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Veils of irony: The development of narrative technique in women's novels of the 1790s
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Languages, Department of English.
1998 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis situates the innovations of three English novels from the 1790s by three relatively unknown women writers, Jane West, Charlotte Smith, and Anna Maria Bennett, against the background of a literary climate characterised by highly conventional forms of fiction in either sentimental or satiric modes. Their innovations consisted in the fashioning of parodic forms that would balance emotionality with irony. Through their novels, moreover, West, Smith, and Bennett redefined the terms of aesthetic value in the eighteenth century. Veiling their claims by subtle and sophisticated ironic narrative strategies, they created an irony of their own.

Literary reviews of the period regarded the novel as a subliterary form of female entertainment. In West's A Gossip's Story, Smith's The Old Manor House, and Bennett's A Beggar Girl, techniques such as free indirect discourse are used to create narrative voices which question the gendering of forms. Through this study's combination of narratological and historical method, the narrator of West's novel, for example, is shown to be a fusion of two stereotypes from contemporary reviews of novels: the female hack writer and the male literary genius, one connected with confessional sentimentalism, the other with reserved satire.

In this period, the circulating library novel was particularly associated with women and with formulaic fiction. West, Smith, and Bennett make this novel the target of a double-edged parody. In the process, they expose general readers of such novels to benevolent ridicule presenting them as Quixotes led astray by fiction. This study traces the attempt of West, Smith, and Bennett to educate their readers by analysing a historically situated implied reader. This education, I believe, prepared readers for the more sophisticated ironic narrative techniques to come, found, for example, in Jane Austen's Emma. I examine such techniques in Austen's novel in tight of the achievement of these earlier novelists. This thesis concludes that innovation in literary history may, in fact, originate in minor as well as major novelists of the past.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis , 1998. , 189 p.
Keyword [en]
English language, West-Jane, Smith-Charlotte, Bennett-Anna-Maria, novel, eighteenth-century, circulating-library, review, parody, irony, free-indirect-discourse, innovation, common-reader, gossip, Quixote, education
Keyword [sv]
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URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-767ISBN: 99-2792891-2OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-767DiVA: diva2:169806
Public defence
1998-12-10, Ihresalen, Språkvetenskapligt centrum, Villavägen 4, Uppsala, Uppsala, 10:00
Available from: 1998-11-19 Created: 1998-11-19Bibliographically approved

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