This article proposes a new account of the interplay of genre and desire in Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote. It claims that Arabella's education, her transition from the rules of romance to those of the novel, consists of her being drawn into the circuit of desire that defines her contemporary world. By reading the movement to the novel as one into desire (instead of away from it, as many critics have claimed), I suggest that Lennox reverses the terms of her contemporary critical discourse on realistic and fantastic fiction; the author uses the romance, not the novel, to teach her readers a lesson about the dangers of interpreting desire according to the rules of realistic writing. Instead of issuing a late warning about the dangers of romance reading, Lennox issues an early warning about the possibility that novel reading might coarsen sensibilities by reducing desire to measurable goals. She urges readers to see the difference between the romance and the novel not in terms of their content but in terms of generic assumptions about how desire works; novels rely on the transparency of desire to construct realistic characters and narrative arcs, while romances rely on the mystery of desire and deny the satisfying conclusion of revealing its putative truth. The Female Quixote constructs a space that escapes the instrumental understanding of desire that subtends realistic writing and reminds readers and critics to think twice before interpreting desire according to its rules.
Zak Watson; Desire and Genre in The Female Quixote. Novel 1 May 2011; 44 (1): 31–46. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-1164392
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