Readers of Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote (1752) often leave the book feeling that the heroine, Arabella, has come to a bad end-in both senses of the phrase. Until the penultimate chapter, Arabella is a strong, independent, admirably spirited woman. The final scenes of the novel, however, depict her as defeated, humiliated, and subordinated by a dogmatic clergyman. What had seemed a glorious feminist spark disappointingly fizzles into an unremarkable marriage that returns woman to her proper place. Even if Arabella's concession to the patriarchy is not lamented per se, the abruptness of her alteration is: "the ending should have been more artistically contrived," writes one critic, while another speculates that the novel's sudden conclusion unhappily resulted from the pressures of Lennox's financial distress. I will argue, however, that Arabella comes to a bad end not through patriarchal pandering or artistic lack, but because of the recalcitrance of the problem described by the novel's characterization and plot. Arabella, after all, is not only female, but also a quixote--and "female" and "quixote" need not be understood synonymously. Feminist readings that retain the essential femininity of quixotism and the essential masculinity of rationality have difficulty recuperating the book's disappointingly abrupt and seemingly anti-feminist conclusion. To extend the feminist analysis all the way 1 to the end of the book, we must be willing to reimagine the relations between gender, quixotism, and the novel's ultimate sentimentalism.
"Coming to a Bad End: Sentimentalism, Hermeneutics, and The Female Quixote,"
2, Article 3.
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