London: Printed by A. Strahan, 1802. Item #03711
Jane West's Attack on Atheism
"An Overcharged Picture of the Vanity, Extravagance, and Self-Importance"
[WEST, Mrs. Jane]. The Infidel Father; By the author of "A Tale of the Times," "A Gossip's Story," &c. In three volumes. London: Printed by A. Strahan, 1802.
First edition. Three small octavo volumes (6 1/4 x 4 inches; 159 x 101 mm.). iv, 306 pp; [ii, blank], iii-viii, 345, [1, advertisements] pp; iv, 346 pp.
Bound ca. 1802 by Jacques of Chichester (with his binders ticket on the front paste-down of volume one) in quarter brown calf over marbled boards with vellum tips. Smooth spines decoratively tooled in gilt with a 'feather' design, red morocco labels lettered in gilt (label on volume two replaced). Light wear to joints and spine extremities, still an excellent and untouched (apart from one spine label) set in its original 'provincial' binding.
"The particular design of the present work is, to shew [sic] the superiority which religious principle possesses, when compared with a sense of honour, moral fitness, or a love of general applause. The story is confessedly subordinate to this aim; and those who dislike it will observe, that the argumentative part is not affected by the faults of the narrative. The episodal characters have a use besides relieving the sombrous hue of the principal personages. I wish they may be considered as an overcharged picture of the vanity, extravagance, and self-importance, that for some years infected the middle class of society, threatening destruction to the sound sense, decent propriety, and manly virtues of this most important portion of the community." (Introduction).
Jane West (1758–1852), who published as Prudentia Homespun and Mrs. West, was an English novelist, poet, playwright, and writer of conduct literature and educational tracts.
In 1800 she wrote to the man of letters Thomas Percy, bishop of Dromore, seeking his patronage and describing herself as self-instructed and interested in poetry from an early age. By 1783 she was married to Thomas West (d. 1823), a yeoman farmer of Little Bowden, Leicestershire. Jane West benefited from the acquaintance with Bishop Percy, whom she visited in 1810, although her literary connections were never extensive. She corresponded with Sarah Trimmer and wrote a series of poems in praise of women writers: Trimmer, Elizabeth Carter, Charlotte Turner Smith, whom she visited in Ireland and Anna Seward.
West's writing is consistently conservative and didactic, but she did advocate expanding the education for women. Her works serve as a counterpoint to the revolutionary politics of the day: A Tale of the Times (1799) is anti-Jacobin; The Infidel Father (1802) attacks atheism; and one of her conduct texts, Letters to a Young Lady, "forms an ideological counterpart to Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Though she was called "strident," her writing was popular in its day for its "improving" qualities. Letters to a Young Man (1801), for example, went through six editions by 1818. Her poems appeared in journals and anthologies and she was a long standing contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine.
Today she is best known as the author of a novel that served as a source text for Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811). West's A Gossip’s Story (1796), like Austen’s novel, features two sisters, one full of rational sense and the other of romantic, emotive sensibility. West’s romantic sister shares the same name as Austen’s: Marianne. There are further textual similarities, described in Looser et al. ed's Valancourt Classics edition of the novel (2015). Austen, like Shakespeare before her, significantly reworked West’s plot and characters to suit her own vision.
NCBEL III, 772.