The Lover as Father Figure in Eighteenth-Century Women's Fiction

The Lover as Father Figure in Eighteenth-Century Women's Fiction

Drawing on examples from Behn, Manley, Haywood, Burney, Inchbald, Smith, and Austen, Eleanor Wikborg's book is an original, comprehensive, and provocative study of the contradictions in the patriarchal ideology that governs the eighteenth-century courtship novel.--John Richetti, University of Pennsylvania

This book is an exploration of the ways women writers of eighteenth-century English fiction invented a father figure who becomes the heroine's lover, and in effect proposed that these novels serve as conduct books for men.

Wikborg examines the strategies of women writers devising imaginary solutions to the contradiction between the eighteenth-century belief that women could be safely happy only in marriage and the inequalities endured by the women in those marriages. Beyond their construction of the father figure as various types--guardian, princely suitor, mentor--Wikborg contends that women writers were exploring alternative male behaviors in their novels--that is, they were not in the business of upholding prevailing gender structures. Cutting through the distinction often drawn between the politically advanced novelists of the 1790s and their predecessors, Wikborg finds that many of these writers tried to transform the father figure into an ideal suitor who after marriage would recognize his wife's female personhood.

The book is also the first to focus on lover as father figure across such a wide range of writers, from familiar figures such as Aphra Behn in the early 1700s and Radcliffe and Jane Austen at century's end to much less well-known writers early and late. Among the work's illuminating features is the linking of Austen's novels to their eighteenth-century predecessors.

Wikborg's examination of the theme of the eighteenth-century father/lover includes a discussion of the figures of parents and mentors in an age when these roles were being renegotiated.

Eleanor Wikborg is professor of English at Stockholm University.

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