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Amatory Fiction

Introductory lecture on the tradition of amatory fiction in the development of the British novel, focusing on the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Tonya Howe

on 5 February 2014

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Transcript of Amatory Fiction

edited by Paula Backscheider and John Richetti
an anthology not possible before the late 1980s
feminist revisionary literary historiography
women's work in its historical/material
contexts to see their full value
lost works by women writers
the gendered system that ensures their loss
lost works by women writers
Popular Fiction by Women: 1660-1730
Aphra Behn (1640?-1689)
Eliza Haywood (1693-1756)
Mary Davys (1674-1732)
Delariviere Manley (c.1672-1724)
Jane Barker (1652-1732)
Penelope Aubin (c.1658-1731)
Portrait of Behn by Mary Beale, first
professional female portraitist (17c)
London Evening Post, 25 Dec 1739
Engraving of Eliza Haywood
by George Vertue (1725)
inaugurates mass/popular fiction
introduces key novelistic themes and forms
dominated the market between 1680 and 1740
varied and experimental
shorter than French romances
less stylized
small number of central characters

recent scholars term much of this writing "amatory fiction"
amatory fiction
shorter fiction,
usually about love and related problems,
typically written by women
precursor to mass-market fiction
thus a part of a modern leisure economy
expanding reading public
with less "classical" education
women were a central part of the modern entertainment economy
term tends to trivialize women's writing
limit its variety, especially its topicality--a form of
condescension that is part of a patriarchal educational system
whose interests are supported by definitions of "good literature"?
"the novel"
"romance" or "amatory fiction"
these texts are
not important,
not well-made,
not taught...

traditional reading techniques
have made them "unreadable"

but, disappeared!
puts women & women's interests at the center of plot and perspective
because people didn't study this literature
female sexual curiosity (curiosity both intellectual and physical)
passion and love as valuable modes of knowing the world
community of female readers created through fiction (solidarity!)
foreground the female voice through acts of storytelling, masking
education of "dangerous" behavior
difficulty of interpreting behavior, reading intentions
the problematics of reputation
power & powerlessness
exploring asymmetrically-gendered social conventions
stages generalized conflicts between aristocratic and bourgeois worldviews (Ballaster 11)
gender is produced and performed, not "natural"; thus, it is in some ways always about the masks we wear, the stories we tell about gender
tropes often used to explore issues of power, social convention, behavior, reputation, and gender identity
not only are these loaded terms often used to undermine female authority by describing women as "duplicitous"...
feminocentric stories
masking & disguise
who put the love in "amatory"?
"gender inversion"
but masks also offer an opportunity to play, to try out new identities, and to do so with relative security
"[F]emale fiction begin[s] with an analysis of female signs and masks, as well as the social and moral effects of desire and manipulation" (Todd, The Sign of Angellica 2)
later fiction by women tends to be more moralistic about femininity, preaching an ideology of restraint and selflessness that we are very familiar with today.
Full transcript