Selected Papers from the IAUPE Malta Conference in 2010
Voicing Criticism in Eighteenth-Century Novels by Women: Narrative Attempts at Claiming Authority: Vera Nünning
Voicing Criticism in Eighteenth-Century Novels by Women: Narrative Attempts at Claiming Authority Vera Nünning University of Heidelberg To combine the topics of criticism and authority in eighteenth-century novels by women may seem surprising; after all, someone in a position of authority does not have to worry about voicing criticism. For female novelists of the eighteenth century, however, the mere attempt at claiming authority was anything but un- problematic. Denied access to grammar schools and universities, they were as a rule less educated than their male counterparts, and they were certainly not ex- pected to express their opinions in public. Even though the situation slightly improved during the course of the eighteenth century,1 women had difficulties laying claim to a position of authority. They were supposed to be modest, chaste and inexperienced as far as the important facts of life are concerned; and this, of course, clashed with the writing of literary works, which were expected to both instruct and delight their readers. On the one hand, the brazenness of the assump- tion of the ‘Amazons of the Pen’, whom Samuel Johnson criticised for entering a male dominion,2 was meliorated by the fact that they chose to write novels. This new genre had a bad reputation anyway, and since there were no established classical rules which writers had to follow, the lack of education did not matter so much. On the other hand, this lack of acceptance posed a problem for authors who wanted their work to be...
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