Date of Graduation

8-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

English

Advisor

Amy Witherbee

Committee Member

David Jolliffe

Second Committee Member

Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins

Third Committee Member

Emily Bernhard Jackson

Abstract

This dissertation explores the intersection of sensibility, social identity, and literacy practices among representations of women readers in four late eighteenth-century British novels. Through an analysis of the authors' use of identity constructs which shaped and were shaped by reading practices, this study documents the rise of social identity formation as mutually constitutive with the history of reading. The first chapter reveals how Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote uses Arabella's follies as education for readers about the corresponding processes of reading their society and reading novels. The second chapter argues that Frances Burney's Evelina considers women's ability to read others as essential, but, in seeing literacy as a type of performance, rejects women who incorporate literate ways of knowing and thinking into their identity. In the third chapter, Maria Edgeworth's Belinda portrays the boundary between private and public selves for women as blurred, thereby suggesting that women readers must reconstitute their image of self as identity borderlands in order to make use of their reading skills and practices. The fourth chapter on Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey reveals the results of late eighteenth-century culture's increased emphasis on the uses of reading for social and personal identity-work: a self that functions as a nexus for various social identities rather than as a seat for private, interiorized consciousness. The final chapter argues for increased emphasis on the role social identity plays in the literacy identities and practices of twenty-first century students, whose perceived deficiencies in reading comprehension have provided a challenge for some reading teachers.

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