Writing against division: Frances Burney and the collective female voice

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Scholars increasingly acknowledge the need to contextualize and historicize Frances Burney's fiction within the community of eighteenth-century literature. Until recently, they have denied Burney her maternal ancestry and cast her as the venerating descendant of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett. Even now, critics understate the importance of the female literary community to Burney's fiction, treating piecemeal her systematic engagement with other women writers. This dissertation examines Burney’s antagonistic relationship to the dominant literary culture and situates Burney firmly within a female literary tradition. Burney's fiction unveils the power structures behind the ideology of sensibility, especially the gender inequities behind the "feminization" of culture. Despite her decorum, Burney condemns a male literary establishment that ultimately misrepresents the female subject and stifles the female voice. Examining the woman writer's struggle in the cultural marketplace, Burney's fiction explores the price the "respectable" woman writer pays to gain literary fame and economic independence. From the perils of ambition in Evelina, Burney moves to the cultural politics of generosity and gratitude in Cecilia and Camilla, and finally to the myth of self-dependence in The Wanderer. Each novel scrutinizes the cultural demand that the woman writer conform to sentimental constructions of woman. More importantly, each novel exposes male interdictions against female bonding and community in both the literary marketplace and culture at large. Though apparent supporters of the woman writer, the male establishment serve a policing function, supervising female morality to ensure that the feminine paragon remains uncontaminated by "undesirable" female associates. Burney subverts these divisive forces by drawing on the works of women writers, repudiating male attempts to polarize the female literary community, and the cultural guardians to whom her propriety-bound surfaces appeal.
Bibliography: p. 269-285.
Zelinsky, K. E. (1995). Writing against division: Frances Burney and the collective female voice (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. doi:10.11575/PRISM/20598