Quixotic “Stranger-ness” and Its Critical Potentialities in Charlotte Lennox’s
The Female Quixote *
- Author: Oh Bonghee
- Publish: Feminist Studies in English Literature Volume 19, Issue1, p91~123, 30 Apr 2011
This essay revisits the question of genre and its link to the question of gender, an issue that has already been much discussed in the criticism of Charlotte Lennox’s
The Female Quixote. While partly turning to the previous critical approaches to Lennox’s text, it attempts to add a new perspective by foregrounding Arabella’s quixotic “stranger-ness” and its critical potentialities. This essay begins by considering what characterizes Arabella’s paternal home whose disagreeable realities precondition Arabella to be a female Quixote. Arabella’s firm belief in the factuality of romances and her desire to be a romance heroine make her a stranger both in a temporal and a spatial sense. But her “stranger-ness” turns out to be more than quixotic. It provides her with critical perspectives on gender relations in the real world and on social conditions that render women into nobodies. This essay also looks at the debate between Arabella and the Doctor about the issue of fictionality, which shows that both Arabella and the novel cannot make a clean break with the romance genre. This essay ends with the suggestion that Arabella’s cure is not a concluding solution to what her “stranger-ness” brings up.
Charlotte Lennox , gender , romance(s) , stranger , stranger-ness , The Female Quixote , novel
In attempting to describe discontinuities in what he calls the episteme of Western culture, Michel Foucault asserts that Miguel de Cervantes’s
Don Quixote, whose hero believes what he reads in books to be true, is “the first modern work of literature” (48). One of three reasons he gives is that in that text, “language breaks off its old kinship with things” (49).1 Likewise, in tracing the historical origin of fiction, Hans Robert Jauss sees the same text as “a founding text of the modern era” because it “attests to the complete separation of fiction and reality” (9).2 Whether these views on Don Quixoteare agreed on or contested, what matters is that both of them draw attention to the separation between fiction and reality, implying that the relationship between the two became problematic around the beginning of the modern age to such a degree that one’s inability to distinguish the one from the other came to be considered a particular kind of madness. This kind of madness became more associated with women than with men, as Don Quixoteenjoyed a wide popularity in England “during the eighteenth century especially” (Staves 193). In comparing Cervantes’s text with Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixotein his review of the latter published in The Covent-Garden JournalNo. 24, for example, Henry Fielding favorably comments that the subversion of one’s head “by reading Romances” is “more easy to be granted in the Case of a young lady than of an old Gentleman” (qtd. in Williams 193). Here, Fielding touches upon the connection between the question of genre and the question of gender.
The question of genre and its link to the question of gender has achieved centrality in critical approaches to Lennox’s text, since feminist theories began to draw new attention to early British novels by eighteenth-century women writers around the late 1970s. While some scholars argue that Lennox satirizes the romance genre, or rather, satirizes and simultaneously rescues it, others suggest that it is not so much romance as the novel that she criticizes. Most of them, however, bring into high relief the seemingly naturalized relation between romance and femininity, whether they problematize the naturalization itself or stress romance’s “profound appeal to women” (Spacks, “Subtle Sophistry” 533). This association of romance with femininity has aroused controversy about how to read Arabella’s cure, with which
The Female Quixoteends. If Arabella’s romances “are sites of female power” (Pawl 151), and if “female power can exist only as a delusion” (Langbauer 46), then her cure should be read not only as her renunciation of romance but her disavowal of female power. According to this reading, the subversive power Arabella enjoys while sticking to the law of romances becomes defused, although a few scholars suggest that Arabella’s ostensibly submissive transformation is “a masquerade to hide Lennox’s subversive desire” (Park 44).
Recently, however, some critics have tended to shift the main emphasis of the analysis from the question of genre and its connection to the question of gender. Instead, they focus on the political or social aspects of
The Female Quixotein a way that tends to marginalize genre and gender questions. For example, disagreeing with critics occupied with the question of genre, Ruth Mack argues that Lennox’s concern is with “how literary texts participate in England’s definition of itself as a modern society” (195). She finds Lennox’s question to be: “how can one claim to understand—or even to see—the relationship between one’s own perspective and a perspective defined as different from one’s own?” (195). Mack’s approach asks us to consider the difference between Arabella and the people around her in terms of the relation between a society outside England and England’s own, and calls attention to Arabella as a kind of “stranger within” embodying other cultures. By disregarding the question of genre and its link to the question of gender, however, Mack fails to consider what implications Arabella’s quixotic “stranger-ness” has in the context of genre and gender questions.
The terms “stranger” and “stranger-ness” may remind some readers of Julia Kristeva’s
Strangers to Ourselves, an influential work in our contemporary discussions of “the stranger.” In tracing the notion of the stranger in the history of Western thought in this text, Kristeva reflects on “our ability to accept new modalities of otherness” (2). Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Unheimliche, i.e., the uncanny, she argues that the stranger is nowhere else but “within us,” which hints that this stranger is nothing but the unconscious ( Strangers191). According to this logic, we are all strangers both to others and to ourselves; therefore, there are no strangers. This gesture of universalizing “strangeness”—the term Kristeva uses to refer to our being strangers to ourselves—leads to her suggestion of a political model for a cosmopolitanism. She founds this model on cosmopolitan ideas proposed by Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu and Kant, the core idea of which, according to her reading, is “a rejection of unified society for the sake of a coordinated diversity” ( Strangers133). In her critical engagement with Kristeva’s study on the stranger, Sara Ahmed introduces the term “strangerness.” According to Ahmed, Kristeva overlooks “how strangerness is already unevenly distributed,” even though she distributes “strangerness to everyone” (“Skin” 96, original emphasis). Kristeva asks “foreigners to recognize and respect the strangeness of those who welcome them” as well as vice versa ( Nations31). It is at this point that Ahmed warns us against Kristeva’s universalizing of “strangerness,” to use Ahmed’s term, because “some others are recognized as stranger than others” (“Skin” 99).
Curiously enough, Ahmed does not give any specific explanation of her use of the term “strangerness” in her comments on Kristeva’s notion of “strangeness.” One possible explanation may be found in Ahmed’s suggestion that “we must refuse to take for granted the stranger’s status as a figure” (
Strange3). According to Ahmed, “it is the processes of expelling or welcoming the one who is recognized as a stranger that produce the figure of the stranger in the first place” ( Strange4, original emphasis). But this point is already implied in Kristeva’s notion of “strangeness” and also in her notion of “abjection,” which means an act of ejecting “what disturbs identity” ( Powers4). Ahmed’s insight rather lies in her argument that taking for granted the stranger’s figurability functions to conceal “the social and material relations which overdetermine” strangers’ existence—the function that she terms “stranger fetishism,” based on the Marxist model of commodity fetishism ( Strange5). In this context, her use of the term “strangerness” can be read as her effort to question stranger fetishism and to highlight social and material relations whereby some are recognized as stranger than others.
Ahmed’s position appears to become problematic, however, when she dissents from those who view strangers, in her words, as “internal rather than external to identity” because this remark hints that she considers them external to it (
Strange6). The notion of “strangers within us” does not suggest that strangers are internal rather than external to identity, but that they are at once internal and external to it. As Ahmed notes, those who universalize “strangeness” as the very thing that “we” hold in common are prone to fall into stranger fetishism. To dismiss their insights regarding one’s uncanny strangeness to oneself, however, would be to throw out the baby with the bathwater. If Ahmed’s position calls attention to social relationships concealed by stranger fetishism and to the political implications of the uneven distribution of “strangerness,” then the notion of “strangers within us” helps us to explore alternative ways to encounter strangers without reifying or marginalizing them as such. Although both Kristeva’s and Ahmed’s insights underlie this essay, neither Kristeva’s term “strangeness” nor Ahmed’s term “strangerness” is preferred here. The reason is that the former is heavily charged with psychoanalytic resonances, whereas the latter implies the uneven distribution of “strangerness” and therefore requires the presence of at least two strangers. Instead, the term “stranger-ness” is used to refer to Arabella’s being (recognized as) a stranger who embodies other cultures or perspectives and to her singular way to see things.
It is significant in exploring the gender-related implications of Arabella’s stranger-ness that, unlike her contemporary male writers who utilized the figure of Don Quixote, Lennox changed his sex and presented a
femaleQuixote to her contemporary world. Arabella is not only a quixoticfigure but a woman. What kind of difference, then, can be made when the figure of Quixote assumes a female subject position? Rather than dismissing the question of genre and its relation to the question of gender, this essay attempts to explore Arabella’s quixotic stranger-ness in the context of genre and gender questions. It starts with the examination of the peculiar aspect of Arabella’s paternal home, where Arabella grows into a female Quixote. It then discusses the critical potentialities of Arabella’s stranger-ness, which demonstrates that Arabella’s stranger-ness is more than quixotic. The term “critical potentialities” is used to refer to the critical and subversive power contained implicitly or explicitly in Arabella’s stranger-ness and to potential threats posed by it especially against the established gender relations and women’s social nobodiness. Regarding the question of genre, it pays special attention to the displacement of the issue of fictionality by other issues such as foreignness, temporality or criminality, the displacement that occurs in Arabella’s cure by the Doctor in the penultimate chapter. Instead of reading Arabella’s cure and her marriage to Mr. Granville as a concluding solution to what her stranger-ness brings up, this essay suggests that her cure paradoxically alludes to women’s desire for an alternative to a society in which women are social nobodies.
1For the other two reasons Foucault gives, see The Order of Things, 46-50. 2The other reason Jauss pinpoints is that Don Quixote “shows the medieval ontologizing solution to be a fiction—the delusion of a leftover hero” (9). See Question and Answer
The Female Quixotebegins with the story of making a home: the Marquis’s preparing his place of retreat from the world and marrying “a young lady, greatly inferior to himself in Quality, whose Beauty and good Sense promised him an agreeable Companion” (6). Significantly, these home-making acts intended to quit the world epitomize the problematic relation between the fictional and the real. The Marquis was once “the first and most distinguished Favourite at Court,” but fell a sacrifice to the malicious plots of his enemies and was “banished from Court for ever” (5). To cope with his pain from this undeserved disgrace, he behaves like a man who voluntarily resigned his posts rather than was dismissed from them. But his discontent “augmented by the Opportunity he now had of observing the Baseness and Ingratitude of Mankind” finally leads him to quit the world (5). In preparing his new home at a remote place, he does every effort to make its gardens “appear like the beautiful Product of wild, uncultivated Nature” (6). The Marchioness, confined in the domestic sphere surrounded by this unnatural nature with no companion except her husband, seeks consolation in romances. While the Marquis attempts “to erase the contemporary, historical world by which he has been rejected” (Roulston 28), the Marchioness finds “very disagreeable” her forced seclusion away from that very contemporary life (7). Both of them, however, endeavor to bypass “a ‘real’ world that is uninhabitable” with the help of the fictional by which “the ‘real’ is uncannily contained” (Roulston 29). It is this inverted relation between the real and the fictional that preconditions Arabella to be quixotic.
“The Marquis, following the Plan of Life he had laid down, divided his Time between the Company of his Lady, his Library . . . and his Gardens” (6). As this quote implies, not only his gardens but the Marchioness is also
plannedto play the role of an antidote to the Marquis’s undesired reality. But she herself needs an antidote, which is given in her romance readings. The Marquis replaces outside reality, specifically speaking, his banishment from the court, with his artificial world. Likewise, the Marchioness tries to supersede her real world—that is, her marital home—with the fictional world of romances. The Marquis’s home, which is expected to be an alternative, turns out to be a world to which an antidote is needed. In this sense, the Marquis’s home is a place where the fictional and the real indistinguishably coexist from the very beginning.
Interestingly, after the Marchioness’s death, the Marquis removes romances from “her Closet into his library, where Arabella found them” (7). This relocation of romances becomes more interesting when we consider that, without any mother figure, Arabella is permitted to receive her education only from her father. It is not just because, as the result of the fact that “all institutions of higher learning were closed to women” in the eighteenth century, they were educated “at home usually with the help of a paternal library” (Todd 199). It is also because, as has been observed, romances are the only medium through which Arabella is connected with her dead mother and, moreover, because the authority to teach her is transferred from her father to her mother who has a ghostly presence in her romance texts. By admitting romances into his library, the Marquis unwittingly confers on romances “a curious—though only partial—discursive legitimacy as part of the canon of texts officially sanctioned by male authority” (Barney 262). What matters is that this incorporation constitutes a kind of double self-subversion: both his paternal authority and the authority of the library are at least partly subverted, which he realizes only too late and tries to repair by burning romance texts when he finds that Arabella sees things according to what she reads in romances.
In order to shelter himself from the outside world, the Marquis constructs his home as a completely isolated place whose boundary should be impermeable. Ironically, however, it is his act of constructing a home “as a virtuous retreat from a corrupt world” that disturbs its boundary dividing inside from outside in the sense that both the Marchioness and Arabella give themselves up to romances because of their complete seclusion (Shoemaker 34). The Marquis’s home where he feels at home turns out to be a place where his lady and daughter feel out of place. In this home, the condition of feeling at home cannot be dissociated from that of feeling out of place, and into this contradictory place, Arabella is born. In this regard, it is not romances but rather the Marquis’s home itself that primarily conditions Arabella to be a female Quixote. Being “wholly secluded from the World,” Arabella has no diversion except “ranging like a Nymph through Gardens” and has “no other Conversation but that of a grave and melancholy Father, or her own Attendants” (7). She becomes prone to be quixotic because these unpleasant realities at home lead her to entertain herself with romances and her complete seclusion forecloses any opportunity for her to know the real world. It implies that, as Wendy Motooka points out, “‘female’ and ‘quixote’ need not be understood synonymously” (251-52). The association between the female and the quixotic that almost automatically connotes madness, and that between women and romance, are not pregiven but constructed by social conditions in which women feel out of place.
The Marquis’s home as a contradictory place where the fictional and the real coexist and where the condition of feeling at home also serves as the condition of feeling out of place is itself already quixotic. In this quixotic place, Arabella grows into a Quixote whose belief in the factuality of romances and consequent confusion of the fictional with the real make her appear a stranger from another world. Indeed, we can say that, in reading romances, she becomes a stranger both in a temporal and a spatial sense. This is because the romances that fascinate her are ascribed “To the
FrenchWits of the last Century,” and whose stories “happen’d about two thousand Years ago” (375). They narrate things that happened in the past in foreign lands, not in the present age in England. In her attempt to live by romances, Arabella looks as if she were living spatially on foreign soil and temporally in the past. She is almost like a foreigner speaking in a different language. In fact, her words convey very different meanings from those of the same words the people around her use. For example, Arabella uses “the Word Adventures” to refer to a lady’s conquest of her lovers, whereas for others the same word connotes “so free and licentious a Sound in the Apprehensions of People at this Period of Time” (327). In a word, romance and its language carry with them Arabella’s spatial and temporal strangerness.
As critics have pointed out, it is a historical outcome that romance came “to suggest something both trivial and feminine” because “it chronicled a cultural shift of interest from war to love” (Ross 1). Before this kind of feminization, the heroic romance as quest narrative was, above all, “a tale of power and control demonstrating male prowess and strength” in which a woman hardly played any significant role except the quarry of a man’s quest (Schofield 18). This male-oriented romance plot remains unchanged either in the romances that Arabella reads or in the adventures that she craves: the male pursuer and the female pursuee. Arabella wants not to be a knight but a lady who is the quarry of a knight’s quest. It is the way to interpret romances that Arabella changes, which is well illustrated in her idealization of Cleopatra and Thalestris. Some male characters despise Cleopatra as “a Whore,” whereas Arabella admires her as a “fair and glorious Queen” (105). Likewise, Miss Glanville views Thalestris as “a terrible Woman” because she considers it preposterous that any ideal woman should have a masculine disposition, whereas for Arabella this queen of the Amazons embodies “the most stout and courageous of her Sex” and at the same time “a perfect Beauty” (125). Her appropriation of romances demonstrates that there may be only one story to tell, but “there is more than one way to tell it” (Haggerty 9). Or rather, a story can be transformed into another story according to how it is told.
In this context, Arabella’s interpretation of “The History of Miss Groves” looms large because it clearly shows what kind of difference can be made by Arabella’s way of interpreting romances (70). Being completely ignorant of what a scandal is, Arabella accepts Miss Groves’s history as an epitome of a romance heroine’s adventures, equal to “the unfortunate Cleopatra’s” (77). From her perspective, such things as a woman’s attempt to elope with her lover, her private marriage and consequent illegal childbirth, and her misfortune of being deserted, are what makes her life not scandalous but adventurous, not maliciously ridiculed but sympathetically lamented. As is connoted in her drawing a parallel between Miss Groves and Cleopatra, a woman’s misfortunes are primarily caused by her lover’s inconstancy, rather than self-incurred by her frivolities. Thus, Miss Groves is recast “as an afflicted heroine rather than a sexually transgressive juvenile delinquent” (Marshall 106). The blame for her ruin should be placed on her lovers, or rather, on the “reality that bruises her” (Ross 104). In this way, Arabella’s seemingly apparent delusions help her to see through what others cannot see, and the difference made by her way of reading romances functions as an implicit critique of “the exploitation and frustration of her sex in the eighteenth century” (Schofield 24). It is this role of critique that Arabella’s quixotic stranger-ness plays. That is, fictional romances provide her with critical perspectives on gender relations in the real world by making her disturb the normally accepted way of seeing things.
Unlike Charlotte, who thinks it impossible that “one Woman could praise another with any Sincerity,” Arabella by nature feels friendly toward other women (91). They could be an object of lament, like Miss Groves, or of admiration, like the Countess, but never be an object of envy or emulation. What renders Arabella’s benevolent attitude to other women threatening is that it erases the distinction between women, for she believes all women are, at least potentially, harrowed heroines out of romances. In this respect, the Vaux-Hall scene in which Arabella gets involved with a prostitute is revealing: “Are you
mad, Madam, said he in a Whisper, to make all this Rout about a Prostitute? Do you see how every body stares at you?” (336, emphasis mine). As Mr. Granville’s consternation clearly illustrates, Arabella’s voluntary offer to protect the prostitute temporarily blurs the boundary between herself as an ideal woman and a prostitute as a personification of sexual transgression. Significantly, her blurring the boundary between a proper woman and her opponent is regarded as mad, which should be considered Mr. Granville’s attempt to counteract the subversive power of Arabella’s quixotic strangerness. The important thing to note is that her quixotic stranger-ness is made all the more subversive because of its visibility in a public place. In other words, this scene dramatically visualizes the subversive power that the narration of Miss Grove’s history only potentially has because, by contrast, it is told in Arabella’s private closet. Moreover, it exemplifies the possibility of translating the subversive power of “a terrifying elision” from fictional romance to the real world (Spacks, Desire240). This possibility of translation would be most threatening and subversive regarding Arabella’s quixotic stranger-ness.
These critical potentialities of Arabella’s stranger-ness become more complicated when we consider that the romances that captivate her actually narrate stories about foreigners. Critics have paid attention to the gender question, centering on the empowering effect of romances for women. But they have relatively overlooked the fact that the romance heroines with whom Arabella identifies are foreigners. Even Miss Groves becomes identified with “
unwieldy GermanLadies” because of her uncommonness (74, original emphasis). Moreover, Arabella’s way of interpreting romances does not simply blur the boundary dividing foreigners from English women. It even makes Arabella herself a foreign stranger, which is illustrated well at the very moment she first enters Bath society, wearing “something like a Veil, of black Gauze, which . . . gave her a very singular Appearance” (262):
Arabella’s identification with foreign strangers intimated in her indulgence in romances becomes visualized in “the Singularity of her Dress” (263). As Felicity A. Nussbaum hints, Arabella’s veil is the visual sign of her stranger-ness, including “exotic otherness” (122). Interestingly, her stranger-ness provokes “a delicious Feast of Raillery and Scandal” from the ladies in Bath society, whereas it has attraction for the men (262). In fact, throughout the text, Arabella is treated as a rival or as an object of ridicule by other women except the Countess. Especially Miss Glanville does not only secretly want Arabella to be exposed to ridicule, but also artfully discloses Arabella’s absurdities to the ladies in Bath society. This situation is partly accounted for by the fact that “Arabella’s uncommon Beauty had gain’d her so many Enemies among the Ladies” (322). Considering that they pour ridicule on Arabella primarily because of her singularity that makes her look like someone from outside their society, however, their jests and sarcasms can be seen not only as their expression of envy but as their way to defuse potential threats embodied in the person of Arabella, one example of which is the nondiscrimination of proper ladies from improper ones and of English women from foreign others.
On hearing that Arabella is the daughter of the deceased Marquis, the ladies in Bath society, “aw’d by the Sanction of Quality, dropt their Ridicule on her Dress,” and recast Arabella’s strangerness as a whim made by an upper-class lady with a great fortune (263-64). But this recategorization of her stranger-ness into eccentric conduct does not mean that “the difference that signals Arabella’s outsiderness becomes invisible” (Mack 200). Disagreeing with Nussbaum’s assertion that Arabella’s veil makes the other visible, Mack insists that, after being visualized, “the difference that signals Arabella’s outsiderness” gets effectively erased, “as the Bath residents claim her as their own” (200). But their inclusion of her, which is only temporarily effected, is not enough to cancel out her stranger-ness. Or it can be put this way: her stranger-ness stands out too much to be incorporated into Bath society, and by extension, English society as a whole. Owing to her high social status, the singularity of her dress that is initially identified as the signal of her being a stranger from a foreign land becomes accepted as a whim made by one of the insiders. But her speech, inclination, and manners that differ so widely from those of Bath society continue to mark her stranger-ness and constantly cause ridicule and sarcasm among the members of Bath society, which is illustrated in “the Jest circulated very freely at Arabella’s Expence,” after the episode in which Arabella misrecognizes Mr. Tinsel as one of her ravishers (322). In a sense, her social status puts her in a liminal space between English and foreign women, rather than rendering her stranger-ness invisible.
Arabella’s social class helps her become partly incorporated into Bath society in which she is nevertheless a cultural stranger. Bath society can neither completely expel her as a total stranger because of her Englishness, nor completely accept her as one of them because of her cultural stranger-ness. In this context, Charlotte’s antipathy against foreigners is telling: “What signifies what Foreigners do? I shall never form my Conduct, upon the Example of Outlandish People; what is common enough in their Countries, would be very particular here” (184). Mary Patricia Martin reads this passage as betraying Charlotte’s “truly parochial sensibility” that serves as a foil for Arabella’s moral “superiority” of assuming “the best of others” (56, 57). But she fails to note that it also reveals Charlotte’s fear of being like her cousin, of being contaminated by her cultural strangerness. From Charlotte’s perspective, Arabella is in a sense infected with a cultural plague and is even carrying it, a danger from which Charlotte has to protect herself. What concerns Charlotte most is to be a seemly lady according to British customs, to draw a clear line between herself and the foreign. It is, above all, the fear of their own propriety as Englishwomen to be corrupted that underlies the poignant sarcasms poured upon Arabella by the ladies in Bath society.
As “a symptom that precisely turns ‘we’ into a problem,” “the foreigner comes in when the consciousness of my difference arises,” Kristeva writes in
Strangers to Ourselves(1). It is this kind of self-awareness of difference that Arabella arouses among those around her. She is a stranger who does not belong in their circles. As a temporal stranger who follows precedents from “about two thousand Years ago,” she does not belong to their time (375). Likewise, as a spatial stranger who tries to live by examples of foreign people from somewhere other than England, she does not belong to their place. Her temporal and spatial stranger-ness makes others realize what kind of difference separates them from the one who is not one of them. As Charlotte’s strong repulsion against foreigners well demonstrates, the difference embodied in Arabella leads them to “a feeling of discomfort” as to what they are, and this feeling might result in “a feeling of suspicion: am I really at home?” (Kristeva, Strangers19, 20). Their making a jest of Arabella can be regarded as the effort to defuse their anxiety about their being in their own proper place and time. Arabella’s cultural stranger-ness is potentially threatening to them, rather than merely quixotic, because it can put into question what they are and what their society is.
Arabella’s stranger-ness also helps us to see what kind of community Bath society is. Bath society observes Arabella, holding her up to mockery but at the same time being “aw’d to Respect by that irresistible Charm in the Person of Arabella” (272). Occupying the position of stranger within, however, Arabella herself becomes the observer of Bath society as a whole: she reflects and turns back the observing eye of Bath society upon its owner. Although the ladies repeatedly make her an object of jest, it is their intense but shallow sense of rivalry and jealousy toward Arabella that becomes a target of criticism. Likewise, although Mr. Selvin and Mr. Tinsel temporarily position themselves against Arabella, it is the former’s superficial knowledge of histories and the latter’s vain affectation that are criticized. But what becomes exposed to criticism is less any of them individually than Bath society as a whole, and its customs and manners such as superficiality, pedantry, and gossipiness, as opposed to Arabella’s interest in “something which may excite my Admiration, engage my Esteem, or influence my Practice” as well as to her indiscriminately friendly attitude toward any woman (274). If Arabella’s stranger-ness looks more like personal eccentricity at her paternal home, it enables her to acquire a public role of observing and criticizing Bath society as she comes into contact with it.
Arabella’s public role of critic turns out to be more significant, considering that women’s public role, if any, is nothing other than their “inconsiderable actions” in “trifling Amusement” (279). Those around Arabella think that her “absurd and ridiculous Notions” have been caused by “the Solitude she lived in” and that therefore an “acquaintance with the World” would enlighten her as to the ways of the real world (254, 323). But the world she has to learn about is the fashionable society in Bath or in London, far from the one in which she can experience remarkable adventures worthy to be recorded as a romance. Lennox suggests that there is another public place where insiders are engaged in something other than entertainments: coffeehouses, which, in
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas describes as “centers of criticism—literary at first, then also political” (32). Theorizing the demarcation between the public and the private sphere in the eighteenth century, Habermas argues that “the private people come together to form a public” in coffee-houses whose main role is to engage in “rational-critical public debate” (25, 28). But problematically, says Habermas, “only men were admitted to coffee-house society” (33). Lennox seems to allude to this exclusion of women from the public sphere in describing that, after a gathering in Bath, Arabella and Charlotte retire to their rooms, whereas Mr. Selvin and Mr. Tinsel “went to a Coffee-house, in order to come to some Explanation” (291). As assemblies in Bath society illustrate, women are also allotted a certain kind of “public” space, but this one is “so deeply buried” in minute and insignificant details of life “that they can never touch anything major” (Warren 376). Arabella’s concern with extraordinary things and her ability to observe critically Bath society at least potentially disturb this genderbased division of the public and the private sphere.
Considering the critical potentialities of her stranger-ness in the circles where she lives, Arabella’s romance reading turns out to be more than quixotic. As Susan Staves implies regarding a “fundamental ambiguity” of quixotic figures, Arabella cannot be merely regarded as “a buffoon” provoked into pursuing adventures by absurd romances, but as “an exemplary figure” who refuses to compromise with “the filthy reality” of the world (194). There is no doubt that, for her to be a proper lady according to British customs, romantic whims should be erased from her mind. But it is the critical potentialities contained in her cultural stranger-ness rather than her quixotic eccentricities themselves that should be cured. For this to be effected, above all, the romance genre as a whole should be discarded because Arabella’s stranger-ness is attributed to her romance readings. It is the very reason why the romance genre is characterized as outmoded and foreign. Moreover, it is at this point that the question of genre precisely overlaps with the question of gender.
The Female Quixoteas a novel as well as Arabella should make a clean break with the romance genre.
Arabella’s cultural stranger-ness becomes recast as what can be called the generic struggle of the novel with romance. She occupies a liminal space between the foreign and the English, between the past and the present, and between the fictional and the real. In these dichotomous confrontations, the former terms are considered those characterizing romance and the latter those characterizing the novel. The cure for Arabella’s stranger-ness is to make her reject the characteristics of romance and instead embrace those of the novel. Moreover, it is nothing other than defusing the critical potentialities of her stranger-ness by leading her to return to the domestic sphere of home, that is, to get married to Mr. Glanville. She originally resolves an “obstinate resistance” when her father recommends him as her husband: “What Lady in Romance ever married the Man that was chose for her?” (27) After being finally disillusioned by the Doctor, however, she gives herself to him not just voluntarily but as a present: “To give you myself, said she with all my remaining Imperfections, is making you but a poor Present in turn for the Obligations your generous Affection has laid me under to you” (383). She turns herself from an unattainable lady out of romances into a modest partner who would comply with whatever obligations she owes to her husband.
The problem is that the separation of the novel from romance cannot be neat because romance turns out to be constitutive of the novel. Lennox remarks on this point in the character of Sir George, who “was perfectly well acquainted with the chief Characters in the most of the
Frenchromances; could tell every thing that was borrowed from them, in all the new Novels that came out” (129-30). As Sir George uses his “Knowledge of all the Extravagances and Peculiarities” in romances to fabricate his own version, so do early novelists use romance to create their own writings. Unlike Sir George, however, they attempt to disconnect their writings from romance by deploying romance “to refer to whatever the novel (hopes it) is not” (Langbauer 3). As is well elaborated in the debate between Arabella and the Doctor, they define the novel, above all, as English and as contemporary, by categorizing romance as foreign and as antiquated. But the fact that Sir George fails both to forge his own history as romance and to stage “the History of the Princess of Gaul” as a successful lure for Arabella suggests that romance is uncontrollable (343). Moreover, The Female Quixoteitself as a novel that utilizes romance texts exemplifies that “instead of being in control of romance, the novel is drawn into and repeats it” (Langbauer 67).
Focusing on the scapegoat mechanism operating in the definition of the novel as a new narrative form, Laurie Langbauer draws a parallel between romance and women: “each is the name for qualities that status quo finds transgressive and threatening, and attempts to dispel by projecting into a separate genre or gender” (91). Although she rightly emphasizes the respective otherness of romance to the novel and of women to patriarchy, she ignores that, in Lennox’s text, a structural parallel can also be drawn between the novel and women. This oversight leads her to conclude that “a woman can’t take herself out of romance without disappearing altogether” (81). As is implied in Kate Levin’s insistence that it is “to survive” that Lennox “became a ‘woman writer’ according to her society’s specifications,” Arabella becomes a proper lady by adjusting herself to patriarchy (278). She turns into a patriarchal version of women rather than, as Langbauer argues, “stop[ping] being a woman” (81). But this reform does not completely cancel out the effects of her romance readings because they are what prepare her to be “one of the best Matches in
England” (202). It is the same kind of ironic double bind that the novel as genre is caught in. Arabella should dissociate herself from romance, but her desirability as “a Partner for Life” results from her romance readings (383). Similarly, the novel should be disconnected from romance, but romance constitutes an essential part of the novel.
The double-bind relationship of Arabella and of the novel to romance accounts for the displacement of the issue of fictionality by other issues such as foreignness, temporality, or criminality. Arabella’s fundamental illusion is that she believes romances narrate things that really happened. Accordingly, it is the fictionality of romances that Arabella should acknowledge so that she can give them up. As Catherine Gallagher argues, “the Quixote’s cure begins not with the renunciation but with the acknowledgement of fiction,” which is exactly what the Doctor tries (179). The Doctor condemns romances first for being “Fictions,” and then for being “absurd” and “Criminal” (374). But he attempts to prove romances to be fictions by pointing out that they are written by French writers and that they are about the past, rather than by directly tackling their fictionality. Seeing that Arabella is not persuaded, he advises her to “compare these Books with antient Histories” and adds that “any Narrative is more liable to be confuted by its Inconsistency with known Facts” (378). Either way, he fails to persuade her of the fictionality of romances, though she allows him to
supposethem fictions. Arabella replies that “the Difference [between romances and histories] is not in Favour of the present World” (380).
It is the Doctor’s claim for what can be called the criminality of romance that leads Arabella to abandon romances. The Doctor blames romances for “giv[ing] new fire to the Passions of Revenge and Love” that should be suppressed by “Reason and Piety” (380). “They teach Women to Exact Vengeance, and Men to execute it; teach Women to expect not only Worships, but the dreadful Worship of human Sacrifices” (380). According to the Doctor, romances are criminal in the sense that they are filled with “Accounts of Battles in which thousands are slaughtered for no other Purpose than to gain a smile from the haughty Beauty” (381), and romance heroines such as Cleopatra and Thalestris whom Arabella is eager to imitate are in a sense criminals because they instigates such battles. At this moment when the Doctor draws her attention to “the Crime of encouraging Violence and Revenge” (381), Arabella is finally persuaded to give up romances with abhorrence: “I tremble indeed to think how nearly I have approached the Brink of Murder, when I thought myself only consulting my own Glory; but whatever I suffer, I will never more demand or instigate Vengeance, nor consider my Punctilios as important enough to be balanced against Life” (381).
It is in the mouth of the Countess that the issue of fictionality first becomes displaced by that of temporality: “‘Custom,’ said the Countess smiling, ‘changes the very Nature of Things, and what was honourable a thousand Years ago, may probably be look’d upon as infamous now’” (328). The world of romance is here described not as fiction but as “simply the past” (Warren 373). A similar displacement takes place when Arabella and the Doctor debate the fictionality of romances and their writers’ credibility. Firmly believing the factuality of romance, Arabella retorts upon the Doctor’s charge against it: “he that writes without intention to be credited, must write to little Purpose; for what Pleasure or Advantage can arise from Facts that never happened?” (376). As this passage shows, Arabella based her argument for the factuality of romance on its writer’s credibility, which she thinks is in turn based on “a Love of Truth in the human Mind” (376). By contrast, the Doctor disconnects the fictionality of romance from the credibility of romance writers, and further, displaces it by instead bringing into focus the question of temporality:
If at first the Doctor tries to persuade Arabella to abandon her romances because of their fictionality, then he slightly changes his focus and recommends the fictional narrative “of our own Time” called the novel. Romance is problematic less because of its fictionality than its irrelevance to the present moment. Moreover, fictionality itself turns out to be what should “be taken for granted” instead of being hidden in order for the novel to be recommended as the proper form of fiction (Gallagher 178). As Martin points out, “Arabella is not being asked to give up fiction itself, but rather to exchange one kind of fiction for another” (52).
Langbauer insists that the condemnation of romance “as a specious fiction” serves to cover up “the fictiveness” of the novel (64). But as the displacement of fictionality by temporality or criminality performed in curing Arabella hints, early novelists evade the blame for the fictionality of their writings not by covering it up but by overtly embracing it. In much the same way, Arabella gets cured of her confusion between the fictional and the real, and therefore of her quixotic stranger-ness, by learning “to presuppose and appreciate fictionality” (Gallagher 179). This parallel reminds us of the fact that fiction and reality did not become dissociated from each other until the modern age began, as both Foucault and Jauss argue. In this context, it is significant that early novelists “often use the terms ‘romance,’ ‘history,’ and ‘novel’ with an evident interchangeability” (McKeon 25). The interchangeable use of these terms and the separation of fiction and reality at the beginning of the modern age suggest that the dissociation of the novel from romance is simultaneous with that of fiction from reality. To put it another way, the novel emerges as a distinctly modern British species of writing as fiction gets separated from reality into a discrete category, and in this same process romance are labeled as “empty Fictions” that narrate stories about foreigners living in another place and another time and therefore should be abandoned (377). This is the reason why the Doctor displaces the issue of fictionality by other issues such as foreignness, pastness, or criminality that serve as the grounds for dismissing romances as senseless fictions.
Arabella’s cure of quixotic stranger-ness begins with the supposition of fictionality and ends with its separation from foreignness, pastness, and criminality, all of which are deployed to displace the fictionality question. This suggests not only that Arabella becomes reformed regarding her quixotic stranger-ness, but also that the fictionality of the novel that she comes to embrace is not the same as that of romance, but one purged of all the negative aspects that are attributed to romance. In this purification, Arabella becomes normalized from being a cultural stranger into an exemplary woman whose domesticity the novel advocates. The novel thus claims as its own the authority to represent an ideal femininity by reformulating the relation between the fictional and the real, or rather inventing the category of fiction as such. It should be noted here again that the invention of fiction does not so much mean the clean distinction of fiction and reality as their coming “together in the category of the novel” (Martin 52). The relation between the two still remains problematic, even if they are not confused any more as they are by Arabella’s quixotic confusion. Likewise, the relation of the novel and of Arabella to romance remains problematic because romances are already incorporated both into
The Female Quixoteas a novel and into Arabella as an ideal woman and cannot be neatly separated from them.
One might argue that Arabella’s cure dismantles the critical potentialities contained in her quixotic stranger-ness because she adjusts herself to the real world by giving up the fictional world of romances. Indeed, she seems to abandon her desire to be somebody whose adventures would be written after her death. But it remains ambiguous whether we could say that she really rejects romance as an empty fiction. Romance cannot be simply dismissed as a fiction that blinds her to reality because what she learned from romance has already become part of who she is. Arabella should spit out whatever has been inculcated in her by romance, which has already become part of her. That is, her cure refers to nothing else than her expulsion of certain parts of herself. It reminds us of the way of one’s becoming oneself formulated by Kristeva in
Powers of Horror, in which she writes: “I expel myself, I spit myselfout, I abject myselfwithin the same motion through which ‘I’ claim to establish myself” (3, original emphases). This expelled “I” that Kristeva names “the abject” is “what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules” ( Powers4). This kind of disturbance is conveyed in Arabella’s quixotic stranger-ness, which is forcefully and abruptly expelled in her cure. But precisely because what should be jettisoned cannot be separated from what Arabella is, romance as a name for what partly shapes Arabella cannot be completely dismissed. It hints that Arabella can “never [be] fully assimilated” to the real world (Mack 210).
Arabella “burst into Tears” when she is finally dissuaded from pursuing romantic ideals in the real world. But what kind of tears does she shed? Considering that she is compelled to submit to the Doctor because of the criminality of romance, this question should be considered in relation to the question of what kind of criminality romance has. There are several aspects the Doctor points out regarding the romance’s criminality: instigation of “Passions,” “extravagance of Praise,” erosion of “Sympathy,” and above all, incitement of “unnecessary Bloodshed” (380, 381). What is really criminal about romance, however, is the gender relation between a commanding heroine and her obeying adorers, that is, “women’s importance in it” and its implication of female companionship exemplified in Arabella’s offer to protect the prostitute at Vaux-Hall(Spencer 183). In this regard, Arabella’s tears cannot simply be read as those of relief that, in the Doctor’s words, “no Life was ever lost by your Incitement,” but as those of mourning over what should be lost as the result of her cure (381). Her explosion of tears looks similar to “the violence of sobs” in the middle of which “‘I’ give birth to myself,” sobs that help me become myself and at the same time mourn for what should be lost (Kristeva,
Arabella union with Mr. Glanville is portrayed as ideal: “Mr.
Glanvilleand Arabellawere united” both “in every Virtue and laudable Affection of the Mind” and in “Fortunes, Equipages, Titles and Expense” (383). But her mother’s short life and the Countess’s life with nothing worth recording have a ghostly presence here because the domestic sphere becomes reestablished as the very proper place for women. There is one episode in which Arabella voluntarily leaves her father’s castle in her imagined fear of being “carried away” by Edward whom she takes for her “concealed Lover” (92). When Mr. Glanville asks her to return with him to the castle, “‘who can assure me,’ answered she, ‘that I shall not, by returning home, enter voluntarily into my Prison?’” (106). It is this kind of question about the domestic sphere that resonates with the final reestablishment of an ideal home. Arabella’s married life would be similar to her mother’s or to the Countess’s. Besides, although there is what might be called the public sphere into which women are allowed, as is illustrated in the scenes at Bath, it turns out to be “a space in which to pursue fashion and public diversion” (Palo 222). As Sharon Smith Palo points out, it is “a space of spectacle, a space in which to see and be seen” (222). Regarding the reality of women’s lives in such a society, we can raise the very same question that Arabella does about the lives led by the ladies in Bath society: “What room, I pray you, does a Lady give for high and noble Adventures, who consumes her Days in Dressing, Dancing, listening to Songs, and ranging the Walks with People as thoughtless as herself?” (279). In this passage, Arabella dismisses as idle and trifling the amusement that the ladies in Bath society enjoy. But her own married life would be filled with these trifling amusements. In a sense, Arabella comes back to the same place that she left, the place called home. Although her status changes from daughter to wife, there is nothing indicating that what characterizes the place might have changed. Arabella herself, not the place, must change for her to return home as a proper domestic woman. This connotes that the problematic about home—its condition in which women feel out of place—remains unsolved from beginning to end. Also, social conditions in which women are nobodies and lead lives with nothing worth writing about remain unchanged. Accordingly, it is hard to read Arabella’s normalization into a domestic woman as any concluding solution to what her quixotic stranger-ness has brought up, especially concerning becoming women in a patriarchal society. Or rather, Arabella’s final acceptance of women’s social nobodiness paradoxically implies women’s at least potential desire for an “alternative to their sociallydefined state of meaningless and powerless activity,” the desire for an alternative that Arabella embodies in her quixotic stranger-ness (Spacks, Desire14).