Dedicated to classics and hits.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Charlotte Lennox: The Female Quixote
The Female Quixote
by Charlotte Lennox
originally published 1752
this edition Pandora Press 1986
The fact to note about this book is the date it was originally published: 1752. That's early. More then fifty years before Jane Austen picked up a pen, Charlotte Lennox wrote "The Female Quixote or the Adventures of Arabella." Like Don Quixote, Arabella is a main character who believes everything she reads. Raised in isolation by her widower father, Arabella has learned the plots of medieval romances by heart, and paired that with complete ignorance about the "modern" world (1750s).
Let me ensure you, laborious hi-jinks ensue. As I've commented before here on numerous occasions, the most surprising fact about the history of the novel is how the novel was basically "post modern" in the very beginning- as early as Don Quixote. Don Quixote, the story of a man who was too wrapped up in chivalric tales for his own good, invented the novel by inventing the reader of the novel.
The formula of Don Quixote tilting at the windmills is a formula that reveals the strength of the novel itself. Writing about a protagonist obsessed with reading books is like writing about the reader him or herself, who is also, hopefully, obsessed by books. Thus the self referential (or "post modern") self aware domain of what we commonly assume to be the 20th and 21st century thought is pushed back in time, among certain populations, to the 1700s.
How humbling for those who make a living peddling ironic rebuttals of popular culture products in the present day, to realize that they are traversing in modes of thought that would have been familiar, and probably derided, to writers in the 1700s. Novels are unique among artistic products in their overt dialog with the audience. Symphonies, poetry and paintings to not talk back to the audience. Thus, by reading a novel you can tell more about the corresponding audience then by reading poetry or listening to music from the same era.
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