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Chastity And Transgression In Women's Writing, 1792-1897: by R. Eberle

By R. Eberle

Operating on the intersections of feminist literary feedback, new historicism, and narratology, Chastity and Transgression in Women's Writing, 1792-1897 revises present understandings of nineteenth Century representations of prostitution, girl sexuality, and the "rights of girls" debate. Eberle's venture explores the connections and disjunctures among girls writing through the Romantic interval and people operating through the Victorian period. Roxanne Eberle considers a variety of authors together with Mary Wollstonecraft, Amelia Opie, Mary Hays, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Sarah Grand.

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Sample text

Rife with embedded tales of female suffering, only Maria and Jemima actually transcend the horrors of their personal narratives. In the first place, not all women are reliable narrators. The horrors suffered by the “lovely maniac” are just as evocative as those of Maria or Jemima; she is sold to a rich man and goes mad during childbirth. But once mad she remains trapped in the prison of her own disturbed sensibility. Although she serves as an important warning to both Maria and 38 Chastity and Transgression in Women’s Writing, 1792–1897 Jemima, they leave her behind.

Jemima and Maria thus break the cycle of woman–woman violence by bonding over their shared experience of “blighted motherhood” and “blighted daughterhood” (68). While Johnson’s reading of The Wrongs of Woman convincingly captures the quality of intimacy that characterizes the relationship forged between Maria and Jemima, Kaplan correctly identifies the way in which class interests threaten that unity. Wollstonecraft consistently works against an easy classification of either Maria or Jemima on the grounds of class.

Wollstonecraft’s familiar representation of Maria’s distressed state simultaneously challenges the reading experience of an audience accustomed to novels that ignore the material horrors of “sublime” terror. Maria’s “abode of horror” is not an imaginative diversion but instead literally encloses her within its decayed walls. Furthermore, George Venables’s very real political and economic power holds her there. And, as Edmund Burke had observed in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful: “When danger or pain press too nearly, [sublime scenes] are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible” (40).

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