To be a heroine is to be beautiful—such has been the unstated assumption from the time of chivalric romance to that of Harlequin romance. But this ideology of ‘the beauty myth’ was challenged as early as 1801 with the publication of this extraordinary epistolary novel-romance.
Something New explores sexual roles and questions with subtlety and astonishingly modern insight the prevailing ‘rights’ of men over women, and their respective attitudes towards one another. The book explores how issues of beauty, femininity and self-support are central to the main character, Olivia, and her suitor Lionel. Lionel, who has always been ‘the devoted slave of beauty,’ becomes convinced that marriage to the ‘proverbially plain’ Olivia will lead them to ‘a little paradise on earth.’ Do they attain this paradise? The resolution to this romance retains the power to surprise the reader as much today as it did when Something New was first published.
“Plumptre’s creation of a physically unattractive heroine is indeed ‘something new.’ Her innovation in this epistolary novel also extends beyond the characterization of Olivia to the models of masculinity, sentimental and satiric, so tellingly grouped around her. McLeod’s skillful edition includes a thought-provoking compendium of 18th-century views of beauty and ugliness.” — Jennifer Thorn, Duke University
“A wonderful novel. A highly accomplished book, fresh and relevant to feminist debates today.” — Isobel Grundy, co-editor of The Feminist Companion to English Literature