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Title:Dangerous men: the crisis of masculinity in romantic women's fiction
Author(s):Mercado, Jessica M
Director of Research:Wood, Gillen D
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Wood, Gillen D
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Markley, Robert; Nazar, Hina; Underwood, Ted
Department / Program:English
Discipline:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):British Romanticism
18th century
masculinity
women writers
Frances Burney
Cecilia
Camilla
Charlotte Smith
Marchmont
Amelia Opie
Adeline Mowbray
Abstract:My dissertation establishes a pre-history of the Byronic and Austenian hero, contributing to larger discussions of masculinity, women’s writing, and feminist literary studies in the Romantic period. I address a gap in Romantic-era scholarship by interrogating how proto-Byronic and Austenian heroes reflect societal and authorial attitudes toward men and often incompatible masculine forms of behavior. Keen observers of their social environment, novelists Frances Burney, Charlotte Smith, and Amelia Opie were not content with stick-figure heroes and villains. Their richly drawn male characters are deeply embedded in late-Georgian controversies over men’s status, responsibilities, and behavior, reflecting what I term the “crisis of masculinity” in the Romantic period. I argue that before Jane Austen and Lord Byron – dominant Romantic writers of the 1810s – Burney, Smith, and Opie’s novels illustrated the ongoing debates over Georgian masculinity among both men and women. Combining feminist and masculinity studies, my dissertation reveals how women writers understood and created male characters, providing key insight into issues of male identity largely given short shrift in Romantic period criticism. Each of my four chapters illustrates the perceived changes in male behavior in late-Georgian Britain transformed masculinity and the predicament of fictional heroines confronted with predatory or otherwise threatening male suitors. I contribute to the work of cultural historians and literary scholars who have addressed the public controversies over masculine conduct throughout this period, making the male characters in novels integral to my analysis. My cultural and historical archive, a collection of eighteenth-century pamphlets, poems, plays and guidebooks, situates the crisis in masculinity within a larger social debate. Thus contributing to the field of masculinity studies – the work of Michele Cohen, Tim Hitchcock and G.J. Barker-Benfield, in particular – by questioning male behavioral codes, and how male characters in Burney, Smith, and Opie perpetuated or challenged destructive models of masculine behavior. My discussion of how women are negatively affected, physically, mentally and financially, by men’s inability to adjust to these changing norms builds on the work of feminist scholars such as Claudia Johnson and Eleanor Ty. We can better comprehend the changing expectations for masculine behavior in Romantic-era society and its fiction by considering male characters as part of a burgeoning social dilemma in debates on masculinity. My first chapter argues that Burney’s Cecilia (1782) investigates the crisis of masculinity through a conflict that emerges in period notions of politeness and the refinement of manners, and the harmful effect this has on women and men in the novel. Focusing on the struggle of the novel’s suitors, Mortimer Delvile and Mr. Monckton, to avoid looking too violent or too effeminate, I show how their conflict endangers Cecilia. I argue that Burney presents these characters as both too aggressive and too weak, too manly and too polite. Through this conflict between politeness and manliness, I explore Burney’s portrayal of a dubious hero and rival as embryonic components of the male characters that emerge in Austen’s and Byron’s work. In chapter two, I discuss Burney’s second novel, Camilla (1796), contending that the male characters and their desires – for wealth, status and companionship – endanger the heroines’ lives by exposing them to familial and social predation. These masculine desires reflect changing social expectations toward courtship practices and a battle between often irreconcilable male behaviors. I use eighteenth-century pamphlets and poems that warn men and women of public predators, and use works like The Spectator (1711-12), to contextualize the novel’s critique of masculine desire as a conflict originating from refashioned attitudes toward gallantry and courtship practices. Burney’s departure from the effeminate sentimentality of Mortimer in Cecilia, and her move toward the silent, restrained Edgar Mandlebert, suggests a desire, for, I argue, the kind of reticent male character that we later see in Austen. Turning to the contested and evolving divide between the professional classes and gentlemen, chapter three examines the link between aspiring gentlemen lawyers and ruined male heirs in the politically repressive period of 1790s England. A political Gothic novel akin to William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1793), Smith’s Marchmont (1796) addresses the social threat that upwardly mobile lawyers posed to country gentlemen. I provide a brief history of “legal representations” in era satires, poems and plays to contextualize the corruption in Smith’s depiction of lawyers. With the poor and exiled Marchmont, I contend that Smith suggests a new model for gentlemanly behavior not dependent on property and fortune, but deeply invested in a cosmopolitan identity exemplifying masculine virtues such as generosity, sincerity, and honor. A new class of professional gentlemen, like the monstrous lawyers in the novel, represent a distorted inverse of these manly characteristics. Smith’s concerns about predatory men depart from Burney’s in her emphasis on the marginal zone between the professions and the gentry, and the damage this masculine gray area does to women, who cannot find personal or legal protection from either model of gentlemen. Continuing the discussion of the pernicious practices of the professional classes, chapter four centers on the friction between theory and practice in Amelia Opie’s Adeline Mowbray (1805). I argue that Opie’s novel is a junction text, treating the concerns of earlier Romantic writers while also anticipating those of the second generation, as various masculine types converge. Opie’s use of four different male characters – the libertine, fortune hunter, lawyer, and effeminate male – paints a picture of dangerous men encircling the heroine. Yet, the intellectual lover, Glenmurray, is most harmful in his ambiguous, misleading self-representation and his inability to protect the heroine. I situate Opie’s novel as part of a larger conversation in the Romantic period, as older models of masculine aggression still dominate in the Byronic hero, but are also being replaced by a new model of masculine rectitude and responsibility that looks forward to such Austen heroes as Edmund Bertram and Captain Wentworth. Women writers from the first generation of Romantic fiction engaged in challenging masculinity, and their critiques provoked the development of new expectations for male behavior. Their representations of heroic and even villainous men considered how the struggle to adhere to competing models of masculinity meant different negotiations for women and English society. The hero of the Romantic period, and his attractive but dangerous rival, become critical aspects of emergent characterizations of men in the novels of the nineteenth-century, from Austen to the Brontës.
Issue Date:2017-04-21
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/97742
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Jessica Mercado
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05


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