In 1795, novelist Isabella Kelly (ca. 1759–1857) sent a plea for financial help to Warren Hastings (1732–1818), the first British governor-general of India, who had known her late father-in-law. Six years later, her Minerva Press novel Ruthinglenne, or, the Critical Moment (1801) included a scene in which a widowed woman novelist asks for the help of a senior East India official and is rudely rebuffed. Was Kelly writing about her real-life exchange with Hastings, and if so, what might she have been hoping to achieve? The essay attempts to answer these questions in a speculative argument that examines Ruthinglenne's straddling of fact and fiction; by analyzing both the novel and its paratexts, I propose that Kelly's fictional encoding of fact would have been obvious to at least some of her readers. The case of Ruthinglenne, I further argue, lends support to recent critical claims regarding the overlooked richness of Minerva novels, and demonstrates the need to round out our historical understanding of neglected women writers through combined textual and biographical research.
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Research Article| April 01 2022
Yael Shapira; Somebody's Complaint: Isabella Kelly, Warren Hastings, and the Strange Case of Ruthinglenne. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 April 2022; 46 (2): 113–142. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-9664436
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