Female quixotism and the novel: Character and plausibility, honesty and fidelity

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Abstract

Verisimilitude (probability, plausibility) began to be cited in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries as the feature that distinguished the novel from the other narrative genres of romance and history. Observing that verisimilitude was borrowed from neoclassical dramatic theory, and defined in terms of (gendered) character typologies, I argue that the decorum of dramatic verisimilitude was specially implicated in the decorum of female honor. I explore the much-discussed shift in the European discourse around gender and sex during the same period, and the connection others have established between that and the emergence of the modern novel, as a shift from "honesty" to "fidelity." Specifically, I examine this shift in the context of verisimilitude and the fictional representation of gendered and interiorized character in the European novel. With reference to Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, David Hume's History of England, and Mme de Lafayette's La Princesse de Clèves, I suggest that the aesthetic paradox of the quixotic figure in the early novel, and "female quixotism" in particular, performed, rather than directly representing or reflecting, this shift in the decorum of femininity from honesty to fidelity. In the process quixotism helped produce the effect of psychological interiority so often associated with the novel, by performing a gesture of internalizing moral norms that had traditionally been imposed from without.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-269
Number of pages21
JournalEighteenth Century
Volume52
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities

Keywords

  • Aristotle
  • Character
  • Clarissa
  • David Hume
  • Decorum
  • Drama
  • Female quixotism
  • Femininity
  • History
  • Ian Watt
  • Interiority
  • Jane Austen
  • La Princesse de Clèves
  • Mme de Lafayette
  • Northanger Abbey
  • Plausibility
  • Poetics
  • Probability
  • Quixote
  • Quixotism
  • Romance
  • Samuel Richardson
  • Sympathy
  • fidelity
  • gender
  • honesty
  • honor
  • novel
  • realism
  • verisimilitude

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