This dissertation investigates how three best-selling novels by women writing in the late eighteenth century attempted to educate contemporary women readers to a transformed understanding of their roles in existing cultural power structures. Chapter 1 argues that these novels were among emergent discourses for human, specifically women’s, rights. Chapter 2 examines the philosophical influences at work in the culture of sensibility, with particular attention to educational theories, women’s status, and the development of the sentimental novel. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 provide close readings of the three novels: Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim (1771) by the German writer Sophie von La Roche; A Simple Story (1791) by the English writer Elizabeth Inchbald; and Charlotte Temple (1791; 1794 in the United States) by the American writer Susanna Haswell Rowson. I argue that these once extremely popular works contributed both to the development of the novel and to awareness of women’s rights. La Roche’s Sternheim is the first Bildungsroman with a female hero. Inchbald’s Simple Story is a novel of protest against patriarchy; it calls for radical social changes, especially in the education of women. Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, the most popular novel in the United States for more than fifty years after its first publication, is a seduction novel about the awakening of one girl whose wrong education ensures her victimization in a fraudulently benevolent world. This dissertation argues that while all three novels claimed to educate as earlier novels had, their didacticism was not imitatively directed at reinforcing patriarchy but dialogically redirected at educating for women’s rights. Among these novels’ reoriented methods were psychological depth in the characterization of women who challenged or transgressed patriarchal expectations and of men whose views highlighted injustices, the re-defining of female virtue as not solely chastity, the forging of social bonds among women readers, and the presentation of “new women” in a transitional time. Finally, this dissertation returns to the contradictions in the culture of sensibility that enabled women novelists to achieve remarkable successes but failed to allow women “human” rights.
|Advisor:||Reiss, Timothy J.|
|Commitee:||Chioles, John, Fleming, Paul, Sieburth, Richard, Waterman, Bryan|
|School:||New York University|
|School Location:||United States -- New York|
|Source:||DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Comparative literature, Germanic literature, Womens studies, American literature, British and Irish literature|
|Keywords:||And the novel, Education, Eighteenth century, Eighteenth-century novel, Germany, Inchbald, Elizabeth, La Roche, Sophie von, Rowson, Susanna, Sensibility, Women's rights|
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