Creative discourse in the eighteenth-century courtship novel

Michelle Ruggaber Dougherty, Marquette University


This study is examines how the heroines in five British courtship novels by women--The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751), The Female Quixote (1752), The Excursion (1777), Evelina (1778), and Emma (1816)--use creativity to prolong the time during the threshold between entering the world as an adult, marriageable woman and marrying. Creativity seems to be a constant presence in domestic fiction written during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The types of creativity in these novels vary: in some, creativity involves developing a new world view, while in others, it appears in the more traditional sense of artistic expression. However, in courtship novels, creativity is closely linked with self-development. For the heroines I study in this dissertation, creativity aids their searches for individuality and for self-determination. Although all of these heroines marry happily at the ends of their stories, none of them marry until they first develop their own identities with such strength that it seems unlikely their husbands will subsume their identities after marriage. Central to my analysis of these novels is my belief that creativity functions as a "language"--an alternative discourse--that both communicates the heroines' qualms about marriage and helps the heroines develop strong identities before marriage. Underlying my argument is Mikhail Bakhtin's belief that the particular languages characters use in novels reflect those characters' ideologies and world-views and that the act of using such a language further communicates a desire for social significance. Central to my argument is the premise that creative acts can function as a language that communicates desires and fears to the same extent that the spoken word can. I assert that, as a language, creativity is presented by these authors as an alternate way by which women can speak with authority. When these heroines act creatively--through painting or writing, for example-they assert ideological values that differ from the conventional in a socially--sanctioned manner. Thus, action as well as speech can reveal ideology, and creative acts allow heroines in courtship novels to speak and act with authoritative voices, if not the authoritative voices in the novels.

Recommended Citation

Dougherty, Michelle Ruggaber, "Creative discourse in the eighteenth-century courtship novel" (2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3123974.