English Literature & Status: A Display through Gibbes’s Hartly House

English literature was just starting to become a primary symbol of status, one that served as a trophy of sorts, not simply regarding material wealth but rather one of intelligence. Sophia Goldburn seems to follow this social drive to constantly reference and allude to others’ works, on some occasions as a method of validation and reinforcement. Though Phebe Gibbes’s was concerned with extinguishing a bias against indigenous Indians in her work of Hartly House, there is still a typical sense of the scholarly English(wo)man, Sophia seems to represent the very expectations of what an intellectual should be, familiar with so much literature of their homeland.

This desire for an outside source as light manner of validating her statement, can be seen through a certain passage on page 68, where she uses Rev. Edward Young’s satirical work, Love of Fame…, to add emphasis to a warning. This warning is one she gives to her friend whom will see a rise in status through marriage, and though Sophia congratulates her, she uses the following as a summary of why she shouldn’t be too interested in her newly found material gain: “Can wealth give happiness ?—look round and see – What gay distress. what splendid misery!” (68). Through the short lines, Sophia can give this warning against using luxury as a main tool towards happiness, that though indeed wealth does bring “gay” and “splendid” gifts, “misery” and “distress” will still lie in the background, tainting these pleasures if unanswered through more personal, genuine means. This essentially leads to this notion of remaining modest, of fulfilling one’s emptiness through more righteous means rather than to simply fill it with materialistic worth. Sophia could have just as easily said something similar on her own, but she didn’t and continues this pattern of reference towards older works, notably only after she generates her statement, just as if she were using it as a conclusive validation for her claims.

Phebe Gibbes seems to use this to showcase two major aspects of the English literature of her time. The first regards this necessity to quote everything from classic and popular texts, to prove one’s intellectual worth through the worth of another, more renowned person. There seems to be this odd notion of a chain of reference, authors quote older, more known authors, who do the same, and even those continue to do the same. It doesn’t seem to be a criticism, rather more of a display. There is something different about Sophia, which brings me to the second aspect that Gibbes has portrayed. It is the fact that Sophia is a woman citing and referencing herself just as an educated man would, displaying herself just as capable of having the same library of literary expertise as any man could. Although the Hartly House aimed to clear the air of Indian bias, it still displayed what English literature was for its time: a source of evidence, a work capable of serving as a validator, and ultimately, as proof of one’s intellect.

-William Fernandez


2 thoughts on “English Literature & Status: A Display through Gibbes’s Hartly House

  1. wonderful post! The issue about gender needs to be emphasized further–the idea of English literature as proof of women’s intellectual abilities, although, in the case of Sophia, this proof is cast in an ironic light.


  2. I like how you focus on the desire to prove herself. This can be further expanded by understanding her role as a woman and what that adds or enlightens for that struggle to be validated. Sophia is in a new land which she is unfamiliar with and yet, clings to what she learned before, why do you think this is?

    Great Post!


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