The Architectural Subject: Space, Character, and Gender in Four Eighteenth-Century Domestic Novels

  • Author / Creator
    Chan, Mary M
  • This dissertation examines the impact of space, specifically domestic architecture, on the representation of female subjectivity in four eighteenth-century British domestic novels, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747–48), Frances Burney’s Cecilia (1782), Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801), and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814). I bring together theories of space, architectural histories, social histories of houses, eighteenth-century architectural treatises, and analyses of contemporaneous buildings and floor-plans to argue that spatial representations and metaphors in these novels test the composition and boundaries of female subjectivity. This testing is accomplished by treating subjects as spaces, specifically as houses whose exteriors are supposed to indicate their interior character. In other words, I examine what happens when an increasingly interiorized subject is represented as a literally interiorized structure, the house. For many heroines of eighteenth-century novels, this representation is dangerous because it could lead to the misinterpretation or misconstruction of character. One way of resisting such misrepresentation is found in the subject’s movement, particularly movement that evades attempts at fixing. The novels trace an increasing discomfort with constructions of the subject as divided along interior and exterior lines. At the century’s end, there is a shift away from questions about how space does or does not indicate character towards how space can facilitate the subject’s personal experiences and feelings, a shift that corresponds to the growing acceptance of the interiorized subject. But as this project demonstrates, until this shift occurs, attempts to fix character (particularly the character of women) exposed how uncertain and unstable the notion of the subject was for most of the eighteenth century.

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  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.