hannah More. Her writing became her living in addition to her employment as a schoolmistress at a school in Brentford. Minerva novelists were plentiful, and they produced work for different needs and purposes. Helme was the daughter of a schoolmaster whilst `Anna Maria Bennett, [was] the daughter of a grocer' (Copeland, 1995: 165). Helme's contemporaries, or at least a number of them, appeared to be plagued by the ever-present need to secure loans and advances from booksellers as a simple means of survival. Much of the pleasure of writing was therefore diminished due to the mass production. Elizabeth Helme made several applications to the Royal Literary Fund, and whilst a sum of approximately twenty pounds was granted to her during that time (RLF Archives: File 97), she still died penniless. The Royal Literary Fund served its purpose of providing basic financial support to its applicants, yet the funds were not sufficiently extensive to provide money for luxuries. Regardless of the abundance of writing from its members and indeed their talent in many instances, it remained exceedingly difficult to make ends meet. Ann Burke was a further example of `a prolific but destitute novelist' (Copeland, 1995: 198).

With the growth of circulating libraries and the popular novel, we might presume that the female authors would write according to the requirements of the mass public with the romantic novel being particularly favoured by the readers. Reading supplied them with a source of entertainment and aided the expansion of commerce; in addition, women were refreshed at finally being able to read the work of other women. Recent interest in women novelists of the eighteenth century has centred around the types of fiction they were producing. Common genres were the novels of didacticism and sensibility, but at times it is difficult to assess whether the reason for the upsurge in didactic fiction was as a result of necessity to conform in order to gain financial support or due to a conscious decision to develop a sound morality within their readers.

The development of prose fiction provided a suitable outlet in which writers of didactic fiction could engage and discover a route for the instruction of moral standards. In her book Living by the Pen, Cheryl Turner suggests that writers of poetry and didactic matter stood a better chance of attracting subscribers than, for example, writers of undisguised romantic fiction, as didacticism was, in the age of manners and virtue, regarded as an appropriate genre for the female author to adopt when writing. Hannah Robertson was a writer of didactic material and illustrates the potential which the genre possessed with regard to money-making. She published two `instructive domestic works' for `young ladies' (Turner, 1992: 121) which were very successful. Well known and relatively wealthy moral and educational writers such as Hannah More were often able to finance their own publications although this method was rarely used. She believed so wholeheartedly in the benefits offered through her writing that she spent more than five thousand pounds publishing Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809), recovering two thousand of that by 1810 (Turner, 1992: 113). This in itself highlights the popularity of the instructive text.

It is evident from their work that both Elizabeth Helme and Hannah More shared many of the same beliefs in the purpose of writing didactic fiction. However, it could be argued that Helme's intentions were slightly less harsh. Irrespective of the acclaim of the didactic novel, the reader is able to interpret from their texts that More and Helme, though to a lesser degree, would have produced didactic fiction in preference to any other genre as they regarded it as their moral duty. More believed that whilst a woman required a limited education, and it must be 'limited', her foremost obligation was to remain a dutiful wife within the private sphere of the home. (Interestingly More herself never married). Her specific leaning was toward practical religious instruction. She demonstrated this by way of teaching in Sunday schools. As Joanne Shattock explains, `they were taught the bible and catechism and such coarse works as may fit them for servants' (Shattock, 1993: 303). In contrast to Mary Wollstonecraft's style of writing and her somewhat radical publications including The Vindication of the Rights of Women (Wollstonecraft also wrote didactic fiction) which highlighted women's inferior position within society, many feminist critics would argue that the writers of didactic novels served to reaffirm women's subordinate position in society, with their notions of modesty, virtue and sensibility. Whilst it is true to say that these were characteristics of large numbers of the novels of this period, and indeed Helme favoured this method of writing, her heroines are also quite strong. This might suggest, as I shall explain, that Helme's novels contained alternative genres to the didactic.

Aside from the novels of didacticism and sensibility, there were the frequent themes of the historical romance and the gothic, though many of these overlapped with the didactic. Whatever the genre, most female authors shared a tendency to moralise their subject. If there were to be romance and passion, it was often necessary to have a didactic function running through it. It was as important for the God-worshipping middle classes to have a moral at the end of a novel as it was to have a farce after a tragedy. The hero/heroine would display traits of character which were undesirable, but in order to achieve the state of eternal happiness, they must show remorse for their imperfections, thus being cleansed. However, with a faultless hero, it could be argued that the novelist would be unable to make her moral judgments. Helme's belief, it appears, was that by instilling the female protagonists with virtue and strong moral character, they could overcome even the most distressing of events and proceed to lead peaceful if not fulfilling lives. Moreover, if they assisted others, such happiness would be prolonged.

The didactic novel is dealt with according to the preferences of the author, although the common aim is to instill moral integrity in the reader. The didactic novel does not always avoid frivolity, and the purpose of its inclusion in the narrative is frequently to highlight that its outcome will result in sorrow and misfortune. For Helme, the mercy of God represents the possibility of securing forgiveness, whilst Elizabeth Inchbald `used in fiction the dramatic technique of presenting behaviour and allowing us to draw our own inferences' (Maccarthy, 1994: 437). Amelia Opie, whilst an admirer of Mary Wollstonecraft's rather radical style of the period, maintained a moral stance within her novels, including Father and Daughter (1801). `Her didactic purpose is primarily moral; she stresses the necessity of a Christian education, condemns the slave trade and opposes the outlawry of women fallen from virtue' (Maccarthy, 1994: 442)

Gradually, by examining the work of an individual author, in this instance the work of Elizabeth Helme, a picture is formed which highlights the similarities between the many female novelists of the period and it becomes evident that in addition to its popularity, a great number believed the novel to be vital in ameliorating the moral standard of society. The extremes of the novelists styles vary. Hannah More looked upon moral instruction as her duty in life, whilst others used the genre of the didactic to express a more reserved view on the importance of morality. There is one detail of which we can be certain, and that is that within the range of genres of the era, the female novelists were indicative of the importance of morality throughout their society, and though they did not always concentrate on it with undivided attention, they at least dedicated an ample amount of their writing to the realms of didacticism and sensibility.


The Pilgrim of the Cross; or, the Chronicles of Christabelle Mowbray and Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor: Didacticism, Sensibility and alternative genres within Elizabeth Helme's novels.

For the most part, the upsurge in novels by 1800 can be equated with the fact that reading was considered as entertainment. However, it could also be argued that these literary women were creating what was to be a basis for Victorian morality. Elizabeth Helme's novels are laden with moral intent, and she even goes so far as to address the readers with words of advice regarding suitable behaviour and the treatment of others. There is an instant within Louisa; or, The Cottage on the Moor (1789) when Helme makes such an appeal: `I conjure them hasten to do a benevolent action. The sensation it leaves, will spread a brighter glow on the complexion' (ch xiv). This, it would appear, is the work of a novelist who adopts the didactic genre. However, whilst moral purpose works alongside sensibility in both The Pilgrim of the Cross (1805) and Louisa, we can interpret other genres within her texts. Helme's protagonists, in particular the females, are not only virtuous, they could also be seen as examples of powerful women of their time.

Just as Helme's Louisa could be classified as didactic, so could her novel The Pilgrim of the Cross. The instruction is extremely pronounced in addition to being of a religious nature. The whole purpose of the text, at least on the surface, is to transfer the tenets of the Christian faith to the characters who are troubled not just with vice, but with the weight of unhappy events. Christianity in effect, acts as their saviour. During their pilgrimage, the leader of the journey Baron de Pointz and his loyal friend the Knight FitzHugh encounter the character of Bertram. Bertram is a pilgrim completely devoted to the cause of Christianity. De Pointz comes to regard the youth as a sincere friend, often dismissing his tendency to indulge in emotion. Bertram epitomizes the love and power induced by Christianity, and succeeds with his beautiful voice and sentimental words in converting Hamet, the Saracen slave, to the Christian faith. Bertram is characterized as a saint with `superior understanding' (II: 225). The theme flowing through the novel therefore seems to be of a religious and moral nature, and the two themes are often joined as one. Dedication to the cause and exemplary character are traits which will overcome all evil. This notion is reiterated throughout the text. As Helme writes in this novel, `Persecution may make converts through fear, but it is mildness and virtuous example alone, that makes them from choice' (II: 225). It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, when the author adds a twist to the plot by revealing that the apparently perfect Bertram and his assistant Alan are female. The aesthetic language used by other characters to describe Bertram suddenly becomes wrought with anger and contempt: `dress him in a bodice and a petticoat, and he would be a mere wench' (II: 81). The feminine Bertram who had saved the Baron from death by intervening in a duel with a Saracen by using a dagger adopts a different persona, and whilst the woman vows to prove the innocence and true identity beneath the disguise, suggesting a continuation of the didactic purpose of the novel, we can perceive other genres and themes operating alongside what could be referred to as Helme's most dominant literary form.

Whilst there are numerous examples within fiction of this period of men disguising themselves as women, it is most unusual for the women to conceal their identity by donning men's clothing. In Helme's Louisa; or The Cottage on The Moor, it is the villainous male, Mr. Danvers, who uses the disguise of a woman to endeavour to seduce the virtuous heroine, Louisa. This could also be paralleled with the tyrannous Mr. B. in Richardson's Pamela, who jumps from the closet and proceeds to pounce on the chaste maid....

....Christabelle de Mowbray, alias Bertram, eventually reveals that she had assumed the male disguise to enable her to join the pilgrimage led by the son of her benefactress, the woman she had come to love as a mother. Her remorse and the fact that de Pointz falls in love with this incredible woman ensure her forgiveness and a rather neat and predictable close to the novel. Helme has already broken the patriarchal mode in which women were expected to dwell in the eighteenth century. Whether or not this treatment of women was a conscious decision is another issue. Above this radical position of women, however, Helme uses the character of Bertram to demonstrate that benevolent deeds (for example, the emancipation of numerous slaves, the pursuit of Christian beliefs, and the deliverance of the Holy Cross to its rightful place before the hands of God) will without question lead to eternal contentment. From one perspective Helme elevates the position of women at least temporarily and yet marriage and procreation always occur by the close of the novel, thus restoring what patriarchal society defines as the norm.

In addition to the didactic interpretation of Helme's novels, there are arguably alternative readings. According to Montague Summers, Helme's novels could be described as sentimental with tendencies toward the gothic genre. He refers to her work and that of some of her contemporaries, such as Charlotte Smith, as `Gothic Flotsam' (Summers, 1968: 9). If he interprets `Flotsam' as the debris of literature, then he could be condemned for summarising her work in a rather brief and unfair manner. Though we might choose to describe her work as eclectic from the variety of genres evident in her novels, her writing remains both accessible and in many parts enjoyable.

The controlled romance of the two novels in question asserts itself with the aid of the genres of the gothic and the sentimental. Although not quite as saturated with terror as much of the gothic material of the time, there still remains the young, vulnerable heroine threatened by the lecherous male or the prospect of compulsory marriage. One of the consequences of such a situation is to escape only to be pursued. The heroine's most significant aim is to uphold `her sexual and subjective integrity - her wholeness' (Kelly, 1988: 43). Each of the novels being considered exhibits such gothic tendencies. For Louisa, the cottage becomes her safe haven in the darkness of night after she has escaped from the incestuous clutches of her benefactor, the man who `attempted liberties I shall ever blush to think of' (II: 137), who is later revealed to be her uncle. The gothic atmosphere is enhanced at an earlier stage of the novel when we encounter Mrs. Rivers' narrative. She had discovered a letter whilst walking in the depth of the forest, a letter addressed to someone who was to be employed to lure her away for unsavoury exploitation by the same man who later attempted such indulgences with Louisa. In accordance with the heroines of Helme's novels, Mrs. Rivers is horrified that her innocence was at risk of being tainted by such a fiend. These novels do not exercise the potential of the gothic genre as greatly as Ann Radcliffe's for example, who added a `picturesque decorativeness in the terror scenes' (Spector, 1984: 4), although there is a leaning toward this in The Pilgrim of the Cross, in which we observe `the medieval setting, mysterious castles with their subterranean secret passages in which innocent maidens seek to escape from unscrupulous villains whose dastardly plans are often thwarted by the noblest heroes' (Spector, 1984: 5). There is an incident in the castle, when Christabelle de Mowbray, by then disguised once more as Adnee, is swooped upon by the soldier Villeneuve. He grabs her waist despite her pleas for him to stop, and the occurrence is interrupted by Jaques, rather than the hero himself, who is forced to disarm the `insolent man' (III: 205).

The heroic drama is ever present in both novels, each developing the intrigue, a historical setting, supernatural power and the denial of love due to characters' allegedly inferior status. The entire plot, it seems, is intended to test the strength and virtue of the characters. The heroine is disciplined. She is the moral guide and must ensure that moral integrity prevails. Helme's novels could be discussed exclusively in terms of the gothic genre, and yet we must also draw attention to other areas of interest existing within the volumes of these texts.

By the latter half of the eighteenth century, the domestic novel, or the novel of manners, was becoming increasingly prominent, with authors such as Fanny Burney coming to the forefront. The novel of manners and the didactic novel overlap, in that the language is standard and formal. The novels are fictional, but they are dominated by a combination of moral and religious overtones. There is a striking resemblance in Helme's Louisa to the novel Evelina (1778) by Fanny Burney, and the characters within the plot of Caroline Evelyn, the novel which Fanny burned in her youth. Louisa's surname is Villars, as is the case with Caroline's benefactor, and she too visits France as Louisa does during her narrative. Furthermore, the name 'Belmont' is used in both novels, though there is a contrast in the personality traits of the individual characters. It was the daughter of Caroline Evelyn, Evelina, who became the backbone of what was to be a highly successful novel. Just as is the predicament with Louisa, we see Evelina in a state of melancholy owing to her apparent illegitimacy. Louisa is perpetually concerned over the issue of her natural parents. Like Evelina, Louisa enters the world of 'real' people. She has spent her life (both heroines are aged seventeen) in the confines of a convent, and so her virtue and innocence lead her into the traps of life's events. In contrast to The Pilgrim of the Cross, Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor is not blatantly didactic but more concerned with real experiences and sentiment in a larger quantity. Louisa as the heroine is less preoccupied with the importance of beauty, at least under the influence of Mrs. Rivers, but her characteristics and endurance echo those of Evelina. Lord Augustus Gray is Louisa's handsome love, whilst Lord Orville is the love of Evelina. He is attractive `because he is handsome and because his manners and morals are impeccable' (Maccarthy, 1994: 349-50). Helme is certainly less direct in the development of her characters, and if they are portrayed as bad, they are not described with as much vulgarity as those in Evelina, but Louisa; or, The Cottage on the Moor highlights Helme's own attempt to give a sense of reality to the novel as Burney had done, with slightly less pedagogy than was to follow in her later works.

It is apparent that whilst Helme's texts adhered to the moral purpose within the genres of didacticism and sensibility, she borrowed from alternative novel forms. There were novels of sentiment which were criticised for allowing the female to wander amongst experiences including love for an undesirable gentleman, Helme paradoxically maintains this wave of emotion within an environment which reinforced eighteenth and nineteenth century moral discipline. Her eclectic mix of literary genres may well have been used to increase the novel's potential for entertainment in addition to demonstrating the textual knowledge of the author, but above all else, the combination of genres assisted Helme in transferring in a more readable manner that which she considered to be crucial in ensuring the existence of good human beings, in particular fine women. In short, the genres helped to assure `daintiness .... softness ... nicety, minute accuracy, neatness, politeness, gentleness of manners' (van Sant, 1993: 3). All of this and more constituted perfection in moral standards.

Eighteenth-Century Poetry and its Purpose as Introduction to Chapters of Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor

John Chalker asserts that `[James] Thomson is inevitably impressed by the seasons in their cyclical aspect, as a recurrent pattern which contains within itself the great facts of birth and death, growth and decay' (1989). Here, the critic is referring to the metaphoric use of The Seasons, a collection of poems by James Thomson (1700-1748). Helme could also be regarded as using The Seasons for a similar purpose, particularly as she uses it most frequently as the source to introduce her chapters in Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor. Helme chooses to close her novel with an extract from the Seasons which demonstrates the parallel between the cyclical motion of the seasons and that of emotion and experience. Her heroine Louisa has felt the cold, heartless chill of winter as an orphan without roots, and has by the end of the novel experienced the rebirth associated with spring with all its fresh opportunity, with the discovery of her parents and indeed her true identity. Inevitably, then, the sadness subsides as her virtue remains: `scenes where love and bliss immortal reign' (II: 252). In one sense, poetry is used as a thematic device to enhance the major issues of the novel or to introduce a development in the plot. In chapter seven of the first volume, Helme uses an extract from Young's 'Night Thoughts' (1749) which serves to inform the reader of the arrival of important news: `untold she saw it in her servant's eye' (Louisa I: 59). The chapter goes on to reveal the alleged death of Henry, the husband of Mrs. Maria Rivers. If we consider Helme's use of contemporary poetry in this way, she must be admired for its inclusion, particularly if we note that each piece of verse used to introduce the chapter in itself briefly summarises the content of what is to follow. However, Helme's use of poetry throughout the novel serves more than a single, primary purpose and can be considered as having several other functions.

Whilst Helme may indulge in the use of poetry, it is maintained within a context which reaffirms her own concern for moral worth. She uses verse in the same manner that she uses her own prose: as moral instruction:

The dark disguise, and hatred, winding wiles
Coward deceit
And Joyless inhumanity pervades
And petrifies the heart (II: 224)

This extract from Thomson's The Seasons is indicative of Helme's didactic stance existent even within her more sentimental novels. The character of Mr. Rivers, who had disguised himself as Lord Danford in order to pursue his sexual attraction to Louisa, was discovered and forced to suffer the pains of his conscience. The moral lesson here is evident: evil deeds will be punishable.

Although Thomson and also Addison are used on more than one occasion to introduce separate chapters, Helme also includes other poets of the period, suggesting that these renowned male poets/authors of the eighteenth century add more than simply moral content to her novel. She also uses Shenstone's `Elegy', Young's 'Night Thoughts' and Blair's 'Grave'. The former poets produced their work within the same period in addition to receiving substantial acclaim, particularly Thomson, `who received the high honour of a poetical epistle from Pope' (DNB XIX: 728). By referring to the works of such well-known male artists, Helme strives for a dual achievement in that she demonstrates her knowledge of the literary world outside the confines of the genre of the novel. Furthermore, her use of these male works could be regarded as her attempt to bolster the position of women, although it is more probable that the former achievement was her original aim. Rather than elevating the male poets to a God-like status which occurs so frequently, her choice of quotations is deliberate, as for the most part the verse highlights men's capacity to experience emotion. Whilst God's superiority is evident throughout the novel as can be illustrated with a quote from Blair's grave: `Dreadful attempt! / Just reeking from self-slaughter, in a rage / To rush into the presence of our Judge!', the poets need not be viewed as appearing on a pedestal but considered as same sentiments as the female. However this use of poetry in Helme's novel Louisa is open to individual interpretation as are other readings of the text.

Helme's interest in the specific poets largely results from the analogies apparent in their work. This assists her in the conveyance of a particular idea or stream of thought to the reader. Blair, as with Young in his poetry, uses exclamations and questions as a means of evoking a response from the reader: `Friendship! / Mysterious cement of the soul'. There is a further provocation of response in The Seasons: `Come ye generous minds, in whose wide thought, of all his works, creative Bounty burns'. This is Helme's opportunity to address her readers, requesting indirectly that they consider their potential to offer benefit to others.

Poetry within Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor evidently serves a multitude of purposes, not all of which have been exhausted in this brief consideration of its place in the novel. Its most important function, however, other than existing as both a contrast and a comparison to the prose style of the novel, is to reaffirm the themes of morals, manners and sensibility that Helme is so preoccupied with, as well as maintaining the heroine's virtue as a part of these themes, at all times: `How beautiful is death when earned by virtue!'.

Religion and the Historical Background to The Pilgrim of the Cross; or, the Chronicles of Christabelle de Mowbray

The twelfth century is a crucial period in European history, with important figures including Henry II, Richard the Lion Heart and Philip II of France all participating in the events of the era. This century and the one preceding it observed society defining itself by the tenets of Christianity. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the third Christian crusade (1187-92) becomes the basis for Elizabeth Helme's novel, lending itself to the title The Pilgrim of the Cross; or, The Chronicles of Christabelle de Mowbray (1805). Due to the complexity of the novel, which is comprised of four volumes, it would be possible to analyse the religion and history within the text at great length. However, as is it is also necessary to take into consideration other aspects of the novel, it is at least important that we attempt to evaluate the reasons behind the author's decision to concentrate on religion and history in a work of fiction.

The intention of the Christian pilgrimage to the holy land was to regain the sacred place from the Muslims as it had been the place of birthplace of Christianity. The pilgrims were assisted by the Knights Templars who existed to protect them on their journey. Within the narrative of The Pilgrim of the Cross, the reader witnesses the noble reign of Richard Coeur de Lion and the character of 'Robert de Mowbray' who assists him in his battles, and secondly the reign of Richard's unpopular brother King John in the latter part of the twelfth century and the beginnings of the thirteenth century. It is during the reign of King John that we observe the continuing narrative of the hero of the novel: Baron de Pointz, who visits the holy land with the Knight FitzHugh and retrieves those (including Robert de Mowbray, operating as 'Jaques') who had been taken captive by the Saracen soldiers during the third crusade. Helme's overriding purpose throughout the novel is to establish the power of the Christian religion in which she so strongly believes. As opposed to fighting the infidels, Bertram encourages the Baron to save them, as they are all equal human beings in the eyes of God. FitzHugh, however, does not allude to each of the characteristics associated with the image of the perfect knight. He is loyal to his friend and his superior de Pointz, but fails to share the principles of celibacy that the authentic knight Hugh de Payens had displayed at the time of the crusades, and was as a consequence rewarded with a holy temple by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem (Williams, 1962: 56). Helme creates the somewhat obstinate FitzHugh as a further example of her moral lessons. He trifles in vice, and as a result, is duped by prostitutes and sold to a merchant. After some time his freedom is procured and he is made to see the error of his ways. FitzHugh is humiliated at having been 'on such an errand' (III: 30). Whilst the theme of chivalry is maintained during the course of the novel and highlighted with the protection of the women and the weak and vulnerable by de Pointz and FitzHugh, Helme appears to be preoccupied with the themes of rank and status, and in accordance with the authentic nature of the novel, she ensures that whilst 'Fitzhugh' is honourable he remains of the lower order and this is confirmed when he marries the vassal and the true Adnee.

Although there is the ever-present air of romance from which Helme as a supposedly didactic novelist is reluctant to divert, there is no release from the religious enthusiasm of the text which perfectly relates to the religious fervor of her own beliefs and the Christian crusades themselves. The twelfth century saw a growth in education with the establishment of the first universities (though education is not touched upon by Helme in the novel) and more significantly in relation to this novel, a focus upon monastic life. Essentially, the monks were a separate entity to the church. They were regarded as religious contemplators and represented the spiritual fight of the crusade alongside the numerous saints referred to throughout the novel. Helme places great emphasis on the environments of the monastery and the convent, with the character La Roche acting as the religious mediator and representative of the monastic order. Christabelle de Mowbray (disguised as Adnee) is similarly admired for her piety as she attends early morning prayers at St Mary's and it is later disclosed that she does this as a means of gaining strength for the revelation to come.

The Pilgrim of the Cross displays Helme's historical knowledge and her dedication to religion. In the closing lines of the novel we see the rebirth of a new generation, symbolic of the growth of Christianity and the importance of continuity in Helme's literary works. The crusades, whilst historical, are in essence religious, thus inspiring Helme to write The Pilgrim of the Cross. Helme's desire in writing the novel is to convey the strength religion can provide and the moral character it instills, and to stress that in order to be able to look to the future we must also have an understanding of the past.


If a single conclusion is to be drawn from the work of this prolific though relatively unknown author, it is that she made attempts to draw upon many genres thus providing herself with sufficient material to produce books written to order. Primarily, Helme's mass production of literature of both a fictional and factual nature was based upon a necessity to support her husband and children, and it is for this reason that we observe gothic and romantic tendencies. Whilst she may have desired to produce the instructive works associated with Hannah More, the consumer needs dictated that such works needed to be laced with the sorts of sentimental experiences with which ordinary people could associate. However, there is no question that Helme regarded it as her moral duty to create a novel that would help rather than hinder the reader in their moral development. It is her novel Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor, despite its frequent cliches, that provides us with a pleasurable and leisurely read. The virtuous quality of the heroine ensures that she triumphs over all immoral beings, and yet regardless of this somewhat predictable ending, the characters of the novel are extremely tangible, which suggests that Helme's most successful novels provided a sentimental atmosphere and a sense of the experiences of real people.

The motif of disguise is omnipresent in Louisa and The Pilgrim of the Cross and whilst it exists as a medium through which Helme can simultaneously consider vice and virtue, it could also be looked upon as a metaphoric disguise that accentuates the power of the heroines of the novels. In spite of the tendency towards pedagogy evident in Helme's texts and the mass production and variety of her work, she must nonetheless be commended for her use of the female pen, however discreet some of her issues may be. The heroines of these novels for the most part comply with the rules of patriarchy yet still discover the strength to be independent and to defend themselves against their foes. For Louisa, it is the detestable Lord Danford whom she is forced to stab with a pair of scissors, whilst for Bertram in The Pilgrim of the Cross, it is, though rather ironic, necessary for the heroine as opposed to the hero to defend her beloved. Jane Austen wrote: `Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story' (qtd in Maccarthy, 1994). This statement exposes the truth, and so for all her cliches and moral indulgence, Elizabeth Helme must be added to the ever increasing list of popular novelists of the eighteenth century, for she combines in a single novel the genres that it has taken other authors to illuminate in a whole series of works.


Chalker, John. 1969. 'Thomson's Seasons - Nature, Harmony and Doubt.' Pre- Romanticism in English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century: The Poetic Art and Significance of Thomson, Gray, Collins, Goldsmith, Cowper and Crabbe. Ed. J. R. Watson. New York: Macmillan, 1989.

Copeland, Edward. 1995. Women Writing about Money: Women's Fiction in England, 1790-1820. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Helme, Elizabeth. 1789. Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor. 5th ed. Leipzig: Graef. 2 vols.

Helme, Elizabeth. 1805. The Pilgrim of the Cross; or, the Chronicles of Christabelle de Mowbray. Brentford: Norbury. 4 vols.

Kelly, Gary. 1988. English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789-1830. New York: Longman.

Maccarthy, Bridget. 1994. The Female Pen: Women Writers and Novelists, 1621-1818 Cork: Cork University Press.

The Royal Literary Fund. Archives. File No 97: Elizabeth Helme (1801-1809)

Shattock, Joanne. 1993. Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Smith, George and Stephen, Sir Leslie, eds. 1882. The Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press since 1917.

Spector, Robert Donald. 1984. The English Gothic: A Bibliographic Guide to Writers from Horace Walpole to Mary Shelley. Greenwood Press.

Summers, Montague. 1968. Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic novel. London: Fortune Press.

Turner, Cheryl. 1992. Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century London: Routledge.

Van Sant, Anne Jesse. 1993. Eighteenth Century Sensibility and the Novel: The Senses in Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, Jay. 1962. Knights of the Crusades. London: Cassell.