This work offers, firstly, a fresh historical, philosophical and cultural interpretation of the relation between the eighteenth-century discourse of sensibility, the sublime, and the theory and practice of eighteenth-century law. Secondly, the work exposes and explores the influence of this combination of discourses upon the formation of gender identities in this period. The author argues that it is only through a study of the convergence of these key eighteenth-century discourses that changing conceptualisations of femininity can fully be understood. Thirdly, it examines the presence, within eighteenth-century fiction by women, of a new female subject. Novels by women in this period, Chaplin posits, begin to reveal that the female subject position constructed through the discourses of law, sensibility and the sublime gives rise, for women, to a feminine ontological crisis that may be seen to anticipate by two hundred years the trauma of the 'post modern' male subject unable to present a unified subjectivity to himself or to the world. This feminine crisis finds expression within a range of female fiction of the mid-to-late eighteenth century - in Charlotte Lennox's anti-romance satire, Frances Sheridan's 'conduct-book' novels, the Gothic romances of Radcliffe and Eliza Fenwick and the sensationalistic horror fiction of Charlotte Dacre. Concentrating upon these writers, Chaplin argues that their works 'speak of dread' on behalf of women in this period and to varying degrees challenge discourses that construct femininity as a highly unstable, barely tenable subject position. Combining the works of Lyotard and Irigaray to formulate a new feminist reading of the eighteenth-century discourse of the sublime, this study offers fresh insights into the culture and politics of the eighteenth century. It presents highly original readings of well-known and lesser-known literary texts that interrogate from fresh perspectives the complex theoretical issues pertaining to
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction: speaking of dread; Sublime bodies and bodies of law; A material transcendence: the Clarissa ideal; Femininity and the law of romance: Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote; The discipline of sensibility: Frances Sheridan's The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph; Speaking of dread: Eliza Fenwick's Secresy, or The Ruin of the Rock; Terror transcendence and control in Ann Radcliffe's The Italian and Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya, or The Moor; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.
'Its strength lies in Chaplin's ability to weave theoretical insight, historical research and textual analysis together in a series of tightly argued chapters...' BARS Bulletin and Review ’...the very real strengths of the book are its thoughtfulness, the pleasingly high ratio of ideas to words, and many illuminating and concise suggestions about the relation between culture and women's fiction.’ Eighteenth Century Fiction