This essay examines prudence and virtue in Charlotte Lennox’s novel, Henrietta (1758). The novel’s protagonist, Henrietta, represents an exemplar model of a prudent and virtuous life. She is growing up as she fights to become an independent woman, exploring choices beyond the two socially acceptable ones offered to her: marrying for financial stability or becoming a Catholic nun. Henrietta is unwilling to denounce her personal beliefs to please her upper-class family, and as a young woman of the mid-1700s, she breaks societal barriers by taking a job as a housemaid. She is ambitious but humble. Henrietta is not perfect as a model heroine only because she is a runaway but her conviction on high moral values is inviolable. Inner conflicts test and hone her sense of prudence. The novel embraces prudence as Henrietta’s ability to make sensible life decisions where her humility outweighs vanity. Also, regret and remorse appear in the heroine’s life through her decisions that often seem degrading to her social status. Henrietta’s strength demonstrates Lennox’s use of the marriage plot and the debate in favor of education for young ladies, especially when the novel genre was just beginning to have an impact in literature and was largely read by women. Lennox focuses the heroine’s choices from a feminist point of view. Henrietta is a predecessor to many bildungsroman novels, and in many ways, Lennox sets the standard for the genre.
Keywords: Henrietta, Charlotte Lennox, English literature, prudence, eighteenth century, vanity, bildungsroman, human nature, feminist, arranged marriage.
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- Event location
Library Technology Center 380
- Event date
24 March 2017
- Date submitted
19 July 2022
- Additional information
Leigh G. Dillard, PhD. Assistant Professor of English, University of North Georgia