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Belinda as the heroine of Maria Edgeworth's novel.

Belinda as the heroine of Maria Edgeworth's novel.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Laura Clarke. Originally submitted for Literary Childhoods: From Locke to Lewis Carroll at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr. Anne Markey in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Laura Clarke. Originally submitted for Literary Childhoods: From Locke to Lewis Carroll at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr. Anne Markey in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
LiteraryChildhoods:FromLocketoLewisCarroll8.WriteonBelindaastheheroineofEdgeworthtsnovel.
.
-
-
._--
Thegenderedidentityofthefemaleherohaslongbeenathemeinscholarshipinexploringthecultural,historical,andsociolo~~~:~~nstructionsofgender.Theportrayaloftheheroineinliteraturehasbecomeamajortargetforfeministcriticism,ininvestigatingtheviablerolesopentoheroines
as
distinctfromtheirmalecounterparts.
F
orinstancetheterm
-
)
",
.
.,
'hero'generallycharacterizesanindividualadmiredfortheirachievements,courage,andnobility.Readerstendtoelevatewhatisheroic,andidolizeheroicattributesandactions.
Ie'
o..l--t_
'1Icro'is
agenderspecifictermasitiscommonlyassumedthataheroismalewithheroic/'~:-
'(~I.\"'\
C(\'
.(;"-,,,0
virtuesanddominantmasculinecharacteristics.Theterm'heroine'however,doesnothave
c
thesameconnotations.Bothwordsshareasimilarmeaningandrelatetotheprincipalcharacterinatext;therefore,onemightimaginethattheyshouldhaveanequalstatus.Unfortunately,asRachelM.Brownsteinnotes,whenanalysingtherolesofwomeninclassicliterature,thisisseldomthe
case:
Theparadigmaticheroisanoverreacher,theheroineofthedomesticnovel[...
J
isoverdetermined.Theheromovestowardsagoal;theheroinetriesto
be
it.
Hemakesanameforhimself;sheisconcernedwithkeepinghergoodname[...]Aheroisextraordinary,~fromtherulesofsociety;aheroinemuststick
to
thesocialcodeandthen
some.
I
Theeighteenth-centuryfictionalheroinewasrarelyatruefemaJeaJternativetothemalehero.Yettounderstandtheconflictunderlyingtheportrayalofthefemalehero,onemustexaminetheelementsinvolvedinthestereotypesfromwhichitderives.
o:....
','0(/
W"j.\
'1~
"'~"''J~
d
Theeighteenthcenturywasadeeplypatriarchalsociety
in
whiehwomenwereviewed.assubstandardtomen,andfetteredtoarelativelyenclosedexistence.SirRichardSteelesummarisestheirpositionin
TheSpectator:
'Theutmostofawomen'scharacteriscontainedindomesticlife[...]Allshehastodointhisworld,iscontainedwithinthedutiesofadaughter,asister,awife,andamother.'
It
wasnecessaryfortheirownhappinessand
I
RachelM.Brownstein,
BecomingaHeroine:readingaboutwomeninnovels
(Harmondsworth:Penguin.1984).pp.
82-83.
1
 
comfort,aswellas
that
'ofthosetowhomtheyareborn',thatwomenacceptedtheir
\
\
\
subordinatepositionas'noother
than
anadditionalpartofthespeCies:
2
Womenwereexpectedtobepassive,charming,
graceful,
self-sacrificing,pious,andaboveallpure.Fromtheeighteenthcenturyonwards'conductbooksforladiesproliferated,enjoiningyounggirlstosubmissiveness,modesty,selflessness;reminding
all
womenthattheyshouldbeangelic.')Theseconduct
books
reflectboththesociallyacceptablerolesandthedesirablebehavioursofwomenatthetime,butasNancyArmstrongattests,theyalsoplayedanintegralpart
in
promulgatingideasaboutgenderrolesandinaidingtheconstructionofthemodelofidealfemininity,thedomesticwoman."Womenwritersoftheeighteenthcenturywereconstrainedbythisrepressivefeminineideal,aprecursorto.theVictorianidealofthe'angel
in
thehouse',andalsobythetrendinliteraryhistorythatviewedwomenas'theextremeimagesofangelor
monsters."
Womenwritersthereforestruggledtotrulyrepresentthelivesoftheirfemalecharacterswhencontendingwiththenarrowparametersoffeminineexperienceimposeduponthem.Justaswomenwererestrictedintheirownlives,femaleauthorsandtheheroinesoftheirnovelswereequallyforcedtoconformto
conventional
ideasof
b().(,k~d-..
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c,.
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Q)
propnety..\
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r-:
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Ce
eA
-€,C\L6,
Forcedtoconformtoacceptablestandardsofbehaviour,thecapacityforheroismofthefemaleprotagonistwasinevitablylimited.Intheauthor'sprefaceto
Maria,ortheWrongsofWoman
Mary
WoUstonecraftreproachesthenarrowrangeofexperiencesavailable
)
toheroines
in
contrasttotheirmalecounterparts:
Inmanyworksofthisspecies,the
hero
isallowedto
be
mortal,andtobecomewiseandvirtuousaswellashappy,
bya
train
of
events
and
circumstances,Theheroineson
the
Z
Richard
Steele,
TheSpectator.Ineighsvolumes.
Vol.Volume
5.
London,
MDCCXClll~3].
EighfeenrhCeruuryCollectionsOnline.
Gale.TrinityCollegeDublin.20Jan.2011.~
3
SandraGilbertandSusanGubar,'TheMadwoman
in
theAttic'
in
JulieRiv~dMichaelRyan.eds.
LiteraryTheory.'ananthology
(Malden:MABlackwell,2004),p.816.~'_
.4
NancyArmstrong,'TheRiseoftheDomesticWoman,'in
TheIdeologyofConduct:EssaysonLiterature
and
theHistoryofSexuality,
ed.
NancyArmstrongandLeonard
Tennenhouse(NewYork:Methuen,1987),pp.
96-141.
5
SandraGilbertandSusanGubar,'TheMadwomanintheAttic'inJulieRivkinandMichaelRyan,eds,
LiteraryTheory:ananthology
(Malden:MABlackwell,2004),p.812.
6
KatharineM.Rogersnotesforexample:'thechastity,propriety,senseofduty,delicacyenjoyedonwomen
in
reallifeweredoublyenjoyedonthefictitiouswomanwhowasnotworthyto
be
aheroineifshecould
Dot
serveasamodel','InhibitionsonEighteenth-CenturyWomenNovelists:ElizabethlncbbaldandCharlotte
Smith:
EighteenthCenturyStudies
11(1977),quoted
in
AudreyBilger,
LaughingFeminism:subversivecomedyinFrancesBurney.MariaEdgeworthand
JQIU!
Austen
(Detroit:
WayneStateUniversityState,1998),p.86.
2
 
contrary,areto
be
bornimmaculate,andtoactlikegoddessesofwisdom,justcome.forth
L.-
v'00
i-':"-
\l".\V
C\-.
'C_.LJ
0('
0,
U.
vI.
L\.\.\
highl
fi.
bedM'
froth
headfJ'
t;::"')(\..~"'{
I\
v\,
v
t
y
nusinervasme
0
ove.
ThoughMariaEdgeworthhasneverbeenconsideredasradicalathinkeras
Mary
Wollstonecraft,acloseanalysisofherworkshowsshewasequallycriticalofsociety'sdebilitatinggendercodes.Shewasjustasfrustratedwithsociety'stendency
to
subjugatefemaleauthorsandwiththeboundaries
within
whichtheywereconfinedwhenwritingabout'~
dl
:'~rc..~t\.Olt
theirheroines.Inher'Advertisement'to
Belinda,
Edgeworthdirectlychallengespopular(narrativeformsandthenegativestereotypesofwomentheyreinforced,bydeclaringthatsheispresentingtothepublic'aMoralTale-theauthornotwishingtoacknowledgeaNovel.'Attributingthequalitiesof'folly,errour,[sic]andvice'tothenovel,shelamentsthefactthatherfellownovelistslackthetalentsofthelikesofElizabethInchbaldorFrancesBurney.sTheheroinesofpopularsentimentalnovelswere'quintessentiallyfeminine.",anexemplar
to
hersex,beautiful,sensitive,innocent,andprodigiouslytalentedwhoserolewastoobserve,towait,tofeel,eventuallyreachingher'inevitableenddeathormarriage.'
10
Shewashardlyanimageofempowermentandtendedto
be
depictedasbeingadjuncttothedominantmalecharacterthatsherelieduponforstrengthandguidance.Furthermore,implicitintheseworksAebeliefthatmarriageisthemostsignificantandinterestingactionawomancanundeba:keinherlife,andifsheischasteandluckyshe'willgetvirtuesearthly\.
r:
\e
\,)...;c.1\
T.:J-
reward,arichhusband';otherwise,shemay
'be
seducedanddieofit.'
11\
~U\I
r-
f-~WIIV
L.
W()0<2'..
W'Dtt
let
li.e
Heroinecentrednovelsattractedfemalereadersastheyinferredthattheeverydaylivesofcontemporarywomenwereimportant;however,novelswereaccusedofdistortingandraisingreaders'expectationsandthatthegenre'sdepictionoflifedepravedandcorrupteditsenthusiasts.WhenMariaEdgeworthannouncesthat
Belinda
isnotanovelbutaMoralTale',sheattemptstodistanceherselffromthisgenrethatwascontinuallydenouncedassensationalistwomen'sentertairunent.Itisnotherintentiontomerelyreproducethetraditionalnarrativestructureinwhichaspecificethicalormoralmessageisconveyed.
7
Mary
Wolistooecraft,
Maria:or,Thewrongsofwoman.Aposthumousfragmeru.
ByMary
WollstonecraftGodwin.Authorof
A
vindicationoftherightsofwoman.
Philadelphia,1199.
EighieenthCenturyCollectionsOnline.
Gale.TrinityCollegeDublin,P.8.18Jan.2011
8
MariaEdgeworth,
Belinda,
(Oxford:OxfordUniversity'
Press,
1999),Advertisementto
Belinda.
9
RachelM.Brownstein.
Becoming
Q
Heroine:readingaboiawomeninnavels
(Harmondsworth:Penguin,1984),p.xxi.
10
Ibid.p.81.
11
Ibid.p.8l.
3

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