Virtue, Gender, and the Authentic Self in Eighteenth-Century Fiction
Richardson, Rousseau, and Laclos
AUTHOR: Roulston, Christine and Regis, Louis
PUBLISHER: University Press of Florida
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"Elegantly written and persuasively argued."--Janet Todd, University of East Anglia
This book analyzes the ways in which female virtue was tied to a new concept of authenticity in 18th-century sentimental fiction, producing a redefiniton of gender relations on the one hand and a re-examination of the value and place of fictional narrative on the other.
As the old values of the aristocracy were being overturned and it was no longer possible simply to equate personal worth with rank or title, a new narrative protagonist was born--someone who was authentic, virtuous, and usually female. New questions arose at the same time: What kind of language could represent this authentic self? How far should the virtuous subject be tested, and what is the role of the reader in the process?
With in-depth analysis of four important 18th-century epistolary novels--Pamela, Clarissa, La Nouvelle HÃ©loÃ¯se, and Les Liaisons dangereuses--Christine Roulston shows that the female protagonist in these works is forced to protect her body and her writing from violation. She argues that a disturbing equation emerges between revealing the female body and revealing a female sensibility and, therefore, between pleasure--both narrative and visual--and virtue. Concluding with Les liaisons dangereuses and the end of the sentimental narrative tradition, Roulston questions even the possibility of sustaining authentic language. In these four texts, she says, writing becomes an ideological as well as a literary tool for the establishment of new cultural values.
Christine Roulston is assistant professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Her articles have appeared in Dalhousie French Studies and Eighteenth-Century Fiction.
PUBLICATION DATE: 10/30/1998
CATEGORY: Literary Criticism, Political Science