literary thought experiments of the 17th and 18th centuries
Discussion: Millennium Hall
by Patrick Smyth, PhD
“Hares and all sorts of game likewise abound here; so that with the help of a good dairy, perhaps no situation ever more amply afforded all the necessaries of life.” Consider Millennium Hall from the perspective of an eighteenth-century improver such as Repton. How are the grounds emblematic of “improvement” in this period? How do they attempt to improve on improvement?
“… so that instead of feeling the pain one might naturally receive from seeing the human form so disgraced, we were filled with admiration of the human mind, when so nobly exalted by virtue, as it is in the patronesses of these poor creatures …” Consider depictions of disability in Millennium Hall. How are the disabled servants and “dwarfs” instrumentalized? Are there parallels between depictions of the disabled and depictions of women?
What genres does Millennium Hall draw on outside of the Utopian tradition? Consider the novel in light of the gothic and the pastoral. What genre conventions are visible in Millennium Hall, and which are only present in vestigial form?
Consider Millennium Hall from the perspective of later movements driven by women, such as suffrage, temperance, and feminism. How does the novel prefigure these movements?
“Humble piety rendered her indifferent to circumstances which she looked upon rather as snares than blessings, and like a person on the brink of a precipice could not enjoy the beauty of the prospect, overawed by the dangers of her situation.” Beauty in the novel is, more often than not, a danger rather than a blessing. What function does beauty serve? How does it influence the heterosexual and female platonic relationships in Millennium Hall?
“As the ladies’ conduct in this particular was uncommon, I could not forbear telling them, that I was surprised to find so great encouragement given to matrimony by persons whose choice shewed them little inclined in its favour.” What is the role of matrimony (and heterosexual relationships in general) in Millennium Hall? If the novel is a condemnation of marriage, why does Scott defend the institution in certain passages? (”We consider matrimony as absolutely necessary to the good of society …”)
“If we had been inclined before to fancy ourselves on enchanted ground, when after being led through a large hall, we were introduced to the ladies … [O]ne was drawing figures, another a landscape, a third a perspective view, a fourth engraving, a fifth carving, a sixth turning in wood, a seventh writing, an eighth cutting out linen, another making a gown, and by them an empty chair and a tent, with embroidery, finely fancied, before it, which we afterwards found had been left by a young girl who was gone to practise on the harpsichord.” How do eighteenth-century conventions of female accomplishment legitimate the proceedings at Millennium Hall? What images—classical, Christian, mythological—serve to introduce the ladies? What is the atmosphere at the Hall, and what influences sustain it?