Essays in Romanticism

Female Dueling and Women’s Rights

Essays in Romanticism (2017), 24, (1), 1–20.

Abstract

This essay examines Georgian representations of women who issue challenges, pose as male duelists, or fight duels. It constructs a cultural genealogy of female dueling in which the Chevalière d’Eon is a key figure. Although an autopsy following d’Eon’s death concluded that she was anatomically male, from 1776 to 1810 she self-identified and was accepted as a woman. Her readiness to engage in honor disputes and prowess as a swordswoman provided evidence to her contemporaries that exceptional women have the capacity to fight duels and may have influenced Mary Robinson’s defense of female dueling in A Letter to the Women of England (1799). Whereas Maria Edgeworth’s comical portrayal of an abortive duel between two women in Belinda (1801) has been read by many scholars as a satire of Wollstonecraftian feminism, this essay contends that the novel caricatures the belligerent brand of feminism championed by Robinson.

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Author details

Brewer, William D.