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The 'Little Arts' of Amatory Fiction: Identity, Performance, and Process

Simpson, Kim (2014) The 'Little Arts' of Amatory Fiction: Identity, Performance, and Process. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:48720)

Language: English
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From its initial publication until the feminist recovery project, amatory fiction was mostly depicted as a popular, but immoral, trivial, and aesthetically underdeveloped genre in comparison to the emergent realist novel. More recently, the genre’s feminocentric treatments of gender difference, erotic love, seduction and betrayal have been discussed in terms of their proto-feminism, whilst its thematic explorations of duty and disobedience have been recognised as evidence of the genre’s Tory-oriented intervention in partisan politics. Tracing the origins of some of today’s critical perspectives on femininity, writing, performativity, and the body, ‘The “Little Arts” of Amatory Fiction: Identity, Performance and Process’ argues that these texts are characterised not so much by their proto-feminism or political alignments, as by their proto-queer strategies. The structure of the chapters works from the outside of amatory texts – their reception and their construction in chapters one and two – to their content in chapters three and four, and then back outwards again in the final chapter which considers their lasting influence. The chapters redefine the genre according to its self-conscious and theoretically sophisticated engagements with identity, authorship, materiality, power, and desire, and suggest that such a redefinition serves to widen the pool of amatory texts for consideration. Chapter one explores the interrogation of prescriptive gender constructions in amatory texts and the feminist readings that this interrogation has provoked, suggesting that a reading that attends to the queerness at work in amatory fiction can yield a clearer understanding of the genre’s ambiguous ideological position, which goes beyond transgression. Chapter two identifies the ways in which self-conscious textuality, evasive strategies of authorship, and (dis)embodiment function within these texts to posit a constructivist understanding of identity, and as demonstrations of artistry and agency. It argues that identifying amatory fiction according to its play with notions of authorship, rather than as author-based, allows for the inclusion of lesser known writers such as Mary Hearne, writers not traditionally considered amatory, such as Penelope Aubin and Jane Barker, and anonymous and pseudonymous amatory texts, within an amatory canon traditionally constituted by Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood. Chapter three reads amatory fiction alongside Judith Butler’s work on performativity, and charts the way in which amatory fiction experiments with the possibility of disrupting processes of identity construction using masquerade and mimicry, and creating its own discursive forms of repetition and performativity in ways that prefigure Butler. Chapter four examines how amatory texts subject these configurations to the material effects of passion and power, using materialist feminist theory to posit that the body is recognised in these texts as a place of excess beyond the limits of discursive performance. The final chapter outlines the afterlife of amatory fiction, demonstrating the ways in which intertextuality and borrowings are used to create a community of readers and writers working in an amatory tradition both within the early eighteenth century and beyond. At a time when some scholars are turning away from the popular fiction by women unearthed during the recovery project in favour of revisionist formalist approaches, this work is both crucial and timely, demonstrating amatory fiction as formally innovative, theoretically engaged, and vital both to understandings of the queer eighteenth century, and to genealogies of feminist and queer theories.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Batchelor, Jennie E
Thesis advisor: Landry, Donna
Uncontrolled keywords: Eighteenth-century; Amatory Fiction; Aphra Behn; Delarivier Manley; Eliza Haywood; Sarah Scott; Queer theory; Feminism; Anonymity; Masquerade
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2015 11:00 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 12:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Simpson, Kim.

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