"A woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs," Dr. Johnson pronounced. "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." The prejudice embodied in this remark has persisted over time, impeding any proper assessment of the female preaching tradition and its role in shaping social and literary discourse. The Reader's Repentance recovers this tradition, and in doing so revises the history of nineteenth-century women's writing.
Christine L. Krueger persuasively argues that Evangelical Christianity, by assuming the spiritual equality of women and men and the moral superiority of middle-class women, opened a space for the linguistic empowerment of women and fostered the emergence of women orators and writers who, in complex and contradictory ways, became powerful public figures. In the light of unpublished or long out-of-print writing by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women preachers, Krueger shows how these women drew on religious language to critique forms of male domination, promote female political power, establish communities of women, and, most significantly, feminize social discourse. She traces the legacy of these preachers through the work of writers as diverse as Hannah More, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot—women who, despite political differences, shared an evangelical strategy for placing women's concerns on the social agenda of their time.
Documenting and analyzing the tradition of women's preaching as a powerful and distinctly feminist force in the development of nineteenth-century social fiction, The Reader's Repentance reconstitutes a significant chapter in the history of women and culture. This original work will be of interest to students of women's history, literature, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century society.