Enlightenment politeness and the female reader: the role of didactic literature in teaching politeness to women in Virginia and Scotland, 1750-1850
Ledford, Megan Leah
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This thesis explores the notion of gentility among wealthy women in Virginia from 1750 to 1850 by comparing it to Scottish Enlightenment-inspired codes of politeness practiced among the Scottish gentry residing in Edinburgh, the Highlands, and London in the same era. It analyzes how books that taught the codes of polite morality, here referred to as didactic literature, were read by genteel, young women in Scotland and Virginia and the ways in which this literature was applied to their education, courtship practices, and social behaviors. Scots and Virginians in this era were linked through migration patterns, correspondence between families, and a transatlantic book trade, but they were also linked through the interpretation of politeness. The polite manners of genteel individuals in Britain, instilled as a part of Scottish moral philosophy, were adopted by many who aspired to gentility in America, but original, archival research has indicated that this was especially true among the elites of Virginia society from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth centuries. This comparison serves to emphasize the connection between Virginian and Scottish standards of politeness, indicating similarities in the interpretation of politeness, but also a divergence over time as a result of the influences of the American Revolution and evangelical religion. It has concluded that, by the middle of the nineteenth century, while the standards of didactic literature did not entirely disappear with regards to shaping Scottish manners, the codes taught in conduct books and instructive novels of an earlier era were more widely regarded in Virginia and came to form a uniquely Virginian interpretation of politeness.