Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Literary and Cultural Studies
E. Derek Taylor
The chaotic masquerades that proliferated during the British long eighteenth century punctuated the period’s preoccupation with order and categorization. The identity categories that the masquerade disrupted, the novel reinforced, or perhaps even created. It was in the middle of this period, in the political center of Britain, that Samuel Richardson published his third and final novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753), a novel which centers England and was also centered by England, a national treasure entangled in literary and cultural history. Tracing the nexus of gender and nationalism in Grandison then becomes important given the novel’s active entanglement in the debates that birthed the modern individual and the “private” sphere. In part because of its historical positioning, Grandison serves as a catalog of the period’s identity debates. The dramatis personae divides characters into “men,” “women,” and “Italians,” but at the same time that the structure attempts to relegate characters to their respective narrative and social spaces, they resist, for the paratext provides framing that the narrative subverts. In the dramatis personae, characters dress for a masquerade; the text, however, rejects these superficial trimmings, stripping the characters, structure, and plot of their masks. The blurring between man and woman, Briton and Italian, realism and romance create crises of category, and so Grandison’s narrative uses disrupted generic modes and changeable character masks to imagine a stronger community not in spite of but due to the permeable boundaries of narrative, nation, gender, and even the human body itself.
Literary conventions speak through the text, and in asserting arbitrary divisions remind us that boundaries in general are masquerades, that even genre itself simply apes order, protecting against the chaos that would unsettle what we believe about identity, community, and creation. The study of Grandison, a literary model for questioning binaries of all kinds, contributes to the field of cultural studies by providing a long scope of the identity debates which entangle the twenty-first century, and by suggesting that it is through the imaginative potential of fiction that we may begin to disentangle ourselves.
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Holmes, Ruth A..
"Men, Women, and Italians: The Masquerade of Narrative and Identity in Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison"
(2023). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Dissertation, English, Old Dominion University, DOI: 10.25777/chqd-8172