The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)

The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.). Mary Ann Kelty.
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)
The first successful evangelical novel in English, using religion as an underpinning in the argument for women's education
The Favourite of Nature. A Tale (in 3 vols.)

London: Printed for G. and W. B. Whittaker, 1821. First edition. 20th century half calf over marbled boards, with gilt and morocco labels to spines; upper compartments stamped in gilt with the monogram of Alistair Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 9th Marquess of Londonderry (1937-2012). All edges speckled red. Measuring 100 x 175mm and collating complete (without half-titles as issued): vi, 366; [2], 414; [2], 383, [1, blank]. A lovely and complete set outside and in, with only occasional and faint foxing. Considered the first successful evangelical Christian novel in English, The Favourite of Nature is scarce institutionally and in trade. While OCLC notes a number of institutional copies from this year, it does not consistently record which are firsts versus second editions (released the same year), nor does it note mixed sets. This title has appeared only twice at auction (in 1966 and 1955), with the present being the only example on the market.

Often decried for its popularity among young women who might be misled by its depictions of adventure and sensational romance, the 19th century novel was a powerful force for education, political indoctrination, and sparking social change. When "Evangelicals and other conservatives recognized the power of this genre of written word...they turned to the novel to shape public thought and morality" (Grenby). Beginning with Hannah More's 1809 Coelebs in Search of a Wife, a sub-genre was born which "incited the Evangelicals' version of cultural revolution and social reform," part of which, for More and the Bluestockings, was "practical and effective education for women" (Al-Odat).

Within twelve years, Mary Ann Kelty pushed this genre even further by creating the "first successful religious novel" (Wilson). "Kelty's writings take women's education as an entry point to explore the elusive connection between education and gender construction...Kelty's discourse violates the social and cultural norms of her century's patriarchal, gender-specific education" (Al-Odat). Like More, she blends conservative Evangelical views of morality with progressive ideas on women's intellect; yet she pushes even further. "Rather than being hindered by her conservative religious beliefs, she uses these same beliefs to defy the gendered constructions of education" (Al-Odat). Unlike More, then, she is unapologetic about her feminism, using religion itself as an underpinning to her argument for women's social progress. In this sense, her work is influenced by a myriad of contemporary women, from Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays, to Hannah More and Jane West. The novel follows protagonist Eliza Rivers, who was denied a stable home life by the death of her parents and was provided a purely ornamental education by her boarding school. Eliza's journey is one of recognizing that her inherent talents can only be cultivated in a meaningful way, in her adulthood, if she applies herself both intellectually and spiritually. For Eliza, most of her struggles emerge from society; and she must learn to identify those who are socially ideal versus morally so, and to opt to cultivate those relationships which are "interested in empowering her morally" (Al-Odat). The novel, with its commercial appeal to both Evangelical and non-Evangelical audiences, saw success. And it went into several new editions within the year of its release.
(Item #4644)

Price: $1,950