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Women Novelists and the French Revolution Debate: Novelizing the Revolution/ Revolutionizing the Novel Gary Kelly It is now accepted that the French Revolution was a cultural as well as political event, or rather that Revolutionary politics were enacted in cultural ways, among others.1 Yet fictionalizations of the Revolution might still seem either tangential to its political realities or a submission of literature, which is supposedly transhistorical, to mere temporality, in the form of propaganda. In fact much writing of the time remains outside the modern literary canon for precisely this reason.2 Even critical opinion of the time saw the novel as an unpromising vehicle for serious discussion of political ideas, let alone ideas inspired by an event that was considered historically unprecedented in its magnitude, consequences, and nature. Moreover, the novel was then widely if erroneously regarded as a "feminine" form, mainly read and written by women, and as a consequence outside the public, political sphere in which revolutions 1 See for example Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). 2 See Harriet Kramer Linkin, "The Current Canon in British Romantics Studies," College English 53:5 (Sept. 1991), 548-70. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 6, Number 4, July 1994 370 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION occurred.3 On the other hand, the polarization of the political and the literary that underwrites such judgments originated in reaction to the Revolution, and was part of an elevation of the literary over the political that masks its own political character and the political character of art. It could also be argued, after Mikhail Bakhtin, that "novelization," or the creation of a polyvocal, democratic, dialogical discursive order in place of authoritative, authoritarian, monological ones, was the project both of the Revolution and the novel.4 Thus fictionalizing Revolutionary themes and issues, whether directly or indirectly, would be a way of participating in the Revolution. Furthermore , the subordinate cultural status of the novel and its female writers and readers would make it apt for "novelizing" the literary and discursive order of the time, by introducing the marginal into the centre . Though novels were in fact produced and read equally by women and men, albeit with different inflections, there were cultural grounds for characterizing the novel as "feminine," accounting for its potential as oppositional discourse. By the nature of its claims, the Revolution not only invited "novelizing"—in Bakhtin's sense and as novelistic representation of Revolutionary events, characters, and ideas; the Revolution also enabled and even required revolutionizing of the novel, thematically and formally, in order that it might carry out these tasks. More important, by the outbreak of the Revolution certain kinds of novel had long been implicated in the cultural, social, and political critique that the Revolution embodied. Since the seventeenth century, at least, certain kinds of prose fiction had dealt with private relationships and domestic scenes of life. The domestic or feminine sphere was represented as authentic in contrast to the illusions and relativities of the masculine or public sphere, especially under court government, thereby making domestic fiction into oppositional writing. Varieties of anti-romance represented "reality" in a different set of modes to counter courtly culture, including picaresque low life, satire exposing courtly artifice , and the knowingly super-courtly, or decadent. These kinds of fiction, like those representing private and domestic life, were anti-courtly simply by implying that "reality" and "authenticity" lay elsewhere than at court. The same ideological and cultural work could be accomplished by both The English Rogue (1665-71) and La Princesse de Clèves (1678, in 3 See John Tinnon Taylor, Early Opposition to the English Novel: The PopularReactionfrom 1760 to 1830 (New York: King's Crown Press, 1943). 4 Mikhail M. Bakhtin, The Dialogical Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981). REVOLUTIONIZING THE NOVEL 371 English 1679), and by both The New Atlantis (1709) and Moll Flanders (1722). These varieties of fiction were modifed in the middle third of the eighteenth century, as Enlightenment theorists proposed models of "civil society " to revolutionize the public and political sphere by removing it from court hegemony and imbuing...