Frances Burney Response

Frances Burney Response 

My very sincere enjoyment of Frances Burney’s Evelina lead me to a question that is often tabled in creative writing classes as a matter of craft: what is a “tonal shift”, when can the reader bear it, in craft parlance “when is it earned” and when is it beyond the narrative pale? Expectations for tonal consistency were obviously not elucidated as rules by an institutional apparatus in the eighteenth century, and yet readers have always had expectations and critics have always responded to novels as successful or not with recourse to these. What to make of a novel that is both chipper and crass, sweet and disgusting, rude and mannered, and after all that, still successful?

Margaret Anne Doody is a highly influential eighteenth century scholar and an expert on Burney who edited an issue of Eighteenth Century Fiction on Evelina. I selected her essay  

“Beyond Evelina: The Individual Novel and the Community of Literature”(as my pre-2000 source) to shed light on the legacy of Burney scholarship as well as on new avenues for study of her oeuvre. I found that Burney had previously been deemed a minor writer in a major form worthy of studying for her role in the development of the novel, but dismissed as conventional and “light” by critics before feminist scholars made a case for the innovation the frame narrative of the novel represents and the socio-political critique it put forward in a patriarchal society. While this focus renewed interest in and respect for Burney as a novelist, it did not engage consideration of all the formal strategies Burney deploys in her writing, or even some of these strategies. Doody’s call to consider Burney’s satire in dialogue with Smollett’s and Fielding’s and Swift’s, and as informed by the socio-political context of the moment helped direct my critical reading further. 

Satire does seem to be the right word for it. After all, I want to understand the resilience of Evelina’s canonical status, the pleasures its comedy continues to bring readers and the weightiness of its plot in terms of the literary and socio-political context of its composition and the particular narrative structure it engendered which is deeply satirical, even if its satire remains almost unrecognizable as such by contemporary readers like myself. My first inkling that this book is a satire came from the very duality of its structure, Mr. Villars is opposed to Mme. Duval, the Mirvan’s are contrasted with the Braughton’s, and Lord Orville gallantly intercedes on Evelina’s behalf with every fop in the kingdom, these contrasts give an exemplary quality to Burney’s characterizations that allow them to be both instructive and ridiculous simultaneously. This is the hallmark of satire, however the tone of her satire still made me resist unreservedly identifying it as such. 

From a formal perspective, Julian Fong’s “Frances Burney as Satirist” proved to be most useful in providing answers to my inciting question about the very particular tone of Burney’s comedy.

He identifies her as a gloomy satirist whose view of female agency and of society’s ability to change is deeply pessimistic while her writing remains far from joyless. This description could not be more apt. Her purpose then is what puts her tonally at odds with other satirists like the sillier Fielding or angrier Smollett. Fong writes, “Her satiric purpose, as I understand it, is neither punitive nor reformative, but rather cautionary. She is not trying to chastise the vicious; she tries to warn her readers against the many dangers to which they may be vulnerable, particularly those that threaten young women” (939). This begs the question: if male writers are more readily accepted into the cannon how does this circumscribe today’s reader from recognizing formal strategies in women’s comedic writing. A literary historical knot a course like this one is indeed working to untangle.

Finally, Leanne Maunu’s “Quelling the French Threat in Frances Burney’s Evelina” was very enlightening in providing the historical context and familiarity with the cultural productions of the eighteenth century that made the very troubling characters of Mme Duval and Captain Mirvan legible to me as more than caricature, as studies of the nationalism that was on the rise and all its discontents. 

From it’s setting to its characters the reader can tell Evelina is a novel deeply concerned with publics, those that exist in the city of London and those that exist in the character’s mind, and Burney represents these publics as extremely fraught, her satire is indeed gloomy and serves as a caution to the reader, but not one devoid of pleasure. I’m glad these essays have helped me consider these questions and pointed to future sources and avenues for inquiry. 


Frances Burney Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography, Frances Burney’s Evelina

Doody, Margaret Anne. “Beyond Evelina: The Individual Novel and the Community of Literature”. Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Volume 3, Number 4, July 1991, pp. 359-372

This essay provides historical context about the reception history of Frances Burney’s novels and Evelina in particular, starting with her contemporaries and moving onto shifting trends in the scholarship around her work and how Evelina is taught in institutions. She describes contemporary critics of Burney’s and early scholarship on her work as failing to distinguish between the author and the “nice little rustic miss” she portrays in Evelina, as plagued by a sort of biographical fallacy that neglected Burney’s actual biography, for example the fact that Burney was 26 when she wrote Evelina and not in fact a teenager. Doody’s own biography of Frances Burney which revealed her problematic parentage is credited with a shift in the scholarship on Evelina which once dismissed the plot as conventional but now focuses the frame narrative of the novel and the means by which it’s heroine comes to claim her true name, this more recent scholarship reads the frame variously through formalist, feminist and psychoanalytic lenses. Doody is critical of this shift as she feels it represents a dismissal of Burney’s comic effects and satiric agenda, she attributes neglect of this generic concern to a critical disinterestedness in Burney’s contemporaries, namely: Eliza Haywood and Tobias Smollett. Her criticism of this focus on Evelina’s frame structure and its preoccupation with naming to the exclusion of its comedy evinces the critical establishment’s belief in the individual and a disavowal of the novel’s communal concerns, of Evelina’s relation to the Braughton’s, to Mme. Duval, to Captain Mirvan, and to the political and literary contexts of its composition.  

Fung, Julian. “Frances Burney as Satirist”. The Modern Language Review , Vol. 106, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 937-953

Critic Julian Fung takes up the gauntlet laid down by Doody two decades later, in his essay he describes the formal character of Burney’s satire and attributes the reason it has not been studied to its inconsistency with the forms of “Augustan satire” that became dominant in the twentieth century, which is characterized by an attack on some object being carried out through humour. By comparing Burney’s writing to Fielding’s, Smollett’s and Swift’s he provides historical evidence that satire as it was understood in the eighteenth century was more various than it is now understood to be, satire could be light, it could grim, it could be angry. Fung provides a list of considerations for critics seeking to qualify the satirical effects of an author, such as: what is the protagonists role in relation to the satire, are the satirical characters dangerous, are they sympathetic, are they reformed, and can they be mollified by the protagonist. All of these considerations of plot effect the tone and style of the satire and the degree to which contemporary critics recognize it as such. For Fung, Evelina is a gloomy satire, “she warns her readers against a dangerous world and laments the impossibility of its reform by combining light, humorous ridicule with darker, more disturbing satire.” As the plot thickens lighter representations of course and rude satirical characters who do not threaten Evelina give way to grimmer representations of Evelina as a victim. This critics conclusions have implications that invoke the blind spot of eighteenth-century literary criticism of the novel, “Devotees of the ‘rise of the novel’ theory have been too focused on how Burney can be made to serve as a transitional novelist between Smollett and Austen to recognize her own considerable satiric accomplishments.”

Maunu, Leanne. “Quelling the French Threat in Frances Burney’s Evelina” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture. Volume 31, 2002, pp. 99-125.

(Because there is a limited generic criticism that engages socio-political questions of Evelina, and of the character of Mme. Duval specifically, I broadened my field of interest in Burney’s satire to include the French question which is a thematic explored satirically in the novel.)

In her lifetime, critic Leanne Maunu explains that Frances Burney was referred to as a “character-monger” by Dr. Johnson because of her skill at representing types, like the frenchified fop and the simple country girl. Maunu writes that Mme. Duval and Captain Mirvan are among these types but that they have not undergone the same kind of critical study as others (nor has their violent relationship), but that these types would have been familiar to and resonated with her contemporary readers as they drew on the nationalist rhetoric and anti-french propaganda of the day. Indeed Maunu’s socio-historical criticism describes the way the constant warfare between the two nations fomented a sense of Britishness as something distinct from and superior to Frenchness, a rival power who were perceived to threaten mores at home and colonies abroad. This political inspiration does not merely provide local colour in the novel but configures the plot— Evelina is unlike other marriage plot narratives of the period— seducer’s figure prominently but do not represent the main villain or central threat to the heroine, instead the villainess is a bawdy old French grandmother. For Maunu, Evelina’s grandmother is threatening because of her dual national identity. Indeed when Mme. Duval posits that a Grand Tour of Europe would make quite another person of Captain Mirvan, both he and the novel appear to be skeptical that becoming another person is a desirable thing. (The threat of not being who one seems to be permeates the novel as Evelina is seen with prostitutes by Orville at Vauxhall and wonders is he has misapprehended her character.) The relationship between Mme. Duval and Captain Mirvan is figured as a battle, because Mirvan is representative of the British state his violence is more or less sanctioned by the novel— even if its means are suspect its ends are deemed to be acceptable, at least in theory. But Mirvan does not merely want to beat Mme. Duval, he wants to humiliate her, deflate her pretensions to superiority and silence her. This humiliation is brutal, Mme Duval is kicked while she is down. The grimness of Burney’s satire is inconsistent with the tone of contemporary satire but it speaks to the different satiric registers she is capable of deploying in a single novel and the complexity of her project. For Maunu, “Burney uses humiliation as a strategy to induce us to laugh, but she uses the representation of the Captain to force us to catch that laughter in our throats.” It is the very grimness of her satire that allows the reader to question the righteousness of the nationalist project and Mirvan’s blind and brutal allegiance to it. 

Reflection on Annotated Bib

Upon the first read and with limited knowledge of the political and social context, I sensed, like most, that the story was much bigger than a single character or situation, and the preface also attempts to communicate this idea. However, having never read much on the socio-political works of the eighteenth-century considering women and their societal position, these three sources all help to frame Maria in the same circumstances as Wollstonecraft and other female contemporaries. Maria certainly is unique from other novels of the same time, as it is much more direct in its confrontation with social injustices, and even goes as far as mentioning Rousseau by name as the work Maria reads while in the asylum, which is what truly caught my attention. To what extent does the concept of motherhood in Maria leave the domestic sphere to occupy the political, and what is the significance of this overlap?

Field’s article, focused primarily on The Vindication of the Rights of Woman as a reaction to Enlightenment ideas on women and Rousseau’s justifications for their inferiority, speaks to the novel as a socio-political text under influence of the French Revolution. This brings into question Wollstonecraft’s argument for female equality and independence, as it appears counter to feminism, at least to modern feminism. However, whether Vindication is or is not a solid argument is not the point of my search. Rather, I thought to translate the ideas of Vindication over to Maria and assess if and how Maria serves as a literary vehicle for the same beliefs.

Literature also seems, based on the articles, a means in which maternity entered a larger cultural sphere outside the home. “The Maternal Ailment” touches on the developing literary discourse relating to such things as pregnancy and breastfeeding, along with highly influential and popular handbooks circulating the public with instructions on what constitutes a good pregnancy and a good mother. Obviously, this is helpful in the examination of changes in cultural approaches to maternity, but, I thought, the infiltration of motherhood and the injustices done to female subjects into fiction by Wollstonecraft and others, seems like a counter move to the cultural turn.

In examining Maria as both resistance and reformation literature with hefty and serious interests in political and cultural emphases, I began to wonder why other text we had read this semester (besides maybe Clarissa’s center on spiritual growth) seems to match this novel in weight. The early amatory fiction, for example, although claiming moral guidance as a main purpose, is nowhere near matching Maria’s treatment of the female condition. Perhaps this has something to do with the lack of (or just less) realism, whereas Maria at least has psychological realism? Either way, issues of maternity, while a cultural commodity in the popular cultural literature, takes on a new socio-political gravity in Maria and is now in discourse with texts outside a purely domestic concern. Of course, much more research is still necessary for this inquiry.

Reflections on the Annotated Bibliography

            When reading Clarissa, I became interested in the way the protagonist interacted with the public sphere, the way reputation and public perception influenced the actions and reactions of the characters in the novel, especially for those women operating in the space between childhood and marriage.  Though this initially caught my attention because it is thematically related to a creative project of mine, as the semester had progressed I’ve been attentive to the way this has been addressed in the other eighteenth-century novels we’ve read. All of the female protagonists’ actions in these books have been explicitly limited, and at times determined, by the “eye” of the larger society, and so for the annotated bibliography I sought out articles that addressed this facet of Frances Burney’s Evelina.

            The first article I read was Timothy Dykstal’s “‘Evelina’ and the Culture Industry,” which was a good starting place as it talked about a change in the middle class’s (and think the characters we’ve been concerned with so far would all fall into this social category) interaction with the public sphere in the eighteenth century, something that I was previously vaguely aware of but hadn’t connected with the books we’ve been reading in this class. While I found the framework of dividing the “benefits” of art into three categories to be somewhat reductive, it was instructive to read his analysis of how women in the eighteenth century were and were not allowed to engage critically with art. I’d been considering the ways in which behavior was proscribed but not thought. Dykstal also asserts that culture (with the exception of literature) in Evelina has been reduced to spectacle—e.g., balls and frivolous entertainments—and I would say that this pressure to see and be seen, in a certain light, of course, is one of the limitations placed on Evelina (and other women) as well as a critique of popular culture overall.

            Kristina Straub’s and Julie Parks’ essays are more tightly focused on the period of courtship, a time during which both authors assert that women have the most personal power and social importance. In essence, it is the time in which they most operate in the public sphere.Straub in particular is interested in the devaluation that follows this period, whether via marriage or old maidhood, and the tension between that truth and ideals of romantic love. She points out the way Burney embodies this in mature female characters; being so focused on Evelina herself, I confess that this is something I didn’t attend to on my own. Parks explores similar topics, but with an emphasis on the idea of the automaton (which I’m still wrapping my head around) and the chasm between a private sense of self-consciousness and being continually scrutinized in the public sphere.

            Everything about my final project still feels nebulous, but its direction might be something of a synthesis of aspects of these three articles. I’m interested in the idea of the coming out period as being one of unprecedented social clout but also one filled with peril and scrutiny. In particular, I’m thinking about the way this effects women’s private and social senses of self. In terms of texts, I’m undecided as so far it feels like there could be a fruitful analysis along these lines for all of the novels we’ve read so far. As far as a complementary text goes, half of me wants to find a contemporaneous novel that handles this tension in somewhat different manner, though I’m also interested in the idea of looking at the same topic in a later piece of literature. Suggestions/thoughts welcome!

Annie’s Reflection

My main thoughts after reading three sources about the growing dominance of realism in the 18th century are that these sources can be used to deconstruct the idea of the realism mode being the most expert at describing the “real.” McKeon points out squabbling of the time about what form was the most realistic, and that the novel form that developed out of these squabbles wasn’t just one easily classifiable type, but a series of competing forms that influenced each other in their race to become more realistic. The competition he outlines—Fielding criticizing someone who was criticizing someone else—is to me a sign that no one form by itself is ever going to be perfect at expressing the “real,” not to mention a sign that there’s no universal understanding of exactly the “real” is.

Ross and Carnell stir similar thoughts because both of their works expose possible motivations behind the rise of the realism mode—motivations that were other than simply wanting to express what is most real; much traditional scholarship and definitions of realism, Ross argues, suspiciously fall along lines that remove women from the equation, and Carnell argues similarly that “those writers handed down to us as serious, ‘realistic’ novelists have frequently been either Whig or anti-Jacobite Tory” (9-10).

Of course, my task now is to take these ideas and connect them somehow to one of the novels we have read for class, and I am hoping that Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey might help me do that, since its content deals at least somewhat with the way that romance novels of the day influence the heroine.

Other ways I could see narrowing this topic would be to compare Richardson’s Clarissa with an 18th century romance we did not read for class (but one that is similar to the style of Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina or Mary Davys’ Coquet) and examine the romance for the ways that it achieves a kind of poetic truth even if it does not achieve the kind of literally real experience that Clarissa conveys. Or, I could examine the romance for elements of the real that both Ross and Bowers argue they contain, while also examining Clarissa for elements of romance that Ross argues some of the realist novels—despite their authors criticizing the romance—also contain.

I question myself, however, even as I write these things, because this exploration is starting to sound somewhat like a witch hunt—I’m not sure what’s at stake that’s really valuable, in other words. Perhaps I have somewhat of a chip on my shoulder for the ways in which fiction workshops—in my experience—have more often tended to emphasize the telling of literal truth over the telling of poetic truth, and maybe there is a part of me that wants to reclaim the value of poetic truth? I think of an essay by Tim O’Brien called “Telling Tales,” in which he writes that while the questions of verisimilitude we frequently bring to stories and novel excerpts in fiction workshops are important, the problem he often sees with fiction in progress is not that it’s unrealistic, but that it’s boring. His essay makes me think, simply, that those of us who write in the realist tradition (myself included), can get too hung up on trying to present something that feels realistic instead of something that feels moving, important, poetically resonant somehow. Why do so many of us so highly value a work feeling realistic and believable over a work achieving these other—I would argue equally valuable—aspects?  


I have finally discovered the source of my previous inability to post to the blog. Hurrah!

I went into the research process knowing that I wanted to look into conceptions of maternity and motherhood, as Maria is so focused on this role. It’s likely, too, that I was particularly affected by the trauma of having one’s newborn torn from them and then likely killed via neglect or malice; as a mother myself, stories in which a child is lost or taken have a profound impact on me. It was interesting, too, that Maria was so focused on re-uniting with her child—not because it’s unusual for a mother to want to be with their child but because, in much of literature, children are somewhat of a trap for women characters. Literary children limit their mother’s autonomy even more than it already is, foreclose on avenues of freedom and self-sufficiency, and generally seem to represent a terrible burden that, ironically or paradoxically, also seem capable of exciting deep attachment and love.

As I researched Maria, however, I found that many of the articles were returning to this conversation about breastfeeding and Wollstonecraft’s general feminist philosophy. It was for this reason that I selected three texts, spanning roughly the last quarter-century, that sought to critique or redeem Wollstonecraft’s apparent focus on breast-feeding as something that could somehow grant women both the benefits of gendered femininity and the benefits of a less gendered citizenship or companionship. As my future research plans heavily incorporate women writers’ depictions of female relationships—motherhood, sisterhood, daughter…hood?—I am intrigued by the notion of seeing how the expectations and performance of motherhood evolved from its 18th century roots into the present. I may, then, attempt to build on this research by seeking to read more texts that discuss woman as a maternal figure; I’m not sure yet if this research should perform comparative work between Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries or if I should move further into the future to trace an evolution. At least three of the texts that I’m considering for my dissertation are contemporary women’s literature that prominently feature a mother/daughter relationship and some discuss the myth of the maternal rather explicitly.

Beyond this insight about the direction my research should take, I found the cultural context in these articles to be very interesting. One of the reasons I experience somewhat more difficulty in coming up with and making strong claims about historical fiction is my anxiety about the need for cultural context. I’m not particularly comfortable drawing conclusions about the significance or implications of a text when I know little-to-nothing about the issues it was addressing, the climate into which it was released, and the probable and actual responses of its audience. The research process did what I usually most want a research process to do: educate me about some of the things I didn’t know that the author and her readers would have. Perhaps this is because I’ve been teaching some version of Freshman Comp I & II for the last 5 years of my life, but I think the audience shapes the text. Obviously, we can see and argue that these types of classic literary texts remain relevant and are, in their way, timeless—but I still struggle to see how I can prove some difference or similarity to other texts if I have no concept of how that text would have been conceived and received.


In approaching the second annotated bibliography, my initial thought was to seek articles or chapters dealing with the inset narratives in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria, or The Wrongs of Women. In particular, I was interested in Jemima, and the first source I found dealt with Jemima’s self-narration as it provides a potential commentary on prostitute biographies, a popular genre of the eighteenth century. As I continued to peruse the articles available, I noticed several titles making reference to theories of trauma and discussion of Wollstonecraft. The two that I chose deal specifically with narration and trauma, examining the ways that trauma both can and can’t be expressed through spoken narrative or writing.

I hadn’t considered the lens of trauma theory when I first explored the topic, and I’m still pondering how those considerations color ideas of the power of narration. My interest in form began with the first annotated bibliography, which focused specifically on Clarissa’s epistolary framework. One point that came up during class discussion of my annotated bibliography on Maria, however, was the potential for the ideas of trauma and narration to be examined in relation to Clarissa as well. Looking back on those earlier annotations, I recall Kvande’s connection between the epistolary form and the “female expressive self” (240). It’s interesting to consider the moments when Clarissa is able to put words to her trauma, and the moments where her ability to express herself fail. Maria is fragmentary in its form, which speaks in some ways to the nature of its heroine’s conflicts; Clarissa’s mental state in the aftermath of her rape by Lovelace is also represented through textual fragments. Trauma often seems to impede narrative in these texts, even as characters seek to use narrative—written or spoken—to articulate or to resolve trauma.

Both assignments provided an opportunity to investigate the minutia of the related works’ structures to a more significant extent. Schönfelder’s article, for example, noted that as many as twenty-five narratives of female experiences are articulated, to either a limited or deeper extent, as Maria develops. I enjoyed pursuing those threads for purposes of the annotations; I am interested in the way that those narrative details influence the work as a whole. I’m not certain how much bearing the lens of trauma theory will have on my work as I anticipate the final project. However, I hope that the discussions of narrative will in some way prove useful even if my project isn’t centered on Clarissa or Maria in particular.

As I mentioned in class, I am interested in developing a final project based on gaming treatment of, for lack of a better phrase, the “world of Jane Austen.” Thus far, I have done some reading about an online game called Ever, Jane and a card-based game called Good Society: A Jane Austen RPG. Both involve a multiplayer format, and dynamics and storylines are based in character/player interactions. For the project itself, I might explore how the narrative style that the gaming structure facilitates approximates the forms we have seen in the texts we have read this semester. The desire to engage with material in something like a game implies significant appreciation; I am also curious to consider what conclusions games like these might allow us to draw about the way contemporary audiences think about the world surrounding Austen.

Annotated Bibliography on Burney’s Evelina

I’ve been interested in the ways in which Evelina interacts with culture and functions in the public sphere, so that’s what I focused on here.

Dykstal, Timothy. “‘Evelina’ and the Culture Industry.” Criticism, vol. 37, no. 4 (1995), pp. 559–81.

Jürgen Habermas has posited that as the eighteenth-century middle class entered the public sphere and began to form their own opinions of art, they developed critical thinking skills that were eventually applied to politics and social issues. This is the framework in which Dykstal discusses Evelina’s relationship to culture. The author describes three benefits of art—moral instruction, enlightenment, and connoisseurship—and explores the degree to which Evelina (and eighteenth-century women more broadly) engage with them. Ultimately, he asserts that, with the notable exception of reading, art is reduced to spectacle in Evelina and the benefits proposed by Habermas are absent.

Park, Julie. “Pains and Pleasures of the Automaton: Frances Burney’s Mechanics of Coming Out.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 4, no. 3 (2006), pp. 23–49.

In her three novels, Frances Burney focuses on the time period between childhood and marriage, and Park examines the way in which she portrays the relationship between the private minds of her female characters and their public life. Park believes that the coming out process involves a “compulsive identification with the automaton” and explores Burney’s portrayal of her heroines through that lens. While she sees Burney as identifying her characters with the automaton, she does not simply parrot a cultural conceit. Instead, Park asserts, Burney uses the novels to explore the degree to which individual affect can exist within automatized femininity.

Straub, Kristina. “Fanny Burney’s ‘Evelina’ and the ‘Gulphs, Pits, and Precipices’ of Eighteenth-Century Female Life. The Eighteenth Century, vol. 2, no. 3 (1986), pp. 230–46.

Straub analyzes how Frances Burney portrays the power and social importance of women in Evelina. Specifically, she is interested in the differences between women during courtship—when they are most in the public sphere—and afterward, and in the tension between the ideals of romantic love and the powerlessness that often followed marriage in the eighteenth century. Through a close reading of the text, Straub asserts that though Evelina is subversive is some ways, it ultimately reinforces patriarchal notions of power: female power must acknowledge and defer to male power.

Wollstonecraft Annotated Bib 2 – McCafferty

Field, Corinne. “BREAST-FEEDING, SEXUAL PLEASURE, AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT’S VINDICATION.” Critical Matrix, vol. 9, no. 2, Princeton University, Program in the Study of Women and Gender, Dec. 1995, p. 25,

            In this article, Field discusses and dissects Mary Wollstonecraft’s argument for female equality in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by means of historical, political, biographical, and cultural contexts concerning maternity. In understanding Wollstonecraft’s text as a response to Enlightenment ideas on women’s bodies and their inferior position to male counterparts, Field notes that Vindication, addressed more specifically to Rousseau, employs the act of breastfeeding as evidence for women’s education and independence rather than against it. Flipping Rousseau’s argument over, Wollstonecraft refers to the anti-wet nurse campaign as reason women are meant to be more than sexual objects in the role as mother and also suggests that “men’s desire turned women into sexual objects for male consumption, but this male-defined sexuality could not be natural because it prevented women from being good mothers.” Aside from establishing the female breast as the location of female independence and agency, Field also speculates on Wollstonecraft’s rationale of rejecting coquetry for “rational affection” as a reaction to her own witnessing of the unpleasant interactions between her parents. Ending the article, Field acknowledges the irony between Wollstonecraft’s idea that nature granted pregnant women and mothers a status above a mere sexual object and her untimely death after complications during giving birth and also the irony of her argument regarding the female breast and how it is seemingly counter-revolutionary to feminism, particularly modern feminism.

“The Maternal Aliment: Feeding Daughters in the Works of Mary       Wollstonecraft.” Spilling the Beans: Eating, Cooking, Reading and Writing in British   Women’s Fiction, 1770-1830, Manchester University Press, 2013.

            In this rather lengthy chapter, issues of consumption and (re)production regarding the mother’s body in both socio-historical and literary contexts are the main concentration. The change of culture relating to breastfeeding and pregnancy shifted according to literary discourse. Taking, for example, William Buchan, a popular obstetrician who wrote books on pregnancy and maternity and who expressed the opinion that a mother was more than a woman who birthed a child, is one of many influential writers of these handbooks. These handbooks sought to instruct women on how to conduct themselves during pregnancy and childbirth to adhere to the “ideal” status. The chapter continues with this eighteenth-century idea on mothers as both consumers and producers in relation to Mary Wollstonecraft’s texts, where mothers also exist in the contexts of food and nutrition (in the sense of both food and instruction). When milk is no longer needed or available, the mother’s writing becomes its substitute nutrients, particularly to girls. Within Wollstonecraft’s texts, images of food reflect the quality of mothering they receive.

Raisanen, Elizabeth. Childbirth and Confinement: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Politics of Pregnancy. eScholarship, Mar. 2011,

            Raisanen draws a parallel connection between the events or possible events in Maria and the choices Mary Wollstonecraft made regarding her own time giving birth. Beginning with the latter, Raisanen notes the puerperal fever Wollstonecraft developed after one male physician, with unwashed hands, extracted the placenta still lodged within her. Although Wollstonecraft had and much preferred a midwife, she did not have as much of an influence in the room as the obstetrician. Of course, as Raisanen acknowledges, was a current issue of the time, as female practitioners were not well received, and “a male physician was now deemed necessary to interpret the female body.” Although Maria is an unfinished work, Raisanen argues that its treatment of pregnancy and childbirth is one example of women writers’ expressing against the lack of influence eighteenth-century women possess. Maria is confined within a miserable marriage, pregnancy, and a madhouse while also stifled under the laws which subjects her and her child to the husband. Reflecting on the fragments of Maria, Raisanen concentrates on the suicide scenario, in which Jemima guides Maria back from the act during her second pregnancy. This, Raisanen assumes, is Wollstonecraft choosing female company and authority over her own body.

While this text is much shorter than the others and admittedly not as insightful, it may be useful in considering how much Wollstonecraft’s pregnancy influenced or would have influenced the ending of Maria. I believe this may be helpful to consider how she was received, since her contemporaries and some other earlier scholars have been known to hold Wollstonecraft’s texts up against her biography.

Annie’s 2nd Annotated Bibliography

Updated 10/24/19: I’ve added my third source and annotation to the end of this list.

Mckeon, Michael. “Generic Transformation and Social Change: Rethinking the Rise of the Novel.” Cultural Critique 1 (1985): 159–181. JSTOR,

McKeon argues that there are “great instances of categorical instability” that led to the rise of the novel: instability of literary genre categories and instability of “social categories” (161). He describes the first as “a major cultural transition in attitudes toward how to tell the truth in narrative” (161). And the second, as “a cultural crisis in attitudes toward how the external social order is related to the internal, moral state of its members” (161).

Regarding genre categories, there was on one side a criticism of “romantic” novels that became a “naive empiricist championing of ‘true history’” (163). But which was then met by a counter-critique that insisted the version these “naïve empiricists” put forth still wasn’t “real.” Fielding’s fiction, he argues, criticized the camp he labels the “extreme skeptics,” who had somehow become critical of “romance” in a way that made their writings become merely a species of an older type of romance. Ultimately, he argues that the novel came into existence “not in the isolated emergence of a great text or two, but as an experimental process consisting of many different stages” (170).

This was a difficult text for me, but one big takeaway for me is merely the witnessing of the “fights” over which narrative form was the most realistic. The squabbles happening over which genre was “best” at representing truth makes me feel that since then not much has changed: one person writes a novel, and soon after another writer writes a novel that somehow criticizes the previous for not being “real” enough but in the process executes some type of form that someone in the following generation will also find unrealistic.

Ross, Deborah L. “Introduction.” Excellence of Falsehood : Romance, Realism, and Women’s Contribution to the Novel, University Press of Kentucky, 1991. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Deborah Ross’ introduction argues that some of the debate surrounding the realistic capabilities of the “romance” vs. the realistic novel actually falls along gender lines. She writes the following:

“But this particular battle was clearly, in part, a battle of the sexes, a continued attempt to fortify serious literature against the encroachment of women’s writings, which were becoming ever more abundant and popular. When novels were the preferred form, writers such as Henry Fielding scornfully classed Eliza Haywood’s productions with French romances. And later, when romance was enjoying a new respectability, writers such as Sir Walter Scott wrote patronizingly of the “realist” Jane Austen. The need to draw and redraw lines that would keep women on the wrong side added zest to critics’ attempts to use “resemblance to truth” to separate “romance” from ‘novel'” (10).

Part of Ross’ argument, however, is that even the “realist” novels being written by men in the later part of the 18th century were still borrowing conventions from earlier romances. And that the 18th “romances” written by women (Burney among them) held elements that were in certain ways very real and true to the people writing them.

This source, again, makes me troubled simply that we have a mode called “realism.” Is this mode more “real” than other modes of writing? I question its name.

Carnell, Rachel. “Introduction.” Partisan Politics, Narrative Realism, and the Rise of the British Novel, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Carnell in this book is analyzing Richardson, Austen, and others from a political perspective: how were their novels commenting on the political parties of the time? Her overall thesis is essentially that the political partisanship of the time “helped determine the formal structures we have come to call narrative realism” (1). A couple claims in this introduction I found pertinent to my questions about realism: that more recent scholarship of the 18th century novel has been “cautious about focusing on formalist conventions that have been used to distinguish ‘great’ from ‘lesser’ works of literature” (1). And that what for a time was honored as the most realistic novels of the century falls not just along gender lines but also at times along political lines:

“Given the outcome of the events of 1688 and the subsequent emergence of Whig political dominance in eighteenth-century Britain, those writers handed down to us as serious, ‘realistic’ novelists have frequently been either Whig or anti-Jacobite Tory. Defoe has been admired since the early nineteenth century for his ‘natural painting.’ Fielding and Austen have been touted for their use of irony in depicting the social realities of their eras. By contrast, the narrative irony in Eliza Haywood’s late pro-Jacobite novels has rarely been mentioned by critics, and the pro-Stuart Behn is seldom considered a realist novelist, even though she employs many of the techniques associated with narrative realism in traditional scholarship” (9-10).