The Things She Carried: Nationalism, Commerce, and the Souvenir in British Romantic Women's Writing on the French Revolution

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This dissertation is about six British women writers who kept accounts of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars during their travels to the Continent between 1790 and 1844 and who participated in the consumption and production of revolutionary souvenirs. I argue that women writers of the Romantic period use objects of material culture to engage in the masculine realm of political debate, and that the souvenir is significant because it allows them to circulate revolutionary ideas and affect political thought in Britain. I explore the attraction revolutionary souvenirs held for British women writers traveling abroad and how consuming and writing about material objects were revolutionary practices. Informed by the work of theorists Susan Stewart, W. J. T. Mitchell, and others, this dissertation examines the importance of the object in capturing and preserving memory and questions the relation between objects and power in order to elucidate the ways that souvenirs allowed women to transform society in the Romantic period. In the first three chapters, I look at women who employ souvenirs to represent the Revolution during its progress. Chapter one examines how Helen Maria Williams uses the commercial sensibility of souvenirs to create sympathy for the early years of the Revolution, while chapter two discusses Mary Wollstonecraft's use of objects of deception and appearance to explain its failure to her English audience during the Terror. Chapter three looks at the construction of British national identity through souvenirs that critique Napoleon's growing empire and that encourage Britain's alliance with Russia against France, as well as Ireland's union with England, in the works of Catherine and Martha Wilmot. The last two chapters look at the ways women use souvenirs to reflect upon the Revolution after the end of the Napoleonic wars. Chapter four argues that Dorothy Wordsworth relies on the material markers at important sites to create a consumer tour guide to post-Napoleonic Europe. This study concludes by looking at how souvenirs in Mary Shelley's texts refigure ideas of the Revolution and Napoleon, making her work exemplary for thinking through earlier women writers' use of objects.


Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2008.