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By Ana Marie Cox

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31 By good domestic practice they were fitted to become ‘able instruments in the promotion of public and private good’, at a time when capitalism threatened to eclipse moral life. 32 Her vision of women’s influence, the nation’s spiritual sustenance, extending in ever-widening circles to its colonies, presented a paradox of secluded, feminine domesticity that encompassed masculine, public life. 36 It is no accident that biography became increasingly popular with middle-class audiences in the 1820s and 1830s when an ideological discourse of domesticity 31 The Women of England, 18.

59. 27 Ibid. 78. 28 Wordsworth’s fantasy of biography as a universal language of love, rising above the marketplace to affirm the transcendence of the biographical subject, is also, clearly, defensive. 29 In the ‘Essays Upon Epitaphs’ idealized, epitaphic biography is always threatened by a counter-vision of the destructive reality of modern biography. The third ‘Essay Upon Epitaphs’ discusses the importance of sincerity in the language of epitaph and contemplates the damage done by insincere epitaph.

Iii–iv. Biography and Domestic Life 21 was exemplary; and, united to a man twenty years older than herself, she made his constant happiness. As a mother, she was exquisitely tender. 52 By the time Hays was writing, there was an established tradition in collective female biography of modelling an ideal of domesticated womanhood for the emulation of female readers. The Biographium Faemineum (1766), an alphabetical collection of short ‘Lives’ of ‘Illustrious Ladies’, claimed to enhance the reader’s own virtues through the lessons of female biography.

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