English Language and Literature
This essay examines prudence in Charlotte Lennox’s novel, Henrietta (1758). The novel’s protagonist, Henrietta, matures as she fights to become an independent woman, exploring choices beyond the two socially acceptable ones offered to her: marrying for financial stability or becoming a Catholic nun. Henrietta is unwilling to denounce her personal beliefs to please her upper-class family, and as a young woman living in eighteenth-century Britain, she breaks societal barriers by taking a job as a housemaid. She is ambitious but humble. Her journey is punctuated by inner conflicts that test and hone her sense of prudence. Her entire life is guided by prudence. Henrietta is not perfect as a model heroine only because she is a runaway, but her conviction on high moral values is inviolable. The novel embraces prudence as Henrietta’s ability to make sensible life decisions where her humility outweighs vanity. Also, regret and remorse appear in the heroine’s life through her decisions that often seem degrading to her social status. Henrietta’s strength demonstrates Lennox’s use of the rise in companionate marriage and the debate pro-education for young ladies, especially when the novel genre was just beginning to have an impact in literature and was largely read by women. Henrietta is a predecessor to many bildungsroman novels, and in many ways, Lennox sets the standard for the genre.