Virtue embodied : fathers and daughters in the eighteenth-century novel.
In this study of five eighteenth-century British novels, I explore the connection between an author's definition of virtue and the portrayal of the father-daughter relationship. Both the father-daughter relationship and virtue are pervasive themes in eighteenth-century literature. During the course of the century, patriarchal authority waned, and father-daughter relationships accordingly underwent a change. Accounts of virtue also changed during the century. However, virtue was consistently tied to human happiness though the precise nature of that connection was debated and pondered. Time and again, novelists attempt to answer the question of virtue's connection with happiness within the context of a woman negotiating a perilous journey to marriage. Somewhat surprisingly, the father-daughter relationship is often presented as more important than the anticipated marriage relationship in these novels. As a result, the father-daughter relationship is the author's primary means of offering a definition of virtue and its connection to happiness through fictional embodiments of virtue. Eliza Haywood’'s Love in Excess, Samuel Richardson's Pamela, Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield, Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story, and Jane Austen's Emma each depict father-daughter characters that embody virtue to show readers how happiness might be achieved. These authors participate in, respond to, and criticize a tradition of literature which used exemplary characters as pedagogic tools. Depending on how the author defines virtue and its connection to happiness, the five novelists interact with the exemplary tradition in different ways, some of which result in more appealing and compelling portrayals of the father-daughter relationship.