This chapter argues that the early novels of Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Smith, published in 1788 and 1789, explore discourses of gender and individuality in circulation before the French Revolution. These writers, whose work is usually positioned alongside the more explicitly radical 1790s, demonstrate a deep engagement with the social, cultural and political realities of women’s lives before the final decade of the century. Smith’s Emmeline (1788) and her under-studied second novel, Ethelinde (1789) contain increasingly confident assertions of autonomy from her eponymous protagonists; Wollstonecraft’s Mary, A Fiction (1788) offers an explicitly self-aware experiment with a ‘new kind of heroine’. Avoiding the pitfalls of infamy or exceptionality that attended women’s struggles for individuality throughout the eighteenth century, both authors’ protagonists negotiate their independence within, rather than apart from, community.