John Thelwall’s “spots of time” in The Daughter of Adoption

OGAWA, Kimiyo
Associate Professor
English Studies

John Thelwall’s The Daughter of Adoption (1801) is a novel advocating
humanitarian reform. The setting is the French colony of “St. Domingo”
where Seraphina, a white Creole has been adopted by an expatriate English
philosopher, Parkinson. She imbibes his radical principles, although
Thelwall has his heroine experience the limits of such idealism. Taking a
cue from the contemporary radicals, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft,
Thelwall extends the issues of social inequality to master-slave relations
in the West Indies. As Seraphina is brought to England, she comes to
understand the physiological “springs that set in motion that complicated
machine of the human heart” (259) due to the social disparity between
herself and her lover, Henry Montfort. Thelwall’s point is that this
physiological “motion” depends on the “vitality of the frame” that
constitute the material roots of sympathy — an embodied sympathy that is
severed from intentionality, material and contingent yet not wholly
passive. In this paper, I will examine how Thelwall’s The Daughter of
Adoption reiterates the themes of embodied subjectivity which was put
forward in his scientific Essay Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality
(1793) and ‘sketches of the heart’ in The Peripatetic (1793).



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