The Trauma of Gender

In: English and Literature

Submitted By angooor
Words 5434
Pages 22
The Gender Politics of Narrative Modes
I want to challenge two linked assumptions that most historians and critics of the English novel share. The first is that the burgeoning of capitalism and the ascension of the middle classes were mainly responsible for the development of the novel. The second is that realism represents the novel's dominant tradition. [note 1] I want to propose instead that, as surely as it marked a response to developing class relations, the novel came into being as a response to the sex-gender system that emerged in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. [note 2] My thesis is that from its inception, the novel has been structured not by one but by two mutually defining traditions: the fantastic and the realistic. [note 3] The constitutive coexistence of these two impulses within a single, evolving form is in no sense accidental: their dynamic interaction was precisely the means by which the novel, from the eighteenth century on, sought to manage the strains and contradictions that the sex-gender system imposed on individual subjectivities. For this reason, to recover the centrality of sex and gender as the novel's defining concern is also to recover the dynamism of its bimodal complexity. Conversely, to explore the interplay of realist and fantastic narratives within the novelistic tradition is to explore the indeterminacy of subjectivities engaged in the task of imposing and rebelling against the constraining order of gender difference.

The historical foundation of the project is the recognition that the alteration of class structure in this period was inseparable from the reconceptualization of gender differences and the reconfiguration of gender relations. Synthesizing a simple story from complex accounts, one can say that by the middle of the seventeenth century, there was a shift away from a feudal and Puritan…...

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