Law, Sensibility, and the Sublime in Eighteenth-century Women's Fiction: Speaking of Dread
This work offers a fresh historical, philosophical and cultural interpretation of the relation between the eighteenth-century discourse of sensibility, the sublime and the theory and practice of eighteenth-century law. It exposes and explores the influence of this combination of discourses upon the formation of gender identities in the period and examines the presence, within eighteenth-century fiction by women, of a new female subject. Novels by women in this period, Chaplin posits, begin to reveal that the female subject position constructed through the discourses of law, sensibility and the sublime gives rise, for women, to a feminine ontological crisis that anticipates by two hundred years the trauma of the 'post modern' male subject unable to present a unified subjectivity to himself or to the world. This feminine crisis finds expression within a range of female fiction of the mid-to-late eighteenth century-in Charlotte Lennox's anti-romance satire, Frances Sheridan's 'conduct-book' novels, the Gothic romances of Radcliffe and Eliza Fenwick and the sensationalistic horror fiction of Charlotte Dacre.
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