In 1856, George Eliot complained loudly about “silly novels by lady novelists,” arguing that “in novel-writing there are no barriers for incapacity to stumble against, no external criteria to prevent a writer from mistaking foolish facility for mastery.” Many of her fellow women writers, Eliot observed, did not take their work seriously enough, filling their pages with clichéd plots, “the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic.” Against this humbug, she believed that novel-writing was one of the few opportunities for Victorian women to assert their ideas on morality, philosophy, politics, and economics and insisted “that women can produce novels not only fine, but among the very finest—novels, too, that have a precious speciality, lying quite apart from masculine aptitudes and experience.”
This course examines the dynamic relationship between women writers, the novel, and the literary marketplace. We’ll explore how individual authors use the genre to question, critique, and in some cases, support the range of opportunities available for women within the dominant ideologies of gender and capitalism.
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey / Lady Susan / The Watsons (Oxford UP)
Bronte, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Oxford UP)
Broughton, Rhoda. Cometh Up as a Flower (Broadview)
Eliot, George. Silas Marner (Oxford UP)
Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South (Oxford UP)
Schreiner, Olive. The Story of an African Farm. (Broadview)