Dr Richard De Ritter

Dr Richard De Ritter

Lecturer in the Long Eighteenth Century

+44(0) 113 343 2691

Summary: Eighteenth-century constructions of gender; educational and conduct literature; the representation of the domestic.

Research Interests

My teaching and research activities mainly focus on the literature and culture of the eighteenth century and Romantic period. I am especially interested in women’s writing, particularly in relation to debates about education, childhood, and domesticity.

My book, Imagining Women Readers, 1789-1820 (Manchester University Press, 2014), explores the social and cultural significance of women’s reading. While much has been written on the moral panic provoked by the novel-reading woman, I argue that rather than an unproductive leisure activity reading was depicted as a mode of symbolic labour. This allowed me to identify the emergence of an alternative figure: a self-regulating reader, who possesses both moral and cultural authority. The book focuses on a range of writers: from Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft to Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen.

My next book-length project takes my work on reading and education in a different direction. Provisionally entitled Domesticating Wonder: Women Writing for Children, 1750-1830, it examines the shifting conceptualisation of ‘wonder’ within children’s literature. Traditionally, it has been argued that as the eighteenth century grew to a close ‘wonder’ was expelled from works aimed at children, to be replaced by modes of writing pejoratively characterised as ‘dry’, ‘didactic’, and ‘rational’. By contrast, I suggest that wonder was redefined rather than eradicated within this period. Instead of being produced by that which defies categorisation, wonder was linked to the careful observation, and subsequent comprehension, of one’s local environment. Drawing upon systematic modes of Enlightenment thought, writers such as John Aikin and Anna Barbauld, Priscilla Wakefield, Charlotte Smith and Elizabeth Helme employed rationalised, domesticated forms of wonder to show children how their lives are implicated within a range of economic, environmental, and ethical networks. In this context, a sense of wonder leads to a nascent form of (eco)cosmopolitanism: it is a route to engagement, rather than escapism. So far, this project has led me to develop an interest in animal studies: a field of criticism that I find increasingly stimulating and which has found its way into my teaching via my option module ‘Where the Wild Things Are: Animals in Children’s Literature’.

Within the School of English, I co-organise the Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Seminar along with Dr Jeremy Davies. I am also Tutor for the undergraduate Final Year Project module.



Civil War and Restoration Literature

Eighteenth-Century Literature

Gender, Culture, Politics: Readings of Jane Austen

Public/Private Negotiations: Gender and the Separate Spheres, 1760-1825

Where the Wild Things Are: Animals in Children’s Literature


The Literature of Crisis: Politics and Gender in 1790s Britain

Recent Activities

In March 2013, I organised a two-day international conference, entitled ‘Home and Nation: Reimagining the Domestic, 1750-1850’. It saw participants from the US, Europe, and the UK present a range of papers at the School of English here at Leeds. Other recent conference participation includes:

‘A sense of Wonder: Looking and Learning in Writing for Children, 1790-1810’, presented by invitation at the School of English Research Seminar, Queen’s University Belfast, November 2014.

‘“Guided by Instinct”: John Aikin’s “The Transmigrations of Indur” and the Limits of Reason’, presented at Reading Animals, University of Sheffield, July 2014.

‘Rational Beings and the Brute Creation: Animal Perspectives in Evenings at Home’, presented at the NASSR International Conference, University of Boston, August 2013.

‘“I often pity poor Augusta”: Corrective Conversation in Late-Eighteenth-Century Dialogues for Children’, presented at Pride and Prejudices: Women’s Writing of the Long Eighteenth Century, Chawton House Library, July 2013.

‘The Life and Educational Writing of Elizabeth Hamilton, 1756-1816’; a public lecture, presented by invitation at Chawton House Library, May 2013.

'Domesticating Wonder: Late-Eighteenth-Century Children’s Literature and the Home', presented at The Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies Research Seminar, University of York, February 2013.

'Redefining the "sphere of feminine action": Domestic Prospects in the work of Priscilla Wakefield', presented at the NASSR International Conference, Université de Neuchâtel, August 2012.

I have also undertaken a range of public engagement activities, including:

A guided reading group on Jane Austen's Persuasion, Ilkley Literature Festival, October 2013.

‘The Life and Educational Writing of Elizabeth Hamilton, 1756-1816’; a public lecture, presented by invitation at Chawton House Library, Hampshire, May 2013.

Podcast: ‘“A Dead Silence”: Reading Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park’; a JISC-funded podcast, recorded by The English Faculty, May 2012

Selected Publications

Imagining Women Readers, 1789-1820: Well-Regulated Minds (Manchester University Press, 2014).

'Female Philosophers and the Comprehensive View: Elizabeth Hamilton's Letters on the Elementary Principles of Education', European Romantic Review, 23:6 (2012), 689-705.

'Reading "Voyages and Travels": Jane West, Patriotism and the Reformation of Female Sensibility', Romanticism, 17:2 (2011), 240-250.

'"This Changeableness in Character": Exploring Masculinity and Nationhood on James Boswell's Grand Tour', Scottish Literary Review, 2:1 (Spring/Summer 2010), 23-40.

'"Leisure to be Wise": Edgeworthian Education and the Possibilities of Domesticity', Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 33:3 (2010), 313-333.

'"In Their Newest Gloss": William Hazlitt on Reading, Gender, and the Problems of Print Culture', The Hazlitt Review, 3 (2010), 25-37.