SUPERGROUP 1 & 2: The Woman of Prejudice; The Victim of Colour

by: Molly Ostrow, Katherine Herriman, Grant Patch, Sarah Janes, Eliza Larson, and Eliza Appleton.

Interchangeable texts: When we approached this assignment we were interested, foremost, in the ways that these texts were revisionists texts of previous ideologies of the epistolary woman trope.

The Woman of Colour:

“Dido is as much out of sorts as her mistress; she does not like the idea of the tonish (or rather townish) Abigail, and the monkey footman, who treated her with so much sang froid, at Clifton and in London. ‘But here,’ she says, ‘thanks to my good lady, – Dido be Missee below stairs, and treated by all as if me was as good as another, for all me be poor negro wench!’ Ah, my good Dido, perhaps both your ‘good lady,’ and yourself, may find the difference of entertaining, and being entertained! Yet Dido is determined that nothing shall be wanting on her part, towards receiving our guest stylishly; and she has been in a prodigious bustle ever since I made her acquainted with the contents of my letter.” (Anonymous, 127).

“I believe I held out my hand, and that lady was very near taking it in hers; but I fancy its colour disgusted her, for she recoiled a few paces with a blended curtesy and shrug, and simpering threw herself on a sofa. My uncle seemed to have no prejudices; and held me to his breast, and pressed his lips on my cheek; he then led his son to me, but again my eyes sought the carpet, though I was conscious of the trembling hand which held mine, he stammered out some words of pleasure and happiness. Honeywood was then introduced by his mother; the languid drawl of the fine lady, Mrs. Merton, detained him in conversation. Mr. Merton paid me the utmost attention, and, in part, relieved me from my embarrassment. I looked up, and for the first time saw Augustus Merton: – he seemed to have been examining me with scrutinizing attention. – Alas! I fear it was but a melancholy contemplation in a double sense; for I thought I distinguished a suppressed sigh, as he hastily addressed himself to Honeywood!” (Anonymous, 72).


1). How does Olivia come to understand her own race? How does her physical appearance and her interactions with others inform this characterization?

2). How does the bundling of letters revise and change the effect of the epistolary style? In comparison, how does the more conversational letter writing between Mary and her mother effect the The Victim of Prejudice?

3). How does the ending of The Woman of Colour revise or complicate the marriage plot of the novels we have seen previously this semester?

Victim of Prejudice:

“‘What is called, in your sex, honour and character, can, I fear, never be restored to you; nor will any asseverations or future watchfulness (to adopt the cant of policy and superstition) obliterate the stain. Who will credit the tale you mean to tell? What testimony or witnesses can you produce that will not make against you? Where are your resources to sustain the vexations and delay of a suit of law, which you wildly threaten? Who would support you against my wealth and influence? How would your delicacy shrink from the idea of becoming, in open court, the sport of ribaldry, the theme of obscene jesters?’ – I shuddered, groaned, and put my hand to my forehead: my brain seemed on fire. – ‘Simple girl! How impotent, then, is your rage! how weak your menaces! yet how charming your simplicity! – Be pacified! Be wise! Accept my honest contrition and the affluence I offer; regin unconrolled mistress of my fortune as of my heart.'” (Hays, 119).

“I arose with the dawn, and busied myself in preparations for my departure, repelling, with solicitude, every recollection that might enfeeble my spirits or unnerve my resolution. I repeated to myself incessantly, ‘Has not my kind patron just and irresistible claims upon the mind, which with unremitting assiduity, he has laboured to form? Dare I disappoint his hopes and disgrace his precepts in the moment of trial, the moment which decides the success of his cares? Have I not, in the whole of his past conduct, at once considerate, wise, and good, a foundation for my trust? Does he sternly call upon me to submit to authority? Is it to his own passions he requires the sacrifice of mine?Does he assume the vindictive tone of an infallible judge, from whose decisions there remains no appeal? Does he, with stoic pride, insult the sensibilities for which nature has incapacitated his heart, or which time and experience have combined to chill? Does he mock the feelings, does he contemn the weakness, which his firmer mind repels? Ah no! it is not the austere parent, the tutor, the patron, who, presuming on his claims, derides the tenderness and the ardour of youth; no, it is the friend, gentle, candid, benignant, contemning every privilege, disdaining all subterfuge, using no deception, who, while constrained to wound the heart through which he has been wont to diffuse gladness, weeps in tender sympathy; who, while he confesses reserve, and laments its necessity, appeals to the rectitude of his past conduct, appeals to the kindness to which every action, every expression, every feature, bear irresistible testimony. Nor shall he appeal in vain: a confidence thus generous I dare not betray. Far be from my heart, then, these weak and womanish regrets: to a determined spirit, to suffer is not difficult; but the vice of ingratitude shall never taint my soul.” (Hays, 40-41).


1). How is Victim of Prejudice a revisionist text of Pamela, Clarissa, and Anti-Pamela?

2). What are your thoughts on an author named Mary [Hays] writing about a character named Mary who has a mother named Mary? How does it affect your reading of the text and/or the author’s intimacy of the text?

3). With all of the rhetorical questions in the second passage, and the eloquence with which Mary speaks, how do her questions reflect her educated nature? What is the effect of the rhetorical question?

4). Looking at the passages from both  The Woman of Colour and The Victim of Prejudice, what affects do devices such as rhetorical questions and italics do to the reading of the texts?


4 thoughts on “SUPERGROUP 1 & 2: The Woman of Prejudice; The Victim of Colour

  1. 3.
    In the passage, Mary’s eloquence reflects her educated nature, and it is an education of awareness. She is consciously aware of inequality of her sex. The effect of the rhetorical question is generally to encourage the reader/audience to consider a particular message or mode of thinking. When Mary asks, “Does he assume the vindictive tone of an infallible judge, from whose decisions there remains no appeal” (40), she simultaneously conveys Mr. Raymond’s goodness while also distinguishing him from the majority of society. These questions juxtapose Mr. Raymond with the force that she is fighting, the invisible male force of society that presses upon her. Mary uses her ability to reason, and thus reasons with the audience as well. However, in writing “far be from my heart, then, these weak and womanish regrets” (40) she also simultaneously distinguishes herself from and condemns her own sex. The word “weak” is associated with “womanish.” Mary faces a dilemma because she is educated, but the education that she receives is a male education. Although she is educated with two young boys, she must assimilate to their world, rather than the other way around. Therefore, she is left to navigate a male world to which she has knowledge, but cannot fully access because she is a woman. She writes of Mr. Raymond: “does he mock the feelings, does he contemn the weakness, which his firmer mind repels?” (40). He has a “firmer mind” because he is a male, and although she is given the tools to overcome her sex, it is still something to overcome, which almost undermines her message. She is left to struggle with an awareness that leaves her, like Olivia Fairfield, in between worlds.

  2. Hay’s emphasis on the name “Mary” supports her use of exceptionalism and religious undertones in her novel Victim of Prejudice. The young Mary is no stereotypical female, as she experiences a unisex education and few social limitations as a child. As a female, she rejects society’s norms, but only because she is unaware they exist, or at least of the extent to which they exist. She learns and matures with her close male friends William and Edmund, all her paternal caretaker, Mr. Raymond. As she matures, her exceptionalism ultimately hinders her as she realizes the stark truth of society’s inescapable oppression as dependent woman in 18th-century Britain. Ironically, it is her lack of understanding her own limitations entrapped by her patriarchal society that places her in Mary in a compromising situation that results in her rape.

    While Mary’s mother represents the tragic depiction of a “fallen woman” dripping with sin, Mary represents an equally alarming depiction of an oppressed woman, who – unlike her mother – resists the temptation to surrender all her efforts by refusing to marry her rapist. The oppression both Marys encounter is not much different, however their reactions to it are. The name “Mary” also carries with it biblical references to Jesus’ mother, and perhaps Hays intended for this connection that casts her protagonists almost in an inhuman, worshiped light.

  3. The Women of Colour Q1
    Change of setting from Jamaica to England forces Olivia to confront her own racial identity in a radically different light. She comes to determine her identity in relation to people around her, not according to a universal or internally derived sense of racial prestige. The question of where Olivia is in a culture that is ingrained in the idea of white supremacy is a difficult one, because Olivia is neither completely black like Dido nor completely white like her “peers” in England. Furthermore, Olivia is the only character in the novel who is of a “mixed” race. It is a term that is potentially controversial and difficult to define, since every human being is generated by mixing of genes, but I think everyone knows what I mean by that. The feelings of apparent surprise or discomfort that other characters exhibit upon encountering Olivia suggests that person of Olivia’s kind is not common in the novel’s internal context and that there is a big disagreement on where to put this foreigner in English socioeconomic hierarchy.
    As we talked about in class, various textual cues, such as the different kinds of language used by Dido and Olivia, seems to place Olivia somewhere above her servants and physical laborers. The novel’s portrayal of Dido, who seems content in her subservient position, is quite stereotypical. At the same time, Olivia is aware of the ways in which prejudice undermines her position. From subtle gestures of her husband and less subtle mockery from Mrs.Merton, she seems to understand that the right place for her doesn’t actually exist in this society which prescribes roles for virtually everyone (perhaps that’s why she feels nostalgia for Jamaica and eventually goes back?). Lastly, whether or not Olivia (or the writer of The Women of Colour) is conscientious of this problem, the Christian education with ideals such as equality and humanitarianism must be reconciled to the “Christian” context that doesn’t always live by those ideals. Olivia attempts to remind or indoctrinate of those ideals to a few, and she seems much less successful with Ms. Merton than with her son, which also stresses how critical education of youth might be.

  4. I agree with Sammy. Mary is now conscience of the inequality of her sex and her arbitrary position in the social hierarchy of the time. She describes her regrets as “weak” and “womanish.” She understands the negative connotation with these associations. Furthermore, her internal digestion of this awareness is seen through her reflections regarding her benefactor, “Does he mock the feelings, does he contemn the weakness, which his firmer mind repels?” Her curiosity towards his opinion of her suggests that she has already lowered herself in her own regard. Earlier in the reading he said, “amidst the vicissitudes and the calamites of life, a firm and an independent mind are an invaluable treasure and a never-failing support. The canker most pernicious to every virtue to every virtue is dependence (38)”.
    Her ability to process this power dynamic, most likely due to her education and to her heartbreak with William, is startling when only ten pages earlier she raves about her educational achievements, “We [William, Edmund, and Mary] continued to improve in stature and in knowledge: we received our lessons in common….I outstripped both my companions: with an active mind and an ardent curiosity, I conceived an enthusiastic love of science and literature.” She is capable of the same education despite the gap of two years in age; however, her shift in conscience, in respect to her position in life, alters her perspective greatly.

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