Helen Maria Williams Criticism - Essay

M. Ray Adams (essay date 1939)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Adams, M. Ray. “Helen Maria Williams and the French Revolution.” In Wordsworth and Coleridge: Studies in Honor of George McLean Harper, edited by Earl Leslie Griggs, pp. 87-117. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1939.

[In the following essay, Adams examines the manner in which Williams interpreted the events of the French Revolution for her reading public in England.]

“The most sensible women,” wrote George Dyer in 1792, “are more uniformly on the side of liberty than the other sex; witness a Macaulay, a Wollstonecraft, a Barbauld, a Jebb, a Williams, and a Smith.”1 The establishment of such a generalization perhaps requires a...

(The entire section is 12712 words.)

Matthew Bray (essay date May 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bray, Matthew. “Helen Maria Williams and Edmund Burke: Radical Critique and Complicity.” Eighteenth-Century Life 16, no. 2 (May 1992): 1-20.

[In the following essay, Bray explores the contradictions in Letters Written in France, contending that although most critics concentrate on its similarity to the sentimental novel, the work is more heavily influenced by its author's association with English dissenters and was written as a response to Edmund Burke's condemnation of the French Revolution.]

As several critics point out, Letters Written in France in the Summer of 17901—Helen Maria Williams' eyewitness, epistolary account of...

(The entire section is 11639 words.)

Vivien Jones (essay date January 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jones, Vivien. “Femininity, Nationalism and Romanticism: The Politics of Gender in the Revolution Controversy.” History of European Ideas 16, nos. 1-3 (January 1993): 299-305.

[In the following essay, Jones contrasts Williams's emotional account of the French Revolution with the more rational writings of Mary Wollstonecraft on this subject.]

Survey with me, what ne'er our fathers saw
A female band despising NATURE's law
As ‘proud defiance’ flashes from their arms,
And vengeance smothers all their softer charms.
I shudder at the new unpictur'd scene,
Where unsex'd woman vaunts the imperious mien; …
With equal ease, in body or in mind,
To Gallic freaks or...

(The entire section is 3062 words.)

Mary A. Favret (essay date summer 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Favret, Mary A. “Spectatrice as Spectacle: Helen Maria Williams at Home in the Revolution.” Studies in Romanticism 32, no. 2 (summer 1993): 273-95.

[In the following essay, Favret discusses Williams' Paris salon, frequented by an international group of artists and intellectuals in the early days of the French Revolution as a place that blurred the boundary between the domestic and the political realms.]

It was a rendezvous for the most famous orators, the best-known men of letters, the most celebrated painters, the most popular actors and actresses, the most fashionable dancers, the most illustrious foreigners, the lords of the Court, and...

(The entire section is 9878 words.)

Eleanor Ty (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ty, Eleanor. “Resisting the Phallic: A Return to Maternal Values in Julia.” In Unsex'd Revolutionaries: Five Women Novelists of the 1790s, pp. 73-84. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Ty claims that Williams's novel Julia can be read as a challenge to patriarchal values.]

In the previous chapters we have seen how a woman writer's connection with the pre-Oedipal world, or what Kristeva calls the semiotic, influences her use of language. The unsevered link with the maternal binds both Wollstonecraft and Hays in certain ways to literal meaning. In their fiction which actively engages in feminist politics, this...

(The entire section is 5362 words.)

Gary Kelly (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kelly, Gary. “Helen Maria Williams in Post-Revolutionary France.” In Women, Writing, and Revolution 1790-1827, pp. 192-233. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Kelly examines the post-Revolutionary writings of Williams and the rhetorical technique by which she hoped to feminize the Age of Bonaparte and its aftermath just as she had done with the Revolution itself.]

In the late 1790s Helen Maria Williams was secure and well off in Paris, at the centre of intellectual, literary, and political life. Despite continuing war with Britain, Bonaparte's military victories and overthrow of the Directory seemed to stabilize the Revolution at...

(The entire section is 17074 words.)

Jacqueline LeBlanc (essay date February 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: LeBlanc, Jacqueline. “Politics and Commercial Sensibility in Helen Maria Williams' Letters from France.Eighteenth-Century Life 21, no. 1 (February 1997): 26-39.

[In the following essay, LeBlanc explores the radical nature of Letters from France, claiming that the connection Williams makes between revolution and commerce differs from the writings of others sympathetic to the French Revolution, who tend to ignore that relationship.]

Helen Maria Williams has rightfully taken her place in the newly formed canon of British women writers, most notably as a correspondent from revolutionary France. A popular poet and sentimental novelist of the late...

(The entire section is 9805 words.)

Paula R. Feldman (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Feldman, Paula R. “Helen Maria Williams (1761?-1827).” In British Women Poets of the Romantic Era, pp. 797-803. Baltimore, M.D.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

[In the following excerpt, Feldman discusses Williams's published writings and their reception by her contemporaries.]

Helen Maria Williams, best known for her eyewitness chronicles of the French Revolution and her influential salon in Paris, was also a poet who could not resist weaving verse into her novels and even into her translation of another author's work. She received her education from her Scots mother, Helen Hay. Her father, Charles Williams, a Welsh army officer, died when she...

(The entire section is 2868 words.)

Steven Blakemore (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Blakemore, Steven. “Comedy, Tragedy, and Romance in Williams' Letters from France.” In Crisis in Representation: Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, Helen Maria Williams, and the Rewriting of the French Revolution, pp. 163-79. Madison, Wis.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.

[In the following excerpt, Blakemore discusses Williams' characterization of the French Revolution as a comedy that turned into a tragedy during the Reign of Terror.]


In many ways Helen Maria Williams is the antithesis of Mary Wollstonecraft, even though they both have a Girondist view of the Revolution. Wollstonecraft emphasizes reason and...

(The entire section is 7995 words.)

Jack Fruchtman, Jr. (essay date 2001)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fruchtman, Jr., Jack. “The Politics of Sensibility: Helen Maria Williams' Julia and the Terror in France. Eighteenth-Century Women: Studies in Their Lives, Work, and Culture 1 (2001): 185-201.

[In the following essay, Fruchtman summarizes Williams' novel Julia with reference to her influences and her eyewitness accounts of the French Revolution.]

Helen Maria Williams's novel Julia (1790) possesses all the ingredients of the eighteenth-century sentimental novel, or novel of sensibility. Julia tells the story of the unrequited love of Frederick Seymour for the young, strikingly beautiful Julia Clifford (Ellis 214-20; Ty 73-84). At...

(The entire section is 6515 words.)

Deborah Kennedy (essay date 2001)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kennedy, Deborah. “Benevolent Historian: Helen Maria Williams and Her British Readers.” In Rebellious Hearts: British Women Writers and the French Revolution, edited by Adriana Craciun and Kari E. Kokke, pp. 317-330. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Kennedy considers how Williams successfully negotiated the cultural and political minefield she entered as a liberal female historian.]

Traditionally, the areas of politics and history have not been regarded as a woman's proper sphere of study or activity. If, even in the twentieth century, as Joan Wallach Scott has observed, the involvement of women in those fields has...

(The entire section is 7611 words.)