Utopianism and Joanna Baillie
Hewitt surveys the scholarly revolution by which "utopia" has been transformed from structural model to strategic process. She posits connections between the new utopian processes and characteristics of Baillie's work, including her resistance to gender stereotypes, her preoccupation with justice, her attention to control of the passions as a precondition for social change, and her use of drama as a thought experiment in which spectators might visit an alternative world and take away knowledge to apply in the "real" one. Hewitt comments on how the papers that follow in this volume, both those that use an explicitly utopian vocabulary and those that do not, further a conceptualization of Baillie in the exploratory terms of the new utopianism.
Since the 1999 publication of The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie, some two hundred new letters have been located. This chronology orders all known Baillie letters and provides more accurate dates and identifications for many of the previously published letters. By providing watermarks, the place of writing, and the correspondents' names, the chronology also gives a new vantage point from which to view Baillie's life and times. As new letters appear, they will be added to the chronology.
Jeffrey Cox comments that "with her turns to the 'middling' ranks in her plays" Joanna Baillie "might seem to be a 'leveler' in literature," but he cautions that "we should be careful" in how far we push the notion of Baillie as embracing "'democratic' principles" since "she does not extend the appeal of her plays to those below that middle" ("Staging Baillie"). While Cox's conclusion is accurate given his focus on Baillie's dramatic theories and plays, an examination of Baillie's anonymously-published and rarely-considered collection Poems presents her as more of a "leveler" than her plays suggest. Baillie published Poems in 1790, the year after the fall of the Bastille and in the same year as Helen Maria Williams's Letters Written in France and Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. In this climate many British citizens had considerable optimism about the French Revolution but others were skeptical and even horrified by its implications. Knowing Baillie's views on the French Revolution at its outset is nearly impossible since none of her early letters survive; however, a close reading of Poems suggests that the young adult Baillie sympathized with some of the ideals of liberté, egalité, and fraternité. In the context of the political climate of 1790 and Baillie's nineteenth-century letters, Hale considers the class politics of Poems in terms of her representations of people of different classes, nature's power, and her own poetics and argues that even though some of the poems depict an ambivalence about the class system, the early Baillie ultimately critiques that system and encourages rural workers to resist the stifling roles of the eighteenth-century class system.
Of Joanna Baillie's two tragedies on the passion of fear, Orra has received far more attention than The Dream and the two dramas have seldom been compared, even though they are both set in the fourteenth century in or near Switzerland, feature imprisonments and escape attempts, and contain scenes of Gothic terror. This essay argues that these plays portray the fearful imagination ambivalently. Orra's imagination allows her to envision a matriarchal utopia in which her manor becomes a refuge from medieval violence, but it also imprisons her in the nightmare world of the living dead. In The Dream, the protagonist's fearful imagination awakens his slumbering conscience but ultimately kills him. Orra and The Dream also contest essentialist conceptions of gender and suggest that patriarchal control is dependent on superstition and terrorism. Moreover, Baillie's plays on fear indicate that in the struggle against paternalistic repression, alert pragmatism is less imaginative but more effective than fearful utopianism.
This essay explores the feminist utopian underpinnings associated with the representation of female sexuality in Joanna Baillie's comedies The Match (1836), The Second Marriage (1802), and Enthusiasm (1836). A feminist utopia creates and operates inside a new place or space that had previously appeared inconceivable so as to posit the possibility of different social, sexual, and symbolic relations. Like the pedagogical goals Baillie articulates for her plays in her introductory discourses and notes, a feminist utopia seeks fundamental paradigm shifts in the consciousness of the present so that social transformation can occur. This essay asserts that Baillie creates this feminist utopianism in her comedies in order to suggest radically different ways of conceiving of female sexuality that the ways the prevailing socio-medical discourses and practices of the early nineteenth century prescribed. In The Match, Baillie's Latitia is a revised spinster turned genius; in Enthusiasm, Lady Worrymore challenges mesmerism; and in The Second Marriage, Sarah Seabright critiques notions of asexual medicine, the very issues Baillie's brother Matthew and his colleague surgeon John Roberton debated publicly.
This essay situates a group of Joanna Baillie's comedies at the intersection of utopian and ecocritical studies, in the conceptual space where they rethink the dichotomy between nature and culture. After noting the emphasis on processes for overcoming such binary oppositions and evolving interdependent communities now prominent in both utopianism and ecocriticism, Hewitt illustrates these preoccupations in Baillie's work. Drawing analogies between the "Characteristic Comedy" elaborated in her Introductory Discourse and the Comedy of Survival theorized by Joseph Meeker, Hewitt argues that Baillie's plays seek to identify and encourage traits conducive to the co-survival of humans in all the environments (social and physical) they occupy. These traits include the ability to control one's passions, sympathize with others, and adapt to circumstances. Through examples from her Series of Plays (particularly The Siege, The Second Marriage, and The Alienated Manor), Hewitt investigates how these comedies replace aggressive with cooperative relations implying that humans can establish more responsible households in the world.