The effect that fiction has on readers has been continuously debated since at least the fourth century B.C.E. In this dissertation, I first analyze historic arguments of philosophers and critics who have participated significantly in the debate. I organize their critical judgments about reading’s effects into three categories—useful, detrimental and nonaffective. The useful fiction claim is that reading fiction influences readers toward beneficial change. The opposite claim is that reading produces a variety of detrimental effects—it deceives, inflames, coerces or develops false expectations. At the root of this argument is the idea that fiction appeals to the emotions, therefore, reason and good judgment are suppressed. The third broad category of argument suggests that literature is simply art and has only an aesthetic effect. I explore only the useful and detrimental possibilities in this research. I apply Joshua Landy’s critical perspective that novels are primarily formative rather than informative to interrogate ideas about private reading that British women authors explore in their novels from the mid-eighteenth century through the early nineteenth century. During that period, the idea that novels might be formative—beneficial and educational—is argued within the narratives and dialog of their novels. I evaluate and describe the critical interrogative work that Charlotte Lennox (The Female Quixote), Maria Edgeworth (Belinda), Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey) and Sarah Green (Scotch Novel Reading) perform using their novels as a platform to consider ideas about women, education and particularly, the potentially positive effects of novel reading. Drawing on threads of theory as ancient as Plato’s and Quintilian’s and ideas about novels as recent as Huet’s and Johnson’s, I analyze how these authors use their novels to discuss reader maturation and character development. In their novels, they weave reader development, critical analysis and social critique into narratives about complex characters. I examine in new ways the questions of fiction’s effect, reader response and authorial influence. I conclude that novel reading has primarily a positive, formative effect. Consequently, there is potential to use novel reading with university students to help improve decision making and point to issues of character development.
|Commitee:||Durbach, Najda, Franta, Andrew, Pecora, Vincent P., Weller, Barry|
|School:||The University of Utah|
|School Location:||United States -- Utah|
|Source:||DAI-A 78/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Womens studies, History, British and Irish literature|
|Keywords:||Education, Formation, Influence, Novel, Reading, Writers|
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