"She knew no one with sufficient intimacy": Female Friendship in Camilla and Hester Chapone's Letters on the Improvement of the Mind
Alicia A. McCartney, Cedarville University
Alicia A. McCartney is an assistant professor of English at Cedarville University. Her research primarily examines shipwreck narratives and spiritual communities in Britain during the long nineteenth century.
This article suggests that Frances Burney’s Camilla dramatizes and critiques the advice on female friendship given by fellow Bluestocking Hester Chapone in her conduct book Letters on the Improvement of the Mind. Burney’s critiques affirm the importance of affective relationships between women, despite the criticisms these relationships received from contemporary male conduct book writers, such as James Fordyce and John Gregory. Camilla’s three main friendships with Mrs. Arlbery, Mrs. Berlinton, and Lady Isabella closely correspond to types of friends Chapone outlines in Letters: the older friend, the adulterous friend, and the ideal friend. Camilla’s complex responses to each type of friend reveal that while Burney affirmed parts of Chapone’s advice, she also weighed it against her own experience. The realist novel, rather than the conduct book, takes center stage in Burney’s work as the genre best able to depict the nuances of the human heart.
Burney, Frances, 1752-1840; Chapone, Hester 1727-1801; female friendships, affective relationships, women’s literature, conduct books
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