Zweites Internationales Corvey-Symposion:
Literatur und Erfahrungswandel 1789-1830
Beitraege des zweiten Internationalen Corvey-Symposions, 8-12 Juni 1993.
Ed. Rainer Schoewerling, Hartmut Steinecke and Guenter Tiggesbaeumker.
Munich: Fink, 1996. 231-247.
Until recently, the Romantic-era novel has primarily been treated as separate from Romanticism proper, as having virtually no points of contact with that "school" of literature, its aesthetics, themes, and ideology. Exceptions include Frankenstein, other gothic novels, and the post-Romantic era Wuthering Heights, but the hundreds of other novels produced during the period are generally treated as unrelated to the project of Romanticism.1 Regardless of reasons for leaving discourse about these two genres separate, treating them thus has entailed a hierarchization that leaves the novel of the era devalued while it allows the literary production of five or six poets to define not only the interests of but what constitutes literary value in the era as well. The result has been that because the Romantic-era novel has not been seen as measuring up to Romantic poetry, in whatever terms one uses, it has been dismissed as trivial and for the most part left out of discussions of the period altogether. Yet our choices for remedying the situation are problematic: discussing the novels in terms of the interests of the canonized Romantic poets is still to privilege those writers, to allow them and their interests to set the terms for discussion of all works produced between 1780-1830, despite our recognition that the focus of hundreds of novelists and other poets writing then might more fairly be said to provide the terms of interest of the period. But not discussing the novels in terms set by the canonized poets realistically means they remain marginalized. Examining all other work produced in the period and allowing it to set the terms of debate and then returning to the canonized Romantic poets and reinserting them in a revised definition of the period might be the best option, but it is unrealistic, given the imbeddedness of the primacy of those poets. Even when texts by other authors are presented, they generally remain placed in context of those poets' works; discussions of such material are generally offered as adjustments or additions to prevailing constructions of the period's literary interests rather than challenges that demand rethinking the canonized poets' primacy and the acceptance of their interests as defining those of the period in toto.2
It is not too difficult to expand the canon of Romantic-era poetry;3 one can do so to some extent without questioning either the basic assumptions of Romantic ideology or the primacy of poet - For a variety of reasons, the task is harder when it comes to dealing with novels from the period, especially when, they are by women, as approximately half the novels produced in that era were.4 In the rest of this paper, despite problems inherent in treating all Romantic-era works in terms of the interests of the canonized poets, I will address the limitations in the current discussion of the era by demonstrating the extent to which novels written in the period, especially those by women, can be seen as engaged in the project of Romanticism, as that project usually gets defined. I will first set out the reasons the woman-penned novel of the era is usually seen as inimical to Romanticism; then I will demonstrate points of contact noncanonical novels by women during this period have with Romanticism, as they at times reject and at times supplement that literature's ideology.
Although all generalizations about canonical Romanticism can be (and have been) interrogated, challenged, and deconstructed, I will nonetheless risk characterizing it here, taking the safe way out, however, by providing not my own generalization, but one provided recently by Anne Mellor. She defines canonical Romanticism, which she renames "masculine Romanticism," as entailing a commitment to the creative process, to erotic love, to the exploration of self-consciousness, and [as political to the extent that it includes] ... an ethic of justice which acknowledges the values and rights of the common man" (Romanticism and Gender 29). Points I would like to stress here are the focus on creative power and self-consciousness, and the political stance inherent in the Romantic poets' work.
In part because of the genre in which they were writing and in part because of their choice of themes, creative power and self-consciousness become central to the project of Romanticism. These form the main focus of the work of William Wordsworth, for instance, much of whose corpus can be seen as exploring his discovery of himself as a poet and his development as one. In this light, his interactions with the external world recounted in the poetry are presented as important not primarily for what he sees in externality, but for what the world tells him about himself. Much of his work, then, is dedicated to exploring how his particular vision allowed him to interact with the external world in a way that affirmed the strength of his poetic powers of perception.5 Wordsworth's interest in the self, self-consciousness, and the creative nature of the mind are generally taken as one of Romanticism's main defining characteristics (Bloom and Trilling 3-7). As Anne Mellor explains, canonical Romanticism is built upon a subjectivity based on "the concept of an autonomous and self-conscious "I" that exists independently of the Other" (Romanticism and Gender 6), and it takes this "I" as subject matter.
A political stance is equally central to canonical Romanticism; it emerges not only in writers' enthusiastic responses to the notions of liberty and equality seemingly offered by the American and French revolutions, but also in their choice to write in the language of the common man, at first glance a more or less revolutionary rejection of a hierarchical class system, in which the elitist claim to worth based in upper class birth and its privileges seems rejected. Such can be said to inhere in their suggestion that worth is based in poetic vision, an ability seemingly available to anyone. The limits of the revolutionary politics of these poets' stances has been identified;6 nonetheless, Romantic ideology has generally been linked with a fairly revolutionary political stance and with the democratic values represented by the original impetus of the revolutionary movements of the period.
The woman-penned novel of the era is generally seen as incapable of incorporating, dwelling upon, or valorizing not only those elements of Romanticism Mellor foregrounds but other defining characteristics of Romantic poetry as well, such as the transcendental, rather than social, experience of oneness with the world beyond the self.7 The traditional thematic interests and formal requirements of the novel genre seem inimical to Romantic poetry's focus on the autonomous "I," for instance. The genre seems best fitted for focusing on communities rather than individuals in isolation; it tends to depict individuals in terms only of their place in and interactions with their community. In prose, dwelling on the self in isolation is more easily accomplished in the essay form or the autobiography.8
If the novel as a genre is in this sense incapable of engaging in the interests of canonical Romanticism, the particular form produced by women in the period is hemmed in by more radical limitations, especially when these novels are heroine-centered. In part because for women to write and see their work published was seen as unfeminine, women writers who wanted to protect their reputations for proper femininity needed to ensure that their novels could be read as teaching their middle-class female readership the consensually accepted code of behavior for women. Generally, they fit this requirement by framing heroines' stories in the form of the marriage plot, a form corresponding to the most desirable trajectory for women's lives at the time; their using this form could be seen as teaching - perpetuating - the view that the proper goal for women was marriage. They teach too that the femininity most likely to be granted the reward of a happy marriage was chaste, self-effacing rather than desirous of attention, and tractable to the desires of others - to parents and later to husbands - except when such tractability required going against the greater authority of God and Christian morality. These novels teach their female readership, that is, the proper behaviors to fit them for their role as subordinate, dependent creatures in their male-dominated culture. As such, they necessarily teach their female readership to disclaim or relinquish desires for autonomous identity or subjectivity of the kind celebrated by the Romantic poets - to subordinate their own desires for the sake of integration into society.9
The conservatism of the model of female behavior offered by the era's woman-penned novel becomes more clearly inimical to the political stance of canonical Romanticism when one realizes that it is a model of behavior designed to ensure the preservation of the class structure of Romantic-era British society. It is not only that heroine-centered novels' being framed within the marriage plot means that their focus is private and domestic, rather than public in a way that would facilitate our seeing these novels as having an evident political stance; what gets taught within the confines of this form seems to force these works to embrace a social and hence political conservatism. Teaching women to be tractable to the desires of others, for instance, entailed teaching them to repress self-initiated sexual desire, to develop instead a sexuality responsive to others' desires. Developing such a sexuality would result in women's being less likely to marry outside the class into which they were born, because less likely to marry against parents' wishes, even if also unlikely to marry to suit parents' desires only;10 it also meant that married women would be less likely to have affairs that might result in the misrecognition of illegitimate offspring as legitimate. Married women's bearing illegitimate children was seen as problematic for potentially leading to property's being passed out of the family line and family fines themselves getting hopelessly blurred, leading in turn to the blurring of class lines, and, it was feared, utter social chaos.
Although the period's woman-penned novels might in general seem too social in focus, too organized around the private domain, and too conservative to have much to do with canonical Romanticism, there are cases in which novels frame these "limitations" as critical response to Romantic interests and ideologies. One is Harriet Lee's 1801 Kruitzner, The German's Tale. The male protagonist is Frederick, son of Bohemian Count Siegendorf; given every opportunity for improvement that high birth and fortune can give, he forgets, in his valuation of his attributes, that he is not simply specially chosen and self-created but rather became as worthy as he sees himself because of accidents of birth and the privileges that came with it. As such, he sounds like Romantic poets and their "quasi-autobiographical heroes[, who] ... are all engaged in the extraordinary enterprise of seeking to re-beget their own selves" (Bloom and Trilling 4). The narrator tells us that Frederick is wrong to believe that for all his "endowments ... he was indebted [only] to Nature, wrong never [to stop] to inquire what he could have made himself, had he been born any thing but what he was" (60; itals mine), and this can be seen as an attack on the Romantics' suggestion that one can be self-creating, or that worth has less to do with class than with inner qualities of vision and imagination. Pointing out that Siegendorf was able to develop to the extent that he does only because of the class into which he was born suggests that the opportunity to develop the creative apprehension the Romantic poets valorize may always be class bound.
More noteworthy, however, is the novel's critique of what such self-absorbedness can bring with it: a selfishness that dismisses all personal failings and vices as, simply, misguided one-time reactions to circumstances - a selfishness, finally, capable of leading to a dire failing to one's family, country, and wider human community. The protagonist fights on his country's side during the Thirty Years War,11 but after losing a battle because lost in dissipation when he should have been leading his troops, he is stripped of military responsibility and exiled. Because he refuses to take into account the effects of his actions when assessing himself, he views himself wronged and considers fighting on the opposition's side to revenge himself on those he feels have wronged him - his father and country, both of whom have given him the opportunity to thrive, and both of whom he himself has betrayed.
Instead he moves to Hamburg, takes on the alias Kruitzner, meets a Florentine, Michelli, and falls in love with and marries Michelli's daughter, Josephine. After they have a son, Conrad, he wants to reinstate himself and his family into the position into which he was born. This wish is based in a laudable desire to raise his loved ones into a privileged position, but it is never clear that his "loved ones" are really any other than himself. Michelli and Josephine fear that he will sacrifice them in order to reconcile with his father (96), and after he leaves them to seek news from his father and learns that a reconciliation might be possible, he takes money meant for his wife and son and begins living as decadently as he had before meeting them. When his father hears of this, he disowns Frederick but offers to insert Conrad into the position forfeited by him. Still not accepting that his own actions have led to his being disowned, Frederick agrees but remains envious that Conrad is granted all that he feels he himself deserves (120).
Kruitzner also draws on elements of male Romanticism other than the concentration on and high valuation of the sell At one point we're told he "would ... now and then cast wild and eager glances upon his wife and child. These temporary starts of sensibility excepted, Kruitzner was sombre, abstracted, and frequently employed in writing" (14). While he writes letters, not poetry, this image of the man of strong feeling who turns emotion to writing in some kind of tranquility links him clearly with canonical Romanticism. The link is strengthened,when we learn that when overwhelmed with emotion, Kruitzner turns toward nature.12
Such moments linking Kruitzner to Romanticism come early in the novel; it is later that we learn that the thoughts and feelings which absorb and overwhelm him are more material than transcendental: they revolve around the fortune he has forfeited through his self-indulgence and his desire to retrieve it. While one could argue that he is simply a failed, earthly-grounded Romantic, one could equally argue that he is offered as a means of deflating Romanticism altogether, a means of suggesting that transcendental visions and strong emotional responses are perhaps always rooted in selfishness - or that the self-absorption they require must always be linked to selfishness, with its potential for wide-ranging damage to the self and the community in which one lives.
The deleterious effects of Kruitzner's selfishness approach their peak when he and Josephine hear that Count Siegendorf has died and Conrad's right to the inheritance will be contested; they realize they need to return to the family estates to demonstrate his legitimate claims, to protect not only Conrad's interests but their own as well. Their poverty stops them, but this problem seems solved by events that first lead Baron Stralenheim, the pretender to the Siegendorf inheritance, into the area in which Frederick and Josephine are living, and then lead Kruitzner through secret passageways to a room in which he finds Stralenheim asleep before a table piled with gold. From his belief in his own importance and the importance of his desires, Kruitzner steals the gold, claiming this crime is venial because it ostensibly provides him with the means toward accomplishing what he considers to be a worthy goal: allowing him to continue to Prague to keep the inheritance in its proper line.
Unfortunately he delivers this opinion to his son Conrad, who now also has appeared upon the scene. When Conrad learns that the Baron may stand between him and the inheritance, he takes the easiest way of preventing this "theft": he kills the Baron and orchestrates appearances so that another man is judged the culprit. And as Conrad makes clear, his act is the logical extension, hence the fault, of his father's ways of thinking; Conrad exclaims "Remember who told me ... that there were crimes rendered venial by the occasion. ... the man who is at once intemperate and feeble engenders the crimes he does not commit. ... is it so wonderful that I should dare to act what you dared to think? You pointed out the path!" (353-5). By demonstrating that self-absorption - dwelling on one's own qualities - may lead to forgetting from whence those qualities come and hence the responsibilities that the gift of those qualities brings, Kruitzner suggests that the egotistical sublime too easily slips into simple egotism, which itself too easily slips into criminality.
The novel offers its better alternative in part through Josephine's different attitudes and behavior, and in part through having Frederick change as the novel progresses. Josephine acknowledges the claims of self - she recognizes when her husband wrongs her, first by threatening to sacrifice her in order to reconcile with his father, and then giving in to personal faults which consistently endanger her welfare in addition to his;13 she also attends, however, to the needs of others: not only does she nurse the sick Kruitzner back to health shortly after meeting him, she continually does her best to assuage his destructive self-absorption, distracting him from "corrosive reflections" (119) and protecting him by covering over his outbursts and strange actions, distracting guests and patching over misunderstandings. Her social connectedness and responsibility is not only made more appealing to the reader than her husband's social separateness and self-absorption; it is also shown, ultimately, to be recognized by her husband too as desirable. Once reunited with Conrad, Frederick comes to value close bonds between family members. Josephine is surprised to see her husband depressed, rather than triumphant, on the possession of the family lands, wealth, and position (300-1) for which he'd yearned for so long, and we learn that his depression stems from his knowledge that Conrad "neither loved nor esteemed his father" (303). Frederick learns that what is most important to him, in other words, are relationships based more in an emotional closeness than in the awe which high position can bring.
Through portraying the character of Kruitzner as drawing on the Romantic ideology of the self and then placing this kind of character in the social world of a novel, Lee draws our attention to the harmfulness of the Romantic self, the autonomous "I," when placed in the context of the wider world in which individuals generally live. Both by countering Kruitzner's philosophy of self with Josephine's, and by countering Kruitzner's early selfishness with his later recognition of the value of human bonds based on love, the novel also brings two versions of identity into a dialogic contact with one another that further demonstrates the inadequacies of the autonomous self and both offers and valorizes as alternative the self-in-connection. Through this dialogic confrontation, Kruitzner counters elements of masculine Romanticism, to use Mellor's term again, with what Mellor defines as the feminine Romantic - what other critics too have called the feminine realm of discourse during the period, a discourse and ideology that stresses and lauds social connectedness rather the self alone.14
Mellor presents feminine Romanticism
as originating in the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, whom she sees
as revolutionary in moving to suppress women's sexuality in order to
stress their equal potential for rationality, a move by which
Wollstonecraft hoped to demonstrate that men and women deserved equal
rights. Also socially and hence politically revolutionary, Mellor
suggests, is Wollstonecraft's redefinition of the family as a unit in
which men and women are equal rather than as a patriarchal unit in
which women must bow to the rule of men. Mellor sees this revision of
Burke's body politic as providing the basis by which other female
writers created a sense of self and a politics at odds with the bases
of masculine Romanticism. Mellor explains, then, that feminine Romanticism was
based on a subjectivity constructed in relation to other
subjectivities. This self typically located its identity
within a larger human nexus, a family or social community.
Taking the family as the grounding trope of social
organization, feminine Romanticism opposed violent military
revolutions in favor of gradual revolutionary reform under
the guidance of benevolent parental instruction. This
involved a commitment to an ethic of care (as opposed to an
ethic of individual justice). (Romanticism and Gender
feminine Romanticism was based on a subjectivity constructed in relation to other subjectivities. This self typically located its identity within a larger human nexus, a family or social community. Taking the family as the grounding trope of social organization, feminine Romanticism opposed violent military revolutions in favor of gradual revolutionary reform under the guidance of benevolent parental instruction. This involved a commitment to an ethic of care (as opposed to an ethic of individual justice). (Romanticism and Gender 209)
Mellor's description of feminine Romanticism and its treatment of the family as politically revolutionary opens the way for seeing the Romantic-era woman-penned novel is more political - and politically radical - than has previously been widely recognized.15 Feminine Romanticism as Mellor defines it redresses the lacks in late eighteenth century revolutionary movements from a feminist point of view: it claims rights for women that French and American revolutionary movements were claiming for all men only, but not extending to women. What remains problematic, however, is that it is hard to see how feminine Romanticism can then assail the class structure and thus be revolutionary in the way masculine Romanticism tried to be.
The problems stem from her presenting a suppression of active, desiring sexuality in women as revolutionary. While suppressing such a sexuality to stress women's ability to think rationally must be an improvement on views of women as overly sexually appetitive and as hindered from their very physicality and body-rooted sensibility from being rational - the view long held of them - the version of female sexuality Mellor represents Wollstonecraft as embracing is the same as that embraced by conservative ideology. It is the same version provided by novels written by women who supposedly reinscribed conservative ideology to. protect their own reputations. Given the way sexuality for women is constructed in such novels, and given that most marriages at these novels' conclusions unite their heroines with male protagonists from the same, or virtually same class, it is hard to see these works as equally capable of assailing the class system as is male Romanticism. And as long as one refers only to canonical or subcanonical woman-penned Romantic-era novels such as Austen's, Burney's and Charlotte Smith's - excepting perhaps her Desmond - it is easy to conclude that however good they may be at forwarding women's rights, women's novels from this era cannot be radical from the standpoint of the class system, perhaps precisely because they had to revolve around heroines whose behavior upheld those views on how women should behave held by the dominant ideology - one based in the class system.
If we turn to less well-known novels written by women in this era, however, we see that heroines do not always stick strictly to our current construct of the codes for female behavior considered proper in the Romantic era.16 And when these heroines depart from these codes of behavior, they offer ways of breaking down strict class boundaries of the sort tractable female sexuality - suppressed sexuality, or what Mellor treats as revolutionary sexuality - might best protect.
One novel that links revolutionary attitudes with female sexual freedom is Miss Street's 1793 Recluse of the Appenines. Overt revolutionary attitudes are developed in the story lines of the male characters, the male protagonist, Ferdinand de Rohilla, and his father, Don Pedro. The novel opens with Ferdinand accompanying his father into exile in the Appenines. Don Pedro had gone to the king to represent the local underclass in their complaints against the injustices of the governor of Castille but the king, as abusively despotic as the governor, has sided with his governor, dispossessed de Rohilla of his lands, and declared him a traitor. Both father and son side with the downtrodden rather than the ruling classes; as Ferdinand's story progresses, he goes to fight on Spain's side in Mexico, but after meeting the deposed Mexican prince, whose wife is almost raped by Spanish soldiers, Ferdinand switches sides, deserting the group he sees as the oppressors.
While he is still in the Appenines with his father, however, the two observe the local peasantry, who are presented in Rousseauian terms as naturally good, not having developed the decadent hypocrisy and ambitions of more "civilized" parts of the Old World. Here it might be worth recalling that Rousseau is considered highly influential on canonical Romanticism's political positions. Ferdinand meets a shepherdess, Luxuna, who is as ignorant of the rest of the world and therefore as innocently pure as the rest of the locals; he teaches her to read and write, falls in love with her, and seduces her. But there is no real seduction; child of nature rather than society, Luxuna sees no reason not to have sex with the man she loves. And the novel endorses her view; rather than punishing her by death or social exile, as is usually the case for pre- or extra-maritally sexually active women in novels of the era with which most readers are familiar, Luxuna receives the reward of more strictly virtuous heroines: she gets to marry the man she loves, who ultimately brings with him fortune and status; furthermore, she gets reunited with her real and well-born parents by the novel's end, themselves reunited by Ferdinand, and thereby promoted from poor peasant status to the more illustrious family standing and fortune that is rightfully hers by birth.
Because Luxuna turns out to be well born after all, her marriage to Ferdinand crosses no class boundaries, so the novel might seem no more pitched against the class system than other novels of the period revolving around false Cinderellas, novels such as Burney's Evelina and Smith's Emmeline, in which the heroine seems to be born into a class well below that of the man who eventually marries her, but is discovered to be as high born after all and so not raised in status simply through marriage. What makes Recluse of the Appenines socially subversive nonetheless is its allowing its heroine to indulge in a female sexuality elsewhere treated as dangerous precisely for its potential to lead to the demise of the class system altogether. And this novel is not alone in allowing its heroine what otherwise might be considered illicit sexuality and treating her well; other novels with sexually active heroines who are equally rewarded or at least treated leniently, their sexuality not condemned, are Mary Robinson's 1799 The Natural Daughter and Mrs. Yeates' 1800 Eliza.17
Stressing the radical aspect of this kind of female sexuality in Recluse of the Appenines is that Luxuna's situation is depicted alongside more overtly revolutionary politics. By pairing the story line of a heroine who is sexually active before marriage and still receives the conventional reward with one in which male protagonists fight despots and stand up for the rights of the oppressed, the novel foregrounds that Luxuna's attitudes and behaviors may be as revolutionary as Don Pedro's and Ferdinand's. And as the novel links the two lines of action as revolutionary, it expands the limits of what might be seen as acceptable in female behavior, as do Robinson's and Yeates' novels. By including pre-marital sexuality in a heroine's story line and rewarding, rather than punishing her, such novels challenge assumptions about what virtuous - rewardable women can do.
My point here is not that for a Romantic-era heroine-centered novel to be revolutionary, it must grant its heroines sexual freedom; in all eras, extending sexual freedom to women has always been only problematically helpful, in part because foregrounding women's sexuality in any way works to their detriment by preventing them from being seen as capable of developing other human attributes as fully as can men. As Mary Wollstonecraft was well aware, such was certainly true in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when women were all too rarely seen as capable of rationality.18 And Recluse of the Appenines can hardly be said to be feminist in its treatment of its heroine's powers of ratiocination; Luxuna is very simple, which is clearly meant to be part of her charm, both to Ferdinand and, one supposes, to the novel's audience. Robinson's The Natural Daughter and Yeates' Eliza in fact do better in this respect.
What links these cases is that their sexually active, non-punished female characters do, primarily, model other traits of sanctioned femininity: a high valuation of the family and concern for others that leads, at times, to effacement of the characters' own needs and desires. Without overthrowing entirely the model for female behavior accepted at the time, these novels do stretch the limits of that behavior a bit, and they do so in a way which is, in some senses, the most socially radical of all, in its offering the potential to break apart the class system from within. And being framed within the social context of the novel genre, these works remind the reader precisely of the social ramifications of personal choice in matters including sexuality. As such, novels by women may be more capable of offering revolutionary attitudes than Romantic poetry itself, contrary to widely held views. And defining the political stance of feminine Romanticism may require revising our views of the role that active female sexuality can play - even if this view of female sexuality did not, finally, triumph in the Romantic era, or those that have followed.
1. Recently works have been published that discuss non-gothic novels too in terms of Romanticism, such as Kelly's English Fiction of the Romantic Period, along with Langbauer's "An Early Romance," Moore's and Jones's essays in Beyond Romanticism, and essays in Wilson and Haefner's (Re)visioning Romanticism. The trend is hardly widespread, however; most works expanding our knowledge of writing in the era concentrate on essays, autobiographical discourses, and poetry.
2. It is hard, for instance, for most to imagine teaching a class on the period or to find a current syllabus on the period that does not eventually return to the canonized poets and grant them primacy of place. Even when attempts are made to present other literary materials to students or to colleagues, for instance at conferences, such materials are generally used to offer a contextualizing background, rather than to suggest that the canonized poets be removed from their centrality in defining what was important in the literature of the period.
3. Among recent attempts to expand our notions of who was writing poetry in the era is Stuart Curran's recent work, which enumerates 339 women poets (cited in Romanticism and Gender 7). As he argues, enough were considered important in the era, competitive with the male poets, and influential on them to make leaving them out of consideration have as a result leaving us with a mistaken notion both of what was happening poetically in the period and how currently valorized Romantic poets formed their interests ("The I Altered"). In his "Mary Robinson's Lyrical Tales in Context," for instance, Curran argues that to the early grouping of Romantic poets of Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, we should add Robinson, whom he claims was in fact considered preeminent among them in some respects.
4. This approximation is based on the count in the Corvey collection, "the largest collection of English novels dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the world" (Schoewerling 31) and may therefore be considered representative.
5. His self-directed attention to externality in fact disarms its otherness, reducing and silencing it precisely because his interest is, ultimately, himself. For discussions and criticism of this reduction of externality, see the chapter entitled "Gender in Masculine Romanticism" in Romanticism and Gender (17-29).
6. Most of the canonized male Romantic poets were from the same class, and in representing their interests as ideology-free, they were in fact simply representing their class's interests as universal rather than seated in a particular class (McGann). Furthermore, the poetic forms in which they chose to write and which they valorized were those to which the classically educated in particular - relatively wellborn, privileged males - would be most likely to be familiar (Romanticism and Gender 6; Boeker); the Romantic poets' valorization of certain forms already involves an elitism that is class- (and gender-)based, in other words, compromising their ostensible revolutionary attitudes in treating worth as based on something far different than the accidents of birth.
7. Jay Clayton argues that it may be highly difficult to discuss the novel in terms of Romanticism, because given the novel's reliance on plot and character, the genre, whether written by men or women, is nearly incapable of accomplishing what Romantic poetry can do, especially when it comes to capturing transcendental experience.
8. It is true, however, that the novel preceded the Romantics in exploring self-consciousness, so that even though the self-consciousness delineated in novels ultimately gets presented in the context of a wider social world, the model itself may have influenced Romantic poets in their choice of themselves, their thoughts and feelings as subject matter. Clayton explains, for instance, the ways in which "Richardson's fiction foreshadowed the interest of Romantic poets in all aspects of the interior fife, not just in feeling. ... Richardson was a precursor ... of those writers who explored the fate of imagination and consciousness" (27). Armstrong too notes that the psychologized mode of identity we usually see as inaugurated by the Romantic project was developed first in the novel; she argues that Richardson's Pamela may have had great influence on forming our notion of humans as psychological beings, on stressing and therefore valorizing mental and emotional processes and so contributing greatly to a paradigm shift in what constituted worth in humans. That the Romantics may have been the first to choose themselves and their consciousness as subject matter in poetry may stem from novels' making such an idea possible in a secular literary framework.
9. Critics who outline the problems facing women wanting to write, see their work published, and avoid damaging their reputations include Poovey (35-9), Spencer (20-28), Spender (28-9), Showalter (3-36), Tompkins (116-122), and Williams (14-15).
10. Debate in novels over what rights women had in the choice of a spouse can be said to have been inaugurated by Richardson's Clarissa, a novel which argues that daughters have the right not to marry where they do not wish to do so. It argues equally strenuously, however, that they also do not have the right to marry where their parents displease. This latter element of the argument is further explored in Smith's Emmeline and Burney's Cecilia, to name just two novels that pick up on the topic.
11. This novel's being set before the Romantic era does not make its critique any less an attack on the tenets of Romanticism, which becomes clear by the extent to which Kruitzner is linked to Romantic ideology and interests, not only in his self-absorption, but also in his indulging his emotions, his writing in moments of calmness, and in his turning, at points, to nature, on all of which I comment more extensively in this section of the essay.
12. As in his indulging his emotions and writing in moments of calmness, Kruitzner's attitude toward nature is not strictly linked to Romanticism. It is true that when overwhelmed with emotion early in the novel, he rushes out and looks "earnestly toward a particular spot [in the distant mountains]" over scenes of nature which are carefully described:
The snow, which had fallen
so late in the season, had rapidly thawed before the
increasing heat of the sun; traces of vegetation were
obvious throughout the whole country around; and a thousand
streams, swelled suddenly to petty torrents, and seen both
in the valley and nearer hills, brightened the prospect.
The snow, which had fallen so late in the season, had rapidly thawed before the increasing heat of the sun; traces of vegetation were obvious throughout the whole country around; and a thousand streams, swelled suddenly to petty torrents, and seen both in the valley and nearer hills, brightened the prospect. (31-2)
Kruitzner, however, hardly notices the natural scene before him; he is, in fact, looking over nature - overlooking nature - toward Bohemia, which represents to him material wealth and social position. Kruitzner does not in fact have the Romantics' ability to interact with nature in a way that transcends what is problematic in being. Kruitzner's stance here, brought together as it is with so many other elements linking him to Romanticism, may be seen as burlesque on Romanticism's claims for transcendence. Significantly, Josephine is more responsive to nature than is Kruitzner; when the two finally do start the final leg of their trip to Bohemia, she finds the natural scene, again carefully described, emotionally freeing and soothing; when, moved, she lays "her hand in silence on that of her husband," he, oblivious to the scene, "looked earnestly around for some cause of alarm" (267). Nature for her does not represent the sublime that overwhelms the self, but rather something "calculated ... to silence the irritation of the nerves and the heart" (262), or, as Mellor puts it, the friend "who provides support" (Romanticism and Gender 210), the sublime domesticated, as she describes it, the way nature is usually treated in what she defines as feminine Romanticism, which I discuss at greater length below.
13. When Kruitzner robs the Baron, he does not give in to his temptation to kill the man, and reports proudly to his wife on his forbearance to commit this worse crime. What she thinks in response shows not only that she believes him to have less reason to be proud than he judges himself, it also shows her awareness of the fact that his self-indulgence, his unwillingness to govern his emotions has injured her:
This was no tale of comfort
to the ear or the heart of Josephine! It brought too close
to the latter that afflicting doubt she had so often
banished from it - on what point of her husband's character
she could finally depend! She saw him driven from error to
error - from temptation to temptation - still yielding -
still repenting - and where would be the last? Sacrificing
every thing by turns, either to false calculations, or
ungoverned passions: his father - his wife - even his honor!
at least that pure and secret sense which seemed to her its
essence. Murder had already become amongst the almost
inevitable temptations of his fate! - She ventured not to
pause upon the ideas which thus irresistably forced
themselves upon her mind. (172-3)
This was no tale of comfort to the ear or the heart of Josephine! It brought too close to the latter that afflicting doubt she had so often banished from it - on what point of her husband's character she could finally depend! She saw him driven from error to error - from temptation to temptation - still yielding - still repenting - and where would be the last? Sacrificing every thing by turns, either to false calculations, or ungoverned passions: his father - his wife - even his honor! at least that pure and secret sense which seemed to her its essence. Murder had already become amongst the almost inevitable temptations of his fate! - She ventured not to pause upon the ideas which thus irresistably forced themselves upon her mind. (172-3)
14. For those identifying social connectedness as part of feminine discourse, see Wolfson, Richardson, Guest, Moore, Leighton, and Jones. Wolfson in particular sees this element of Romantic-era women writers' work as developed in response to and rejection of a masculine mode of being.
15. There are of course exceptions: Charlotte Smith's Desmond has been more widely recognized than most novels of the era as using the domestic realm to perform a more wide-reaching political critique, and many works of feminist criticism on novelists of the era have shown that novels with a largely private setting critique patriarchy and its abuses. On this, last point, see, for instance, Claudia Johnson's Jane Austen and Kristina Straub's Divided Fictions.
16. We have developed this construct, notably, from canonical and sub-canonical novels, such as Austen's, Burney's, and Smith's, and from conduct books in the era as well; the construct is articulated clearly in Armstrong and Poovey, in addition to other critics writing about women novelists' need to situate their publishing in a way that did not threaten their reputations for proper femininity, critics whom I list in note 9. That these writers all use for their novelistic sources the same novels means their construct remains by and large the same; as soon as one turns to the non-canonical works I discuss below, in addition to many others, however, the construct itself becomes challenged. Other novels in which the construct on acceptable, rewardable female behavior passed on to us by these critics' works is not reaffirmed by the behavior of and rewards granted to heroines include A. Kendall's Derwent Priory and Tales of the Abbey.
17. I discuss these novels in the context of the argument presented here in my "Illegitimate Female Sexualities in Romantic-era Woman-Penned Novels in Corvey." To these novels may be added Smith's Emmeline; there, the adulterous Lady Adelina is similarly leniently treated.
18. Although there were always writers who saw women as essentially incapable of developing their mental capabilities, much of the debate on women's education in the period, both by revolutionary writers such as Wollstonecraft and her more conservative counterparts, revolved around the argument that it was impossible to ascertain women's thinking powers because they were denied the kind of education that might develop these powers. As the more conservative Hannah More argued in her Strictures in concert with Wollstonecraft, as long as women were educated only to be ornamental, sexual objects for men's delectation, it would remain impossible for women to develop whatever other powers they might have.
last updated 10 December
This site maintained by Julie Shaffer; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org