Date of Award

Spring 1986

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Swearingen, James

Second Advisor

Duffy, Edward

Third Advisor

Johnson, Claudia


The novels of Fanny Burney have attracted comment over the years from three disctinct perspectives. The first sees the merit of the works as consisting largely in the representation of the life and manners surrounding heroines who, lacking sufficient experience of the world, find their innocence perpetually threatened. A second equally traditional but less charitable view sees Burney's heroines as creatures of indefensible sentiment and the novels as overwritten and overwrought with "female difficulties." The third, a "revisionist" view challenges these "patriarchal" readings by seeing the heroines as passive victims of a vicious male culture. All three views share the same conceptual model of the human regardless of how they understand gender. The hierarchy of values that goes unquestioned in them all is a negative concern for "passivity" as a trait inviting both challenge and censure while promoting a familiar, if unacknowledged patriarchal sense of individual autonomy. Whichever way one understands Burney's heroines, whether as frivolous creatures or suffering victims, neither way adequately explains narrative gaps that appear in all the novels. These gaps occur when the heroine inexplicably, even willfully, delivers herself over to a kind of hysteria or inexpressibility whereby she deliberately eschews an opportunity for "action." The strategy of this study is to understand the notion of woman as functioning like the Lacanian "Other." In ontological terms this means that instead of alterity's existing outside of identity, otherness inhabits the very structure represented as identity. In the language of gender this simply means that woman as a concept, always other, enables those who consider themselves united under the label "man" to differentiate and so identify themselves--whether on the basis of biology, sexuality, or such peculiar traits as strength, action, assertiveness. Thus woman, much like the barbarian, the madman, the outcast, allows for the creation of civilizing boundaries, rational limits, the homogeneity of culture in general. The exposure of those patriarchal strategies of solidarity that create the outsider is one of the tasks of this work...



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