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Sisterly Subjects: Brother-sister relationships in female-authored domestic novels, 1750-1820

By Katrina Clifford


‘Sisterly Subjects’ argues that female novelists from Eliza Haywood to Jane Austen established a tradition within the female-authored domestic novel that was based on the possibilities presented by the brother-sister relationship, the only cross-gender relationship in the eighteenth century that carried with it expectations of equality. In various ways these novelists use the unusual familial space of the brother-sister relationship to critique the emergent ideology of domesticity, to challenge authority structures, and to experiment with form in a key period of the development of the novel. This thesis examines two main functions of this relationship in eighteenth-century female-authored novels through two arguments about sisterly subjects. First, it deals with the position of women – their subjecthood – in the family and in society. In many novels written by women, a brother’s usurping of authority in this supposedly equal relationship is used to demonstrate women’s right to autonomy and the negative effects of their continued subjection within the family and, particularly after the French Revolution, within society. Second, it traces the establishment of the sister as the subject of the domestic novel. Female-authored novels involving brother-sister relationships not only make obvious the privileging of the sister’s story over the brother’s, they also demonstrate the connection between the subjection of women within the family and the form of the novel. This thesis challenges critical orthodoxies regarding the conservative nature of the domestic novel and the tendency of women novelists to promote a domestic ideal. Instead of promoting women’s subjection, these novelists use the brother-sister relationship to assert women’s autonomy, to question gender inequalities in the family and in society, and to affirm the importance of the female subject and the sister’s story

Topics: Domestic, Novel, Epistolary, Narrative, Family, Fraternity
Publisher: 'Department of English Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Konstantin Preslavsky University of Shumen'
Year: 2014
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Sydney eScholarship

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