Opening the Phosphoric “Envelope”: Scientific Appraisal, Domestic Spectacle, and (Un)“Reasonable Creatures” in Edgeworth's Belinda Journal Article uri icon



  • Maria Edgeworth's novel Belinda (1801) has received increasing attention in recent years from scholars interested in the author's pedagogical methods (introduced by Edgeworth and her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth in the treatise Practical Education [1798]). Yet there has been little sustained critical assessment of the novel's scenes of empirical inquiry, specifically the two phosphoric spectacles, or attention to how these scenes reflect late-Enlightenment debates and Edgeworth's call for a significant revamping of the period's didactic scientific literature. Far from disavowing the value of all emotional response in favour of a frigid adherence to empirical inquiry, Edgeworth's characters show that empiricism can bolster domestic harmony and strengthen emotional bonds within the household. Edgeworth responds to contemporary debates regarding the use of spectacle in teaching science, suggesting that proper scientific education liberates those benighted by superstition and societal prejudices. The scientific method's appeal lies in its transformative effect on the novel's characters, as it generates a shared empirically grounded discourse, fostering communication between characters differing in race, social rank, education, or age.

publication date

  • March 1, 2012

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • June 4, 2014 12:30 PM

Full Author List

  • Wright NM

author count

  • 1

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0840-6286

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1911-0243

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 509

end page

  • 536


  • 24


  • 3