ENL 6236 Eighteenth Century Women Writers                   Spring 2009


Mar. 2     Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote

            Recommended:  Jones, chapter 1, “Writings on education and conduct: arguments for female improvement” by Katherine Sutherland


            Presentations:               Kristen King



We will be discussing the novel in its entirety for this class.  Please read the excellent introduction by Margaret Doody and the short and informative appendix by Duncan Isles.  Please also read the chapter in Jones on women’s educational writers by Sutherland; it provides good background for the discussion of conduct book ideals in contrast to arguments for female rationality and so illuminates some constructions of femininity with which Lennox concerns her story.





In many ways, this novel offers comparisons and contrasts with Betsy Thoughtless in being an examination of courtship and issues of female power.  Note the ways in which the novels share certain preoccupations – delaying marriage, resisting courtship, displaying or theatricalizing female power through beauty and gallantry, educating the young woman to accept (resign herself) to her proper role as wife.  How do Lennox and Haywood differ in their representations and to what effect?  (How is Arabella different from Betsy?)


Provocative question:  why do poets uncompromisingly represent the hardships and unattractive nature of courtship and marriage whereas novels capitulate to the status quo?


What is the relationship between property and courtship in The Female Quixote?  What role does property play in undermining the romance illusion of Arabella?


“[T]he most extravagant Compliments being what she expected from all Men:  And, provided they did not directly presume to tell her they loved her, no Sort of Flattery or Adulation could displease her” (118).  Note that the novel represents two systems of gallantry – that based in the seventeenth-century French Romances (loosely based on Ancients) and that based on the custom of eighteenth-century society.  What differences does Lennox highlight?  What is the significance of the gaps?


Examine the representation of female beauty in the novel.  How significant is Arabella’s personal beauty?  What role does it play in her relationship with Miss Glanville?  How does Arabella feel about her beauty?  How does the representation of female beauty in the novel compare with that in the poetry by women, such as LMWM or Leapor, for instance?


What role does male violence play in the narrative?  How does Arabella’s view of violence differ from those around her?  What instances of “real” violence occur in the novel?  How is Glanville’s character implicated by his actual and threatened duels?  What role does violence play in Arabella’s conversion?  How might we square these representations of violence with Hume’s view of modern gallantry as an enlightened substitute for unmitigated male violence?


In what way does Arabella’s romance illusions shape class distinctions?  How does this conflict with the order of class hierarchy in her world?  What privileges does she gain by her aristocratic status?  What are the implications?


Arabella’s “foible” is fundamentally unintelligible to most people she meets, which forces them to interpret her according to different registers of meaning.  For example, many people attribute her odd behaviors to a “rustic” education in the country.  What are some of the other registers of meaning used to render Bella intelligible – madness/sanity, class privilege?  Given that her actions and language become perfectly understandable when one recognizes her context, what are the implications for these mistaken interpretations?  For instance, why do people consistently refer to her as a rustic?  Or mad?


Analyze the representation of the country versus London or “the world” as it relates to Arabella.  How does this differ from the representation of the country as pure retreat in Betsy Thoughtless?


How important is Cervantes’ literary precedent to the success of the parody in this novel?  Why?


Many readers of the novel see Lennox’s representation of the Romances as pure satire aimed at ridding culture of the nuisance that reading such fictions produces (note Doody’s very different reading).  What role does reading, and the reading female in particular, play in this novel?  Does this novel belong in the class of anti-novel discourse?  Does the novel suggest that reading novels/romances turn a woman’s brain?


Language is a central concern in Arabella’s world, and in the novel various social languages – idioms – come into conflict and compete for meaning in the sense of Bahktin’s dialogism.  Note how the language of politeness, patriarchal law (320-21), Christianity (328) and class compete with the language of Romance.  Where does this dialogism produce confusion?  Where does it produce humor?  What are the implications?  (Think, for example, of the words “adventure,” “protection,” “virtue,” “quality,” “crime,” “hero”).


In what ways does the novel interrogate the notion of history?  How do Romances revise history?  In what circumstances of the novel does romance conflict with history and what are the outcomes?  (See Book 7 chap. 3)  How is personal history different from gossip in the moral, epistemological and empirical senses?  (274, for example) Who has the right or ability to narrate history?  (See in particular Book III chap. V, pp. 121+) To what extent is this gendered?


Note Sir George’s “damn’d slip” in his narrative and its unexpected outcome (252).


Given Arabella’s vast desire for female friendship in this novel, what prohibits her friendship with Miss Glanville?  What does the representation of this particular female relationship suggest?  How might we understand this representation in light of what Staves and Backscheider have said about eighteenth-century discourses on female friendship (and the significance of the female friendship poem)?


Doody writes that the Countess’s pattern of non-history for women (327) “acts as an ironically presented ideal in the novel” (xi).  Agree or disagree?


Lennox engages in some literary criticism through Arabella’s critique of raillery (268) and satire (277).  How does this represent changes in taste at mid-century?


Doody highlights the economic hardship Lennox faced even as a married woman that pushed her into publishing.  Doody contrasts this with conduct book recommendations for retiring and submissive domesticity.  How do we understand the novel’s attitude toward proper female behavior, then?


On the changing standards of probability and realism in novels after 1740s:  “One may note in passing that an insistence that a novel show nothing beyond what is ‘real’ and ‘probable’ can operate as a subtle censorship, favouring the renewed recognition of and obedience to the powers already in place, and a humble silence or graceful acquiescence on the part of the powerless” (Doody xviii).  Comment?


“The resulting complexity of thought and vivacity of emotion that went into The Female Quixote have given it its depth and lasting value, so that it has had its appeal even to those who wish to simplify its subject.  The wit and lightness of touch of the novel are the more admirable as the whole is the result of such personal engagement [with seventeenth-century romances].  The novel’s grace is a grace under pressure” (Doody xx).  To what extent do you agree with the formal assessment here?


“The volumes of romances are Arabella’s only inheritance from her mother, and the female inheritance is customarily presented by women in their novels as dangerous or double-edged.  What is needed is the paternal inheritance, but that is usually surrounded by entail, prohibition or conditional restrictions” (xxi).  How is this inheritance double-edged?  What role does the mother play in this novel?  What role does the paternal inheritance play?


Doody describes Arabella’s dauntless self-fashioning in the novel.  In what ways is Doody’s assertion true:  “Personality is a role, as the novel illustrates” (xxvi).


The novel displays a generic struggle, focused on the question: ‘How shall a woman’s life be told’” (xxvii).  How so?


Doody:  “The Romances uphold the central importance of Woman – and of women.  The duty of the male lover is to be constant. Sir George has, unconsciously, reflected in his fiction his real attitude toward women” (xxviii).  What is his attitude?  How is it reflected?  What are the implications for his “damn’d slip”?


One of the major problems with The Female Quixote is the ending.  How does one end such a parody?  Such a double-edged story?  Doody writes: “The novelist pays the heroine the compliment of having her converted by reason and discourse, by philosophy rather than trickery” (xxx).  How do you understand the ending – parodic  or sincere?  “After all,” Doody writes, “it is nonsense to tell a young woman that rape and abduction are only fictions” (xxx).


Note Duncan Isles appendix on the role of Richardson and Johnson in the production of this novel.  He cites Ronald Paulson’s discussion of the technical problems of the novel (in Satire and the Novel in Eighteenth-century England, 1967).  Does the novel deteriorate in the last three books as compared to the psychological penetration of the earlier parts?  Is there a spinning out of the story with excessive reference to romances?  At the same time what are the problems of the telescoped ending?  What happens to the promise of satire in the London scenes?  What happens to the productive relationship between Arabella and the Countess?


Note on Sutherland:


Refer to page 32 for a summary of how natural rights arguments play into the debates on women and marriage.