Belinda by Maria Edgeworth
Maria Edgeworth won the admiration of her contemporary Jane Austen, as well as later writers such as Thackeray and Turgenev, and in Belinda (1801) she tackles issues of gender and race in a manner at once comic and thought-provoking. Braving the perils of the marriage market, Belinda learns to think for herself as the examples of her friends prove singularly unreliable. Edgeworth's varied cast includes the bewitching aristocrat, Lady Delacour, whose dreadful secret puts her in the power of her volatile servant; the dashing Creole gentleman, Mr Vincent who almost succeeds in winning Belinda's hand if not her heart; the eccentric Clarence Hervey, whose attempts to create an ideal wife backfire; and the outrageous Harriet Freke, whose antics as social outlaw land her in a mantrap. This lively comedy challenges the conventions of courtship, examines questions of female independence, and exposes the limits of domesticity. The text used in this edition (1802) also confronts the difficult and fascinating issues of racism and mixed marriage, which Edgeworth toned down in later editions.