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.
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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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