Sexual Selection and Female Choice in Austen’s Northanger Abbey
Catherine Morland, the protagonist of Northanger Abbey, is often regarded as Austen’s least appealing heroine, considered not just naïve but unintelligent. An examination of Catherine’s behavior through the lens of evolutionary theory, however, reveals her to be an astute sexual and social strategizer who ends up marrying the most eligible man in the novel. Not only is Catherine (unlike her older and supposedly more savvy friend Isabella) effective in identifying a man who is a good prospect for a husband and in convincing him that she will make a good wife. Her very obtuseness and seeming inability to read the minds of others can be regarded as assets in her goal of improving her circumstances through hypergamy (or “marrying up”). Austen’s insight into the dynamics of what Darwin would term sexual selection are clearly on display in her earliest completed novel.
“Her life is mine, to use as I see fit”: The Terror of Consent in Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan
The enduring terror of The Great God Pan has been attributed to various factors: degeneration, deep time, the abhuman subject, neurological theories, and sexual mysteries. Connecting and expanding on these analyses, I investigate the terror derived from philosophical and juridical conceptions of consent implicit in contemporaneous debates and legislative changes about vivisection, age of consent, and regulation of venereal disease. While late Victorian periodical and juridical discourse assumes there is safety and justice in the individual’s right and capacity to make decisions about what happens to one’s body, The Great God Pan, I argue, dramatically disquiets these urgent expectations. By compounding an explicitly justified medical invasion with an implied sexual assault, Machen’s tale dramatizes the unsettling indeterminacy of consent at a time when its legal definition has supposedly been fixed. Ultimately, I demonstrate how consent’s hollowness is amplified to terrifying effect in the “suicidal mania” of the main narrative.
Monuments of an Artless Age: Hotels and women’s Mobility in the work of Henry James
Anna Despotopoulou [End Page 602]
This article examines James’s important critique, in The American Scene, of the hotel’s pervasive role as a new institution and landmark in the modern urban scene, focusing on the way in which women characters experience the challenges of this transitory space. Through readings of “Daisy Miller,” “The Pension Beaurepas,” The Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove, it explores the impact of hotel culture on James’s women, who in their travels experience hotels as insular microcosms of controlled sociability, unstable arenas of emancipation, or stages of duplicitous performance. Confronting issues of precarious national identity and rootlessness, James’s heroines demonstrate a mobile and even transnational individuality, one that is derived from the transient spaces they roam in. Although the writer sometimes presents his heroines trapped in the hotels’ generic gilded fixtures, he identifies them with the modernizing thrust of the big metropolises and the incessant international mobility that the hotels epitomized.
Absolutely Novel: The Event and Charles Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F.M.C.
This essay examines Paul Marchand, F.M.C., Charles Chesnutt’s 1921 historical romance about New Orleans a century earlier, which features a main character, a free man of color, who discovers that he is actually white and heir to a fortune. Rather than reading this plot twist as a simple reversal of the “passing” trope, I interpret it as a meditation on the shape and quality of “Events,” a concept adapted in this essay from critical theory, especially Alain Badiou’s Being and Event. I argue that Chesnutt challenges timelines of progress and identity by crafting a sudden moment in Paul’s life that shifts the terms of change itself. The novel not only plays with doubt and delayed revelations; Chesnutt asks us to think beyond certainty yet still make decisions that account for something as unexpected as overnight change. Such temporal considerations also shed light on Chesnutt’s late-career essays on racial mixture and on appropriate subjects for African American fiction.
“I find my mind meeting yours”: Rebecca west’s Telepathic Modernism...