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Abstract

Without denying the conservatism of Female Quixotism on such themes as class and nationality, this essay attends to contradictory impulses in the text that work against retrenchment and mark this novel as relatively progressive on matters of gender. Female Quixotism can easily be read as an indict­ment of sentimental novels and their reputed deleterious effects on female readers or, in a more progressive vein, as a counter to that attack. Tenney addresses not simply the isolation of women who read senti­mental fiction but that of all educated women. In this essay, I read Dorcasina as a comic figure who nonetheless registers sober truths about the affec­tive and social options that women faced in late eighteenth-century America. Do the delu­sions of Tenney's heroine enable intention­ality and permit some degree of control over one's story? A lack of such control is precisely what early American seduc­tion novels obses­sively and simultaneously mourned and exhorted to the (female) reading public.

Contributor's Note

W. C. Harris teaches early American and nineteenth-century American literature as well as queer studies at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of E Pluribus Unum: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Constitutional Paradox (2005) and Queer Externalities: Hazardous Encounters in American Culture (2009).

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