Uniform TitleNavigating interpretive authorities: women readers and reading models in the eighteenth century
NameSteele, Kathryn Lenore (author), McDowell, Paula (chair), McKeon, Michael (internal member), Kramnick, Jonathan (internal member), Bowers, Toni (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - New Brunswick,
SubjectEnglish, Literatures in,
Women--Books and reading--Great Britain--History-- 18th century,
Women and literature--Great Britain--History--18th century,
Authors and readers--Great Britain--History--18th century,
Richardson, Samuel, 1689-1761--Clarissa--Criticism and interpretation
DescriptionChallenging existing notions of the oppositional reader, this dissertation proposes the model of limited interpretive authority as a new way of understanding reading practices in eighteenth-century England. It examines the women readers of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa as illustrations of this concept. Chapter 1, a literature review, suggests that even as methodologies become more flexible, the modern, individual, and secular reader continues to inform studies of historical reading. Arguing that the field requires a reading model describing more limited individual interpretive authority, this chapter turns to eighteenth-century instructions for reading the Bible. These texts employ a language of self-discipline and self-censorship that characterizes reading which negotiates, instead of rejecting, interpretive authority. Chapter 2 explores the historically problematic emphasis on oppositional reading in the study of women readers. A review of these methodological problems is followed by an examination of Hester Mulso Chapone's 1773 Letters on the Improvement of the Mind. This influential conduct book theorizes and recommends socially-embedded reading practices; in recuperating novelistic reading practices for the reading of the Bible, this text reflects a key change in reading practices. The chapter argues for extending the search for evidence of reading to the didactic texts usually believed to merely constrain readers.
The final two chapters examine the implied readers and historical readers of Samuel Richardson's 1747-48 novel Clarissa. Chapter 3 examines internal reading strategies. Clarissa's interpretive practice changes as she moves from acting in the social world to spiritual retreat. Silences in response to her family's coercion--representing a form of passive disobedience--are replaced by a refusal to narrate. This refusal signifies Clarissa's removal from the interpretive conflicts of the material world. Clarissa's self-transcendence invites us to imagine some readers' desire for similar self-transcendence. Using both published and archival letters, Chapter 4 tests and extends the models of reading proposed by the novel itself. Anna Howe, this chapter proposes, not Clarissa, provides the model of reading most often employed by readers. Reading like Anna Howe, or reading in a mode of filial disobedience, reveals a way to navigate, without necessarily rejecting, the interpretive dictates of patriarchy.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references (p. 215-226).
CollectionGraduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Organization NameRutgers, The State University of New Jersey
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.