Trained on the history of the novel in English, Nancy Armstrong’s Desire and Domestic Fiction also illuminates continental European developments. Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, the prototype of the nineteenth-century “novel of development” (bildungsroman), forms itself against domestic fiction and its core principle, that, in Armstrong’s words, “the modern individual was first and foremost a woman.” Goethe’s novel elects a male protagonist as the universal subject of a modern developmental logic of human nature and articulates his progress on a succession of sacrificial stages occupied by the story’s women. In a militant response, Germaine de Staël’s Corinne refeminizes the novelistic protagonist, investing the role with the developmental imperative of Bildung and the claim on universal human representativeness, realized through the heroine’s artistic vocation. Corinne, however, falls into a conventional love story and is sacrificed to a marriage plot, which here and elsewhere Staël identifies with the distinctively English genre of domestic fiction. Refusing to naturalize the arrangements analyzed in Desire and Domestic Fiction from its position outside the English tradition, Corinne shows that the hegemony of domestic realism was neither absolute nor inevitable.

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