Resisting Richardson: Sarah Fielding, Frances Sheridan, Charlotte Lennox, and the didactic novel
Ellsworth, Ann Elizabeth
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In this dissertation, I challenge the prevailing twentieth-century notion that didacticism in the eighteenth-century novel is too overt to warrant further investigation. Although many eighteenth-century authors boast that their works are designed "to instruct," I propose that the reader must look beyond that seemingly formulaic claim to see the ways in which the novels themselves embody, test, or fight with the idea that fiction can instruct and that language itself has the capacity to affect behavior.In the introduction, I define didacticism in eighteenth-century terms, explore the twentieth-century's critical response to didacticism, and demonstrate that feminist readers do not need to view didacticism in women's novels as an obstacle to their appreciation of early women authors' achievements. Each subsequent chapter provides a text-specific discussion of didacticism in an individual author's works with a specific focus on novels centered around women characters. After examining the form and content of novels by four writers, Samuel Richardson, Sarah Fielding, Frances Sheridan, and Charlotte Lennox, I find that each writer contributes to the debate on the didactic capacity of the novel in different ways: Both Richardson and Fielding argue that fiction can and should instruct the reader whereas Sheridan and Lennox suggest the limitations of didacticism. While Richardson works relentlessly to instruct the reader about gendered codes of moral behavior, Fielding, Sheridan, and Lennox address the ways in which both sexes learn about moral issues and suggest that, at least on this subject, distinctions cannot and should not be made based on gender.
- English