Vision, fiction and depiction : the forms and functions of visuality in the novels of Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney
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There are many factors that contributed to the proliferation of visual codes, metaphors and references to the gendered gaze in women’s fiction of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. This thesis argues that the visual details in women’s novels published between 1778 and 1815 are more significant than scholars have previously acknowledged. My analysis of the oeuvres of Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney shows that visuality — the nexus between the verbal and visual communication — provided them with a language within language capable of circumventing the cultural strictures on female expression in a way that allowed for concealed resistance. It conveyed the actual ways in which women ‘should’ see and appear in a society in which the reputation was image-based.My analysis journeys through physiognomic, psychological, theatrical and codified forms of visuality to highlight the multiplicity of its functions. I engage with scholarly critiques drawn from literature, art, optics, psychology, philosophy and anthropology to assert visuality’s multidisciplinary influences and diplomatic potential. I show that in fiction and in actuality, women had to negotiate four scopic forces that determined their ‘looks’ and manners of looking: the impartial spectator, the male gaze, the public eye and the disenfranchised female gaze. In a society dominated by ‘frustrated utterance,’ penetrating gazes and the perpetual threat of misinterpretation, women novelists used references to the visible and the invisible to comment on emotions, socio-economic conditions and patriarchal abuses. This thesis thus offers new insights into verbal economy by reassessing expression and perception from an unconventional point-of-view.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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