Women writers and the eighteenth-century novel” Jane Spencer argues that “Women were struggling for literary authority at the same time as the novel’s generic identity was becoming established, and the two developments affected each other

This assignment asks you to follow a very specific series of steps, as a way of modelling the steps of analysis and argument, and to employ a very specific process: you are to analyze a number of lines of text closely and then to tie the conclusions of that analysis to the larger passage in which these lines appear.


Question: In her article “Women writers and the eighteenth-century novel” Jane Spencer argues that “Women were struggling for literary authority at the same time as the novel’s generic identity was becoming established, and the two developments affected each other” (215). This article calls attention to the important relationship between female novelists and gendered social participation. This assignment asks you to look very closely at one of two passages that discuss the relationship between women writers, the novel and the public sphere. What do the selected passages say about the importance of a novel’s form and genre for women writers? How does the development of eighteenth-century novels relate to the place women in the private and public spheres? And finally what role does the domestic space play in feminizing the public sphere?


Lines for close analysis: Choose either Option #1 OR Option #2


Option #1: The Public Dimension of Women’s Writing


“We need to recognize the new public dimension to domestic life, fostered especially by print culture. What is new about eighteenth-century experience, it has recently been argued, is not the confinement of women to the home but the new value placed on that home. The new evaluation of privacy and domesticity encourage by sentimental ideology contributed to the ambiguity of public/private distinctions; and the domestic sentimental novel of the late eighteenth century had an ambiguous role as the carrier of private concerns into public print. Though the new public sphere was male-dominated, some parts of it were easier of access to women than others; publishing, and especially the publication of novels, was relatively open to them” (p. 217).


Option #2: The Sentimental Heroine


“The sentimental heroine, however restrictive was the code of virtuous womanhood by which she was drawn, offered a focus for the late-century novel to comment on social issues. Margaret Doody argues that women writers in the late eighteenth century ‘invented a new kind of novel. Having as its center the character of the intelligent, compassionate heroine, the new novel turns outward, like its heroine, to discover society and history.’ The more liberal and radical novelists at the end of the century used the mingled sensibility and reason of the sentimental protagonist as a way of developing new ways of reflecting on politics and history” (227-8).



Structure of response:

  • An initial paragraph in which you introduce your passage, situating your reader in the text and topic under discussion
  • A second section, of as many paragraphs as you feel are necessary (2 or perhaps 3?), in which you present your close reading of the assigned passage. For this section you are required to work closely with your primary text, contextualizing it to illustrate and prove your claims.
  • Conclusion: in a final paragraph, move outwards and tie the specific results of your analysis to larger text to which it belongs. How goes your close reading of this passage inflect or transform your understanding of the text as a whole? To what larger themes is it connected?

Please ensure you read the entire article in order to understand the overarching arguments of the article


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