Clutching My Pearls explores Jane Austen and contrasts her works with the tropes of other novels of the long eighteenth century. Click here for the first in the series. For some forgotten female authors, click "Authoresses" at the right.
These fools and freaks were often stock characters. In earlier posts, I wrote about some common 18th century stock characters such as the saucy sidekick, fops and fools, and the female pedant.
Here’s another comic stereotype, played for laughs (that is, for derision), who would have been instantly recognizable to novel-readers of the past: the Amazon. Both Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney created comic Amazon characters but I can’t think of any female character in Austen who is an Amazon.
Amazons were women with masculine traits. They walked, gestured, and spoke loudly and emphatically. They dressed in riding habits. They were obsessed with horses and loved dogs. They are usually anti-intellectual. They prefer male company to female, but in several cases, they are the matrimonial dupes of fortune-hunters.
Amazons looked down their noses at feminine women. Often they are paired with a languid, lazy, woman, both of them serving as a contrast to the heroine.
Susan Elworth, the heroine of Anne Raikes Harding’s Corrections (1818), is “disgusted” with the entire Williamson family and finds the two daughters of the family “just bearable”: “The youngest, a fair insipid looking tall girl, had a passion for being thought a languid beauty. She closed her eyes, lounged on a sofa, lisped out her words in the softest tone imaginable, smiled with the silliest air in the world, which she mistook for interesting sweetness, [and] was always fatigué.
“The eldest daughter…. was very different. She would be a dasher! So she talked loud and fast, rode on the dickey with the coachman, hunted with all the gentlemen in the county, laughed loud, [and] talked in knowing terms…”