Scholars have rightly argued that one underpinning of the novel as it “rises” in the eighteenth century is its investment in consolidating heteronormativity. Reading narrative form as a site of sexual content, however, makes the case for a sapphic undertext embedded primarily in narration rather than in event and sometimes in a contest between the two. This sapphic structuring of the novel first takes form in seventeenth-century erotic fictions, but more surprisingly, it also characterizes such eighteenth-century domestic novels as Eliza Haywood's The Masqueraders, Frances Sheridan's Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph, Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni's Lettres de Milady Juliette Catesby, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse. As the narration of erotic pleasure and erotic danger gets filtered through the intimacy between a female narrator and her female narratee, the story of the heterosexual subject, which the eighteenth-century novel seems bent on confirming, is revealed as a story of the failure or incompleteness of the novel's own heteronormative project. Nineteenth-century novels eschew the structure of what I call the sapphic dialogic, suggesting yet another stage in the management of same-sex intimacies and their representations. In arguing for sapphic form as an underpinning of the novel's domestic subject, I hope to suggest that form does function as novelistic content and that the history of sexuality—in the novel and in general—needs to encompass the history of the novel's formal practices.
Susan S. Lanser; Novel (Sapphic) Subjects: The Sexual History of Form. Novel 1 November 2009; 42 (3): 497–503. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-047
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