Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This dissertation focuses on mid to late eighteenth-century domestic fiction by Samuel Richardson, Sarah Scott, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth, arguing that female rivalry in the novel performs a complex double function, both reinscribing domestic ideology and undermining it. I begin with the premise that Richardson's depiction of female rivalry differs significantly from those of the women writers who follow him. My chapter on Richardson's Clarissa examines his depiction of rivalry between Clarissa and all the other women of the novel, arguing that the "bad" women work to overshadow Lovelace's abuses; in other words, female rivalry effectively displaces a critique of masculine violence inherent in patriarchy. My second chapter turns to Sarah Scott's Millenium Hall, a feminist utopia which calls attention to the ways in which women are culturally constructed to view each other as rivals in a market with limited opportunities for economic advancement. Yet where one expects female rivalry, Scott's text routinely refuses to take that turn, privileging instead female homosocial intimacy. Burney's Cecilia also works to revise the trope of female rivalry. Whereas in Richardson's novel misreading is a marker of an essential female deficiency, in Cecilia Burney implicitly blames domestic ideology and the literary tradition by which it is propagated for women's faulty interpretative skills and, further, contrasts the intensity of female friendship with impotent, inadequate heterosexual alternatives. Maria Edgeworth's novel Belinda also emphasizes the relationships between female characters over the heterosexual narrative, even when those relationships are rivalrous. Like Burney, Edgeworth suggests these rivalries are the products of misreadings for which she faults conventional romantic ideology. In my conclusion, I discuss our inheritance as feminist scholars in academia and the ways in which we tend to replicate rivalries between feminisms and femininities, as well as between "mainstream" and "academic" women. I think we can draw connections between the divisionary impulse in the literary and critical history of eighteenth-century women's writing and the tensions today.
Johnston, Elizabeth, "Competing fictions: Eighteenth-century domestic novels, women writers, and the trope of female rivalry" (2005). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 2313.