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Abstract

In recent years, studies of Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote (1752) have focused largely on Lennox’s contribution to the discourse surrounding the development of the novel. These readings usefully explore Lennox’s representation of the complex relationship between the romance and the novel and frequently cite the attempts of novelists such as Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding to assert the superiority of their writing projects by distinguishing them from those of romance writers. Yet such interpretations fail to consider how Lennox appropriates the representation of romance reading perpetuated by these novelists in order to participate in other kinds of discourse, most notably that concerning women’s learning. Janet Todd briefly considers The Female Quixote within the context of female education, but suggests that the text functions as a conduct book encouraging women’s submission to an ideal of womanhood characterized by self-denial and restraint. I will argue that Lennox uses the representation of her romance-reading heroine to critique this ideal and to explore the potential of female education to completely reshape women’s role within society, particularly within the public sphere.

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