Righting & Re-writing their Characters
Amelia Opie and the variant editions Adeline Mowbray


The force of all these textual emendations is Opie's move to ally herself with the ideology of feminine propriety. In reading the early editions of Adeline Mowbray against the late edition, Adeline's inherent virtue is canonized against the depravity of those around her. Clearly, Opie was less hesitant in acclaiming the virtue of Adeline and is freer in her criticism of the degeneracy of society and its traditions in the early editions of the novel. It is widely accepted now that Opie modeled Adeline after her friend Wollstonecraft. Opie would certainly have been haunted by the vicious backlash against her friend after her death, in the eight years before the publication of Adeline Mowbray. Wollstonecraft was labeled "a hyena in petticoats" and a "philosophizing serpent" and was likened to a prostitute.19 As she gets older, Opie, like Adeline, perhaps like Wollstonecraft had she lived, becomes less interested herself in living in defiance of society's norms. In the later years of Opie's life, society's norms may have even become more rigorous and, consequently, more dangerous to defy. Opie converted to Quakerism, assuming for herself very literally the "more than common rigidness of principles and sanctity of conduct" (1810, 2:105; 1825, 123), which The Critical Review admired in Mrs. Pemberton in its objection to the "erroneous virtues" which Opie celebrates in Adeline Mowbray. In the course of the novel, Adeline learns to adjust her behavior to conform to the ideology of feminine propriety, which she repeatedly is censured for challenging. Adeline, after acquiescing to society's norms, is said to be "eager to recover" (1810, 3:43; 1825, 182) the esteem of Mrs. Pemberton, the novel's emblem of feminine propriety. The emendations of the novel suggest that Opie makes the move to recover her esteem as well.

Reading these variant editions of Adeline Mowbray of course sheds new light on the novel itself, but also, and in the end perhaps more importantly, sheds new light on the situation of women writing in a period of widespread political and social revolution and reaction. Opie may have been disturbed by the charge of questionable moral character contained in the article on the novel in The Critical Review. As Adeline struggles to right her own character in the novel, Opie endeavors to re-write her own character through her varying editions. Amelia Opie, in her life, in her career, and especially in her emendations of Adeline Mowbray, provides an excellent occasion to examine the tensions between woman writer and proper lady and the move from Bluestocking to Angel in the House.