Femininity and national identity: Elizabeth Montagu's trip to France

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In November 1776, Elizabeth Montagu, author and literary hostess, wrote from France to her friend the Scottish poet and scholar James Beattie: If I have reaped any better advantage from my excursion it is a stronger sense of the felicity of living under a free Government & Religion rational & pure. The principles which most elevate and enoble the human character are piety and patriotism, these can never exist in their genuine state in a Land of slavery & Superstition.1 Here, Montagu speaks of the "felicity of living under a free Government" that she shares with Beattie as a Protestant Briton: a powerful shared identity, yet one which was under constant debate during the eighteenth century. As historians such as Linda Colley and Kathleen Wilson have argued, the definition of a Briton was often a contingent and volatile question, shaped by religion, class, and region.2 Montagu's imagined community of letter-writers—which included many Scottish Enlightenment philosophers, and extended well beyond its core of London authors, clergymen, politicians, and society figures—forms a version of polite Britain, self-consciously literary, religious, and patriotic.3
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)901-918
Number of pages18
JournalEnglish Literary History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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