Saturday, November 22, 2008

Questionless, A Pale Imitation, Haply, Amusing

46. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox

What if Don Quixote's peculiarity were transported across the European continent and English Channel, from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth, into the person of a young noble woman? Charlotte Lennox, a female novelist making her way in an England only beginning to respect her profession in men, and still somewhat disdaining fiction in favor of history, tried to answer this question. Yet, her use of Cervantes' form and style is to comment on the absurdities of her own society and perhaps particularly the position of women.

Arabella, the Female Quixote, is addicted to romances as the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance was to his novels of chivalry. She is raised in isolation, and only introduced into society at age eighteen, after the death of her father. Her uncle is appointed her guardian, and her male cousin Mr. Glanville falls in love with her, as her female cousin Miss Glanville envies her for her beauty and delights in exposing her absurdities.She entertains notions that any man who dares declare his love for her should be banished, which is difficult as she supposes all men perpetually besotted.

Arabella is also like the Don in that her sentiments can seem quite reasonable and admirable, when she is not discussing her favorite topic. Mr. Glanville's love for her is supposed to be based on this, and of course her beauty (as Lennox cannot omit this romantic prerequisite), but I had trouble sustaining belief in it. He is constantly exasperated and distressed at her fancies. He does not at all sympathize with her, nor is he even familiar with romances. In this respect, he reminds me of Mr. Darcy. He wishes to marry a woman whom he cannot respect. What kind of love is that? It is my modern opinion that if one cannot accept someone as they are, then you are not in love with that person, simply an idea of what they could be. In that way, he is as fanciful as herself.

The book is much shorter than its predecessor and so contains less amusing elements and ways of making its points. However, it is more straightforward, and while often in stylistic language, language that is still more accessible to today's readers. I would recommend The Female Quixote without scruple to fans of the Knight, readers of romances who might wish to poke fun at themselves, and those interested in the rise of British feminism.

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