Sarah Scott Critical Essays


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Sarah Scott 1723–1795

(Also wrote under the pseudonym of Henry Augustus Raymond, Esq.) English novelist and biographer.

Scott was an English novelist and biographer whose life and works reveal an engagement with charity, social reform, and the condition of women in society. Scott did not overtly challenge the existing social order, but rather depicted and attempted to create alternative female communities in which women could reach their true intellectual and moral potential.

Biographical Information

Scott was born in Yorkshire in 1723, one of nine surviving children of twelve. In 1751 she married George Lewis Scott, a mathematician in the service of the Prince of Wales. The couple separated within a year. The reason for their separation is not known, but family letters suggest that they were simply incompatible. For the next several years Scott traveled and lived with friends and relatives. She eventually settled in Bath. In 1754 Scott and her friend Lady Barbara Montagu established a household in Batheaston and became partners in developing a charity attending to the needs of poor women. They encouraged selfsufficiency through education and the learning of practical skills. Scott and Montagu also established a school for children. After Montagu's death in 1765 Scott encountered financial difficulties. She spent the last years of her life in Catton, near Norwich, until her own death in 1795.

Major Works

Scott's books are for the most part traditional sentimental novels in which characters struggle to maintain their virtue in the face of overwhelming odds. Her first novel, The History of Cornelia (1750), recounts the repeated trials of a young orphan in her quest for true love and happiness. Scott's next project, An Agreeable Ugliness; or, The Triumph of the Graces (1754), is a translation of Pierre-Antoine de La Place's La Laideur, et les dangers de la beauté. This morality tale of two sisters—one beautiful but vain, and the other plain but virtuous—reveals the superiority of the latter sister and concludes with her triumph. Scott's first bio-graphy, The History of Gustavus Ericson (1761), published under the pseudonym Henry Augustus Raymond, Esq., was a life of Gustavus Vasa, King of Sweden during the sixteenth century. In her preface to that work, Scott argued the merits of biography over narrative history, believing that they provide more insight into the character and motivations of people. Her most well-known novel, Millenium Hall (1762), is largely a fictionalized recreation of the charitable community run by Scott and Montagu at Bath. The women who inhabit the Eden-like confines of Millennium Hall are all disfigured physically, emblematic of the psychic scarring they received within exploitive relationships. In The History of Sir George Ellison (1766), a sequel to Millenium Hall, Scott addressed her text primarily to the class of English planters and slave owners. Her novel did not advocate abolition outright, but urged humanitarian and educational reforms within the slave system.

Critical Reception

Scott's six novels and three historical biographies were all published either anonymously or pseudonymously, and received only limited critical attention during her lifetime. Yet at the end of the twentieth century, Scott, as a member of the early class of professional female writers, is receiving increased scholarly attention. Scott's work has received the attention of feminist and gender scholars, who focus on the extent to which Scott's writings reflect a developing feminist viewpoint. Scott's work has also been studied in the context of Utopian literature.