Detraction Displayed (1828)

The second of Opie’s volumes of moral essays, this work was her first substantial publication following the death of her father and her admission to the Society of Friends. Her preface “To the Reader” conveys not only her sense of loss, but also her growing sensitivity to the vices of the fashionable world that had been her milieu for so many years prior to becoming a Quaker:

“With more than usual self-distrust, I give this book to the world, and under circumstances of a new and trying nature. The voice of affectionate encouragement, which used to animate me to my task, I can hear no more; and when, from the force of habit, I have sometimes turned round, while writing, to ask as in former times for counsel and advice, I have been painfully reminded, that the judicious critic, as well as tender parent, was removed from me forever. But, I have the consolation of knowing, that should this work excite severe animadversion, he will not share in this expected pain;–I say “expected,” because detraction is as common as the air we breathe, and to some, from long indulgence in it, it is now almost as necessary; and an endeavour to substitute profitable discourse for talking-over and laughing at one’s friends and neighbours, will be thought nearly as cruel as to exclude the air necessary for respiration…” (i-ii).

Of particular interest is Chapter  12, “On some of the most prominent subjects of Detraction,” which offers a spirited defense against the derision leveled against women writers and intellectuals, noting that “though all persons who venture from the safe circles of private life into public competition, are liable to provoke envy and severity of observation, still, I believe that AUTHORESSES and BLUESTOCKINGS are amongst the favourite subjects of detraction in the private sphere in which they move” (240).


Ch.1 Introduction

Ch.2 On General and Particular Competition

Ch. 3 The subject continued

Ch.4 On the Pronoun Possessive

Ch. 5 The subject resumed

Ch. 6 On Precedence

Ch. 7 On Religious Contemplation

Ch. 8 On Detraction

Ch. 9 On the different classes of Detractors

Ch. 10 On Practical Detraction

Ch 11 On the Vocabulary of Detraction

Ch. 12 On some of the most prominent subjects of Detraction, Authoresses, Blue-Stockings, Medical men, Converts to serious Religion

Ch. 13 On Defamation

Ch. 14 On those most particularly exposed to Defamation

Ch. 15 Preventatives against Defamation

Ch. 16 Address to Religious Professors

Ch. 17 Address to the Younger Members of the Society of Friends

Ch. 18 Conclusion


Detraction Displayed. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green; Norwich: S.Wilkin, 1828.


Monthly Review; or Literary Journal, ns, 9 (1821): 280-1, 502-3.

The Friend, A Religious and Literary Journal, 1 (1828): 379-81, 86, 93-4, 402.