In Discipline (1814), the Scottish novelist Mary Brunton created one of the first intentionally flawed heroines in anglophone fiction. Ellen Percy’s fictional autobiography tracks her development from spoiled, selfish schoolgirl to respectable wife and mother, as through suffering and dedicated effort her character is transformed. Arguably the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse, Ellen’s fictional journey is as moral as it is physical, combining traditions of spiritual autobiography with the tropes of sentimental literature.
Discipline’s literary impact is only now being recognised, but we can see the influence of the unlikeable Ellen Percy in Austen’s ‘heroine whom no one but myself will much like’. In this talk I discuss the process of restoring Brunton's novel for the Chawton House Novels series and explain how this remarkable novel went overlooked for so long.
Dr Olivia Murphy works on British literature and culture of the long eighteenth century, with a particular interest in women's writing, novels, and the relationship between literature and science. She is the author of Jane Austen the Reader: The Artist as Critic (2013), the editor of Mary Brunton's 1814 novel Discipline (2018) and the co-editor of Anna Letitia Barbauld: New Perspectives (2013) and Romantic Climates: Literature and Science in an Age of Catastrophe (2019). She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the English Department at the University of Sydney.