December 05, 2011

Romantic Period Novel— Termly Review

The first term of the RPN module has explored four fascinating texts and a variety of themes and ideas.

In weeks 2 and 3 we read Frances Burney’s Evelina and examined the ways in which Evelina is (or is not) a heroine of sensibility; her unusual relationship with Mr Villars and Mme Duval; the institution of marriage.We asked: What is Lord Orville’s character? Is he Evelina’s saviour? Who preys on Evelina? We further examined the reception of Evelina in the eighteenth century and the conduct literature from which Burney draws or critiques.

In weeks 4 and 5 we discussed the representation of family and sensibility in Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline and the ways in which Smith complicates gender. We questioned whether Emmeline is a heroine (distinguished for her courage) or a protagonist (simply playing the chief part), whether she is perfect or idealised, and if sensibility is a hindrance in Emmeline.

In weeks 6 and 7 we read Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, beginning with the author’s advertisement, asking why she might want to distance herself from contemporary understandings of the novel. We wondered: what is the moral of the story? Is it easy to discern? We then examined in some detail the character of the narrator, the representation of masculine figures and the theme of race.

Emma concluded the first term. We went back to Scott’s definition of Romance and Novel (marvellous and uncommon vs. ordinary and modern) and explored the ways in which Emma might be seen to turn the narrative into a Romance by fantasizing and misreading. In groups, we analysed the theme of rank, by studying the descriptions of each home (Hartfield, Donwell Abbey, Randall’s, the Bates’ flat, the vicarage) and asking what it might suggest about the character(s) that live in them.

With each new text we have referred to genre, form and reception and the themes of market, nation and sensibility. We have contrasted the Novel with Romance, realism with fantasy, and explored burgeoning notions of modernity alongside extracts from key texts by authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Hester Chapone, Henry MacKenzie, Anna Letitia Barbauld.  

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