The History of Feminine Fiction:Exploring Laura Runge’s Article, Gendered Strategies in the Criticism of Early Fiction

The History of Feminine Fiction:Exploring Laura Runge’s Article, Gendered Strategies in the Criticism of Early Fiction

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The History of Feminine Fiction:Exploring Laura Runge’s Article, Gendered Strategies in the Criticism of Early Fiction

Laura Runge is an assistant professor of English at the University of South Florida. In her article, "Gendered Strategies in the Criticism of Early Fiction," Runge argues that, during the eighteenth century, the overdetermined gendered association between the female reader and the female writer excluded the female novelist from literary excellence and ultimately led to the inferior status of fictional writing. While the novel became recognized as a feminine genre, criticism ignored the achievement of female authors and became overtly masculine. In defining literary achievement by male standards, criticism reinforced the subordinate role of women in both the British culture and literature. Runge says it is the gendered literary hierarchy, established in the criticism of the eighteenth century, that makes it difficult to evaluate the history of the entire novel.

As the social and economic conditions of eighteenth century Britain shifted from a family based system to one dependent on industry, women were no longer valuable as workers. This transition allowed for the developing reading habits of the middleclass woman as they were left with more free time. However, the cultural definition of females compromised the feminized genre. As women were defined as subordinate to men, their literature was reduced by critics to "bad-fiction." One critic wrote, "So long at the British ladies continue to encourage our hackney scribblers, by reading every romance that appears, we need not wonder that the press should swarm with such poor insignificant productions" (365). Despite the presumed inferiority of fiction, authors, ...


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...bsequently, the only success females were acknowledged for or granted was as the provider of domestic morality.

Gendered strategies, in the criticism of early fiction, made feminine fiction incapable of excellence. By using conventional heterosexual relationships in their prefaces, authors only succeed in supporting the masculine control over fiction. The appraisals women gained only reinforced their inferior status. "Criticism placed female authors in a specific and confined critical sphere, while it located male authors in an other, more respected field" (375). By aligning their works with popular male literature, women inadvertently strengthened male authority. Women were only granted recognition in terms of their limited social stature. It is these gendered values and strategies that makes the history of the novel and feminine achievement difficult to assess.

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