Reviewing Sex: Gender and the Reception of Victorian Novels

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When Scenes of Clerical Life appeared anonymously in 1853 the Saturday Review pictured its author, George Eliot, as a bearded Cambridge clergyman and the revered father of several children. When Anthony Trollope published Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel anonymously in 1867, the London Review argued that the internal evidence required the author to be female.

Gender played a pivotal role in the reception of Victorian novels and was not only an analytical category used by Victorian reviewers to conceptualize, interpret, and evaluate novels, but in some cases was the primary category. This book analyzes over 100 nineteenth-century reviews of several prominent novels, both canonical and non-canonical, chosen for the various ways in which they conformed with and deviated from conventional gender stereotypes. Among these titles are Charles Reade's It Is Never Too Late to Mend, Emily Bront's Wuthering Heights, Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers and Charlotte Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe.

This study goes beyond the intuitive notion that a double standard existed in the Victorian era which undervalues the work of women writers. Male writers, such as Trollope, were in fact also vulnerable to the masculine/feminine hierarchies of Victorian literary criticism. Some women writers, on the other hand, actually benefitted from gendered evaluations. Charlotte Yonge, for instance, conformed so closely to the ideal and idealized view of feminine writing that she is chivalrously exempted from more critical examinations of intellectual content. Having unearthed often ignored or neglected sources, Thompson examines the ways in which Victorian constructions of literary reputations were filtered through preconceptions about gender and writing.

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About the Author:

Nicola Diane Thompson is Assistant Professor of English at State University of New York, Cortland.

Review:

Now that the old feudal order is experiencing a resurgence with the assistance of wealth, a corporate media and official historians, Gerald Horne, one of our most original historians, reminds us of the alliance of Africans, Europeans and Native Americans that fought against its antecedent anachronism. In this brilliant, stunning book, Horne shows us how the issue of slavery still intrudes upon our national discussions.-Ishmael Reed,

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