Frances Burney's Mechanics of Coming Out

in The Self and It

Published by Stanford University Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780804756969
Published online June 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780804773348 | DOI:
Frances Burney's Mechanics of Coming Out

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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Frances Burney' novels—Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782), and Camilla (1796), in particular—focus on the period in women's lives as they move from childhood into adult life and present themselves formally to “the world.” For Burney's characters and herself as a published writer, coming out entails a compulsive identification with the automaton—a model of mimesis and regularity that appeared persistently in eighteenth-century conduct literature and social life. This chapter discusses how depicting such processes of mechanical identification paradoxically grant Burney's protagonists affective range, as well as promote the aesthetic force and technical innovation of her novels. When presenting women as automata, Burney deploys the novel medium for detailing the possibilities of generating individual affect within the very confines of the mechanized subjectivity that appears to limit the depth of female expression.

Keywords: adult life; automaton; mimesis; regularity; eighteenth-century England; social life; novel; female expression

Chapter.  13609 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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