Tabitha Tenney's novel about novel reading, Female Quixotism (1801), features an extended series of transgressive episodes that include cross-dressing and erotic power play, slapping, spanking, stripping, and bondage. These episodes ultimately keep the heroine, Dorcasina, from marrying, and as a result, her story is often seen as a cautionary tale condemning the reading practices that make her vulnerable to exploitation from corrupting influences and prevent her happy ending. However, such readings overlook the transient pleasures and adjacent intimacies those quixotic adventures develop and the fact that Female Quixotism locates women's erotic pleasure exclusively within them. In these exploits, Dorcasina and her female friends experience the thrill of encountering another's desire, forcefully expressing their own, and experiencing erotic pleasure between women, all in the name of heterosexual romance. Dorcasina's perverse, anachronistic attachment to romance produces a queer relationship to both time and narrative, embodied in the immediate, affecting, cyclical adventures. Female Quixotism uses gender-bending scenes and instances of pleasurable violence to create an alternative relationship to time and narrative in which women's cyclical pursuit of immediate erotic satisfaction takes precedence over the deferred—and ultimately imaginary—gratification found in marriage. This queer temporality depends on strategies of containment often called the play frame to create and safely enclose sensational, violent experiences that develop erotic tension between the female characters. Ultimately, Female Quixotism subordinates the heteronormative romance plot (the straight time of courtship) to the queer time of quixotic adventure, creating excessive, idiosyncratic erotic adventures for women that resist both normative reproductive time and a clear distinction between pain and pleasure. Female Quixotism articulates a previously unrecognized queer vision for the possibilities of elite women's pleasure and personal fulfillment in early America.


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pp. 477-510
Launched on MUSE
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