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Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)
English (Arts and Sciences)
Date of Defense
First Committee Member
Tassie Gwilliam - Committee Chair
Second Committee Member
John Paul Russo - Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Pamela Hammons - Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Maria Galli Stampino - Outside Committee Member
This dissertation explores the surprising intersections among women's scandalous fiction and other popular genres in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England. I use the term "women's scandalous fiction" to refer to the illicit tales of seduction authored by Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood. Women's scandalous fiction has consistently been viewed, both by contemporary readers and writers and modern critics, as a distinct genre: contemporary writers explicitly distance their works from its illicit and immoral content and modern critics continue to focus on the transgressive aspects of the works to the exclusion of other considerations. Challenging earlier critics whose analyses rely on the superficial qualities of these texts, in this dissertation I emphasize the ideological consistency that aligns women's scandalous fiction with other popular prose genres of this period. This comparative work reveals a consistent ideal of moderation and restraint-across eighteenth-century genres-that evidences a larger cultural belief in the value of regulating sexual desire. Chapter one establishes the mutability of genre categories in the early eighteenth century in contrast to the narrow specificity of genre definitions constructed as a result of the modern critical "origins of the novel" debate. This chapter shows that, while modern genre distinctions are theoretically useful, it is important to recognize that contemporary readers of the early novel had different and significantly broader ways of categorizing genre. I also discuss eighteenth-century attitudes about gender and genre, and I highlight the importance these attitudes have for understanding the ideological connections among texts in the period. In chapter two I compare women's moral fiction with immoral fiction and argue that, though these genres differ in the nature and degree of their sexualized discourse, both genres convey an implicit critique of failed patriarchal influence. Using self-proclaimed moral fictions-Penelope Aubin's The Strange Adventures of Count de Vinevil and Jane Barker's Love's Intrigues-and stigmatized immoral, scandalous fiction-Behn's The History of the Nun and Haywood's The City Jilt-I argue that many of these texts idealize female self-restraint and hold father figures responsible for women's capacity to perform this model of female identity. Chapter three compares Haywood's Fantomina: or, Love in Maze and Manley's New Atalantis with two English translations of French pornographic texts, The School of Venus and Venus in the Cloister, and explores the ways in which differing patterns of sexual discourse construct surprising ideals of femininity; specifically, analysis of narratives of seduction shows that both genres defer power at moments of sexual encounters to the man, allowing the ideal of feminine passivity to prevail. Chapter four moves to popular periodical papers by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele that construct an ideology of the aesthetic subject that parallels libertine ideology; I argue that the similar constructions of libertine and aesthetic pleasure in Addison and Steele's The Spectator, Addison's "Pleasures of the Imagination" essays, Haywood's Love in Excess, and Behn's Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister are underpinned by the same hegemonic systems of patriarchal authority that govern the ideological constructions of gender discussed throughout this dissertation. Ultimately, the analysis in these chapters shows that we should continue to question the degree to which Haywood, Manley, and Behn are "scandalous writers" whose works challenge dominant eighteenth-century discourses about gender. By instead recognizing the ideological intersections among these texts and "moral" texts of the period, we can see the ways in which these writers engaged with dominant discourses about gender in complex ways.
Amatory; Scandalous; Genre; Erotic; Eighteenth Century; Women; Haywood; Gender
Caputo, Terra, "Love and Excess? Women's Scandalous Fiction and the Discourse of Gender, 1680-1730" (2009). Open Access Dissertations. 349.