London: William Darton, 1818. First edition. Publisher's quarter roan over marbled boards, with gilt to spine. Measuring 140 x 85mm and collating complete including frontis and rear catalogue: , iv, 164, 12. Scuffing to corners and chipping to spine ends, but a tight and square copy overall. Contemporary ownership signature of Maria Houle to front endpaper. Light scattered foxing to preliminary and end leaves, else internally fresh and unmarked. A didactic novel dedicated to educator Maria Edgeworth, it is scarce institutionally and in trade with OCLC reporting only 12 copies in the U.S. and no other examples on the market.
The opening of The Metamorphoses speaks to the transformative experience of a young girl who sees a possible future represented for her in a successful woman writer. In her dedication to the famed Bluestocking and educational activist Maria Edgeworth, Mary Hughes writes that with "gratitude for the instruction which my infant years received from your interesting publications...I have presumed to make an attempt at treading the same path which you have so successfully traveled." What follows is a didactic novel emphasizing the importance of education and the central role women must play in it. Opening with a dialogue between Laura Mackenzie and her sea-faring brother, Hughes establishes that Laura is intelligent, principled, and more focused on ensuring the emotional and intellectual development of her children than in flattering her own vanity or persuing social engagements. Though he initially berates her Bluestocking tendencies, he quickly learns her value when he is declared the guardian of two orphaned girls. Dividing the care of his wards Isabella and Julia between Laura and his friend the Lady Ann Stanley respectively, the remainder of the novel traces how the girls' educations shape them into young women. For while Isabella is encouraged to think deeply about the logical and ethical implications of her choices in Laura's household, Julia is cossetted and made vain by the treatment of Lady Ann, her governess, and the household staff. Indeed, Laura's influence operates on Isabella much as Edgeworth's likely did on Hughes; and the girls learns that just as she had a good example, so should she provide one to others by doing the right things. (Item #4965)