ENL 6236 – Eighteenth-Century Novel and Theory                                        Dr. Runge


1/30                 Popular Fiction by Women, 1660-1730 (Intro, Behn, Manley, Barker and Aubin)


                        Post #3



The readings for this week incorporate a wide range of styles and subjects.  From the political roman à clef to the infidel adventure tale and various shades of amorous stories, these “novels” test the limits of the genre.  Most of these writings were written prior to Robinson Crusoe (Aubin’s Count Vinevil excepted), and so can be considered early novels.  All were written by women.  Given these factors, let us consider where they fall in the taxonomic and dialectical categories of the novel we have been studying.  By what aesthetic criteria shall we judge them?  What content issues arise?



I.                    Introduction


“What we now think of as the main tradition of the novel as exemplified by the canonical male masters is, strictly speaking, the initiation and imposition of a culturally superior form of a certain kind of fiction.  Both in terms of their numerical presence in the literary market-place and their influence upon the full blown novel promulgated by Richardson and Fielding, women’s fiction is the most important narrative produced from 1680 to 1740” (x).


How do the editors of this volume account for the history of criticism of eighteenth-century novels?  What treatment have the women writers received?  How does this anthology respond to new trends – new imperatives – in the field?  To what extent does this claim (and the anthology itself) alter the perception of a “culturally superior form of a certain kind of fiction” or the “full blown novel promulgated by Richardson and Fielding”?


The editors quote Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary definition for the novel: “a small tale, generally of love” (quoted xi).  To what extent does this definition do justice to the novels you have read for this week?


What are some of the reasons they provide for why these popular and numerous novels fell out of literary history?  How have critical conditions changed to favor the study of these novels?


The editors address each of the novel theorists that we are studying in this class.  What place do the women writers hold in their respective theories?


On McKeon: “To be sure, for feminist critics the kind of importance McKeon attaches to women’s fiction, however complex and dialectical is insufficient (even a bit condescending) and falls far short of evoking the special power and relevance (and pathos) of women’s narratives” (xiv).


How does this stand differ – essentially – from what the editors themselves propose as the value of this writing?


What is the significance of amatory fiction (cf. Ros Ballaster on page xiv)?  How adequate is the term “amatory fiction” for describing the narratives for today?


Like McKeon, these editors focus on the problems these fictions represent and the question as to whether or not they solve dilemmas in a satisfactory way.  Evaluate the generalization that women writers tend to “present a tragic absolutism at work in social and moral circumstances that pushes them to narrate the inevitable effects without possibility of satisfactory resolution” (xvi).


Examine each narrative with respect to the strategies for representing the following:  women’s sexuality, women’s anger, female double-vision (see page xvii).


II.                 Aphra Behn’s The History of the Nun; Or, the Fair-Vow Breaker (1689)


For each of the stories, place it in historical context and summarize the content by recording setting, characters, conflicts and outcome.


Comment on the dedication to Duchess of Mazarine.  To what extent does this situate Behn in the movement from patronage to market place?


How do you evaluate Behn’s claim that the story is true? (“as it is on the records of the town where it was transacted.” )


Villenoys treats Isabella quite well:  “When she would go abroad, she had her coaches rich and gay and her livery ready to attend her in all the splendor imaginable; and he was always buying one rich jewel or necklace or some great rarity or other that might please her; so that there was nothing her soul could desire which it had not, except the assurance of eternal happiness, which she labored incessantly to gain” (33). 

Evaluate the juxtaposition of worldly considerations with pious goals.  How might you read this given the theories about capitalism and Protestantism in the early novel?  What does “labor” signify in the passage?


“Aphra Behn’s The History of the Nun, for instance, can easily be read as a troubling allegory about making and keeping vows that concludes with an absurdist  Aesopean moral parodying the impractical commandment of successive governments: never break a vow” (xv).  To what extent is this satisfactory?  What value does the story hold as political allegory?  How does this compare with amatory fiction?  What other strategies are available to make sense of this story?  What role does violence play?  How is justice achieved?


III.               Mary Delarivière Manley’s History of Queen Zarah (1705)


Comment on the fact that the pretense to fiction (and not claims to historicity) save Manley from prosecution in the later case of the New Atalantis.


Evaluate the introduction in terms of a theory of fiction.  What is the relationship between the intro and the “novel” that follows?


How would you describe the story’s structure?  Plot?  Characterization? 


To what extent does Johnson’s definition of the novel apply here?


In terms of purpose and craft, what problems does a thinly veiled political satire raise for considerations of the novel?  How is the purpose similar or different?  How is the craft?


Evaluate the ending of the piece.  Why might Manley end with a tribute to Queen Anne’s clemency? 


IV.              Jane Barker’s Love Intrigues (1713)


The editors for this volume claim that this story “has already achieved nearly canonical status” (xix).  What does this mean? 

They praise the story for its ability to move smoothly from the heroine’s inner life to the externals of her world acting upon her (xix).  Is there something inherent in the text to make it more “canonical” than the others?


Like the others, this story has political roots, with its author’s clear Catholic and Jacobite loyalties and the setting at James II’s home in exile.  How do the politics of this story compare with the two previous?


Note that Barker includes a Dedication and an Introduction.  Evaluate her use of these conventions.  What purposes do they serve?


What prompts the telling of the story?  What is the relationship between the “little novel” and the grand politics of European war and succession? (83)


Examine the representation of celibacy as an option for women and its relation to a life of writing.


Again, we have the representation of murderous women.  How does Barker employ the image?  What purpose does it serve?  How does the tale contain women’s anger and how does this compare with Behn’s History of the Nun?


This narrative – praised for its unity – employs a clear framing device.  Evaluate the frame story – of two female friends in conversation.  Why does Lucasia blame Galesia for not consulting her mother?  Interpret the feminocentric authority of the story.  How does this female environment solve the dilemma of the “bizarre” and “unaccountable” behavior of Bosvil?


V.                 Penelope Aubin’s The Adventures of the Count de Vinevil (1721)


Examine the traces of both the “amatory” novel and the “travel narrative” that influence Aubin’s popular tale.  What features are present?  How do they interact in the tale?  Where do they conflict?


The editors suggest that this story is the best example of strictly popular fiction.  What is at issue in this claim?  How do we evaluate “popular” fiction?  What strategies do they suggest in the introduction?  What are the significant patterns or conventions that emerge that tell us something of the culture that apparently desired this tale?


Evaluate Aubin’s design in her “Preface to the Reader.”  How does she make the need to delight and instruct urgent and new?  To what extent is it?  What method does she assign? 


Note how Ardelisa’s virtue (and in a far different way Violetta’s) become the center of the story.  Who or what controls the fate of virtue?  Examine the status of each woman’s virtue and the arguments or conflicts – or simply discussion – that surround it.  How might McKeon’s arguments be applied here (or alternatively, what does the story suggest about McKeon’s argument that needs alteration)?


Examine the issues of class – nobility, trade, servants, slaves, second sons – as they are highlighted in the context of foreign environments.


Again, the image of a murderous woman arises.  Compare this with the earlier representations.


Closing lines of the story refer to the role of Providence: “Thus Divine Providence, whom they confided in, tried their faith and virtue with many afflictions and various misfortunes.  And in the end rewarded them according to their merit, making them most happy and fortunate” (151). 

What is “happy” about this ending?  What justice has Providence meted?  Compare this with the claims of McKeon, that poetic justice came to replace divine justice.