Sophia Goldborne finally had a chance at an exciting life when she was able to travel to Calcutta. Girls didn’t have many opportunities in the 18th century to have anything but an ordinary life even though they were given minimal education advances. It is quite evident that in her letters she has a condescending tone towards her supposed friend Arabella and is snarky when relaying her experience. Throughout all her letters there is a myriad of literature allusions and they get a bit tiresome, as she will through them in frequently. But if we look at the formal education young women were allowed to receive in the 18th century, English literature was high on the list as opposed to other subjects like politics. In many of her letters she doesn’t utter anything political or if she does it is just a surface remark, although she is in the midst of political tension in Calcutta at the time, which is odd. Perhaps that is why she fills her letters with literature references because that is all she knows. It can account for a plethora of things, like how many 16-year-old girls probably just aren’t interested in political agendas.
Did these English literary references even add anything to the letters? In discussion class on March 8th we close read an excerpt from Letter II in which Sophia belittles herself to Arabella’s level in order to describe the house. She remarks, “I will begin with the circumstances of my first arrival, and so contrive to temper, though I cannot, like Mr. Apollo, lay aside my rays, that your optics shall be enabled to contemplate, however brilliant, the dazzling objects I gradually open on your view” (7). She mentions Apollo, and formally adds a Mr. in front of his name as if she is on a first name basis with him, just to compare herself that she isn’t as humble as Apollo, even though most Greek gods were chaotic and solved problems emotionally rather than logically. We can’t assume the kind of education Arabella has received but if she is Sophia’s friend we can hope they have the same education, which means Sophia knows Arabella understands her references but must find other ways in order to show that she is superior to Arabella for specific reasons. It shows that although Sophia may be well educated in literature but she might just have nothing else going for her and no other education for her to flounce about. This is why Sophia uses so many references; perhaps she has a limited repertoire of skills to show how high class she is.
— Alison Vining