Date of Award
Master of Arts in English
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Gender Studies, Literature
Studies of eighteenth-century British novels are typically centered on the alleged “rise” of the novel; that is, the formation of the novel as a genre distinguished from the epics, dramas, romances, and satires of past centuries. These new novels betray the critical trajectory of masculinity throughout the politically turbulent long British eighteenth century (1688-1815). While critics have studied individual constructions of masculinity within particular novels, or masculinity presented by a single author’s corpus, this paper tracks the various constructions of masculinity and demonstrates the relationship between masculinity and political change. The novel’s century-long “rise” presents the reflection of the English male society’s struggle to redefine itself in the face of the economic change, social empowerment, and political turbulence that resulted from the Glorious Revolution (1688-89). The novels of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Jane Austen reflect the direct relationship between the English political environment and turbulent trajectory and changing notions of masculinity. Defoe’s Whig masculinity favors economic gain and imperial expansion and becomes apparent in Robinson Crusoe (1719). In responding to Richardson’s portrayal of the gentry’s abusive masculinity in Pamela (1740), Fielding presents what I term “heroic” masculinity in Joseph Andrews (1742). Sterne’s 1759 critique of gentry men shows the complete lack of any traditional masculinity in what has become a totally effeminized, and thus ineffectual, asymmetric society. Finally, the anti-Jacobin, Tory Jane Austen brings a restoration of masculinity that results from a renewed interdependency of the sexes. In the neat conclusions of Austen’s novels, women submit to male leadership but excel in supportive and managerial positions; men need to marry women and protect the lower ranks. This mutually rewarding synthesis reinstates the acceptable portions of traditional masculinity (while excluding cudgels and fists) and creates a norm beneficial to men and women.
NeCastro, Anthony NeCastro, "Towards a Synthesis: Tracing the Evolution of Masculinity in the Eighteenth-Century Novel" (2017). ETD Archive. 1008.