Miriam Diller
Suzanna Geiser
Eng 563
Dr. Morillo
Nov. 3, 2006
The Female Quixote Annotated Bibliography

            While not currently included in the canon, Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote has garnered a fair amount of attention from critics over the past twenty years. In addition, based on the surprising number of graduate level dissertations that have identified the novel as their focus since 1995, The Female Quixote promises to be the subject of even more published criticism in the future.  While it is unclear whether the current interest surrounding The Female Quixote will lead to its canonization, it is clear that many critics are finding themes and issues arising within and from the novel significant and worthy of examination.  The topics of interests for these critics include the text’s contribution to the development of the novel, the text’s focus on reality v. “interpreted truth,” the text’s illumination of the changing role of women as writers, readers and critics, the function of romance within the text, the influence of patriarchal values and power structures on the text and the motivations of the female heroine of the text. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, we hope that the limited discussion offered herein will cause you to consider whether The Female Quixote might be something more than a satire of the romantic genre and whether the heroine might be something greater than an irritatingly poor reader who lives in a world completely divorced from reality.


Gardiner, Ellen. “Writing Men Reading In Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote.” Studies in

the Novel 18 (1996): 1-11.

In this article, Gardiner connects Lennox’s use of the romantic genre in The Female Quixote to the rise of literary criticism as a profession in the eighteenth-century. Gardiner argues that Lennox employs romance in order to challenge the prevailing notion that men, as compared to women, “could better perform the labor of reading” (1) and, hence, better engage in the labor of critical analysis as well as to critique the attempts by male writers and critics to exclude women from the literary profession for primarily economic reasons.  Gardiner suggests that by treating romance as a misleading and immoral genre and by portraying Arabella as a woman possessed with the ability to exert “superior critical judgment,” Lennox demonstrates that females are capable of entering into the male-dominated world of literary criticism (1-2, 4). Gardiner further argues that Glanville’s poor reading skills indicate that Lennox “wishes to persuade her readers that…very few men demonstrate superior critical judgment [and, hence,] very few men are suited to the new professional office of critic” (5). Moreover, Gardiner contends that Lennox’s use of romance, a genre consistently devalued by contemporary male writers and critics, allows her to confront and reject the “capitalist economic desire,” rooted in the male gender, to both limit the number of “producers” of the novel and suppress the potentially threatening female voice in “language usage” (4). According to Gardiner, while romance actually served as the main “source of male writing, novelistic and critical” during the eighteenth-century, through its feigned denigration by the male coterie of writers and critics, females were discouraged, even prohibited, from using the genre as a source of political/economic expression and as a source of material for entering the literary profession (3-4).


Gordon, Scott Paul. “The Space of Romance in Lennox’s Female Quixote.” Studies in

English Literature: 1500-1900 38 (1998): 499-516.

In this article, Gordon challenges that body of literary criticism that views The Female Quixote as a satirical “attack on romance” (499), arguing instead that the novel is an endorsement of romantic values, such as disinterestedness and generosity, and a text meant to “preserve” the romantic genre (500-01). Much of Gordon’s argument is formulated as a response to readers and critics whom he posits, as subscribers to a Mandevillian[1] worldview, misread Arabella as a coquette, a woman primarily motivated by self-love and self-interest who uses romance to exert control and realize power over others. According to Gordon, Arabella is so deluded by romances, almost to the point of madness, that she “exercises immense power without any consciousness of doing so” (506), a point which, he argues, “protects her from being accused of self-interest…” (512).  For Gordon, Arabella’s lack of intent with respect to her exercise of power highlights the novel’s focus on both endorsing the romantic values of disinterestedness and generosity (513) and “rescu[ing]” such values and the genre through which they are expressed from a skeptical worldview (500). He argues that this purpose is further illuminated by the ending of the novel where Arabella and Glanville, the disinterested, generous lovers, are “reward[ed]…with a traditional romance conclusion” while Sir George, a self-interested, manipulative lover, ends up “‘entangled in his own Artifices’”[2] (514). 


Mack, Ruth. “Quixotic Ethnography: Charlotte Lennox and the Dilemma of Cultural


Observation.”  Novel 38 (2005): 193-213.


In this article, Ruth Mack postulates that the quixotic nature of The Female Quixote stems from the conflicting ideals of reality from “fiction” and “romance.” She says that the unself-conscious nature of Arabella produces a work that is in itself self-conscious of its purpose in revealing truths to the reader. Additionally, according to Mack, Lennox’s concern is not with the argument among genre (e.g. the “romance” vs. “fiction” conflict addressed by many other critics); instead, her focus is on explaining Arabella’s experience based on historical consciousness and awareness of what she deems to be dual realities. Mack states that “there are moments in the novel when Arabella seems to be committed to her perspective not as though it is the only reality... but as if it is the better reality” (193). The important conclusion Mack draws is that Arabella does not exist within a fantasy world, but a world that contains two realities: the historical and the modern. To the end of proving Arabella's perception of two realities, Mack says that the romances that Arabella reads are her only source of history, and thus Arabella shapes her world according to the consciousness she gains from the romances, which portray a historical reality. In order to develop this argument, there are dozens of citations of literary critics both for and against Arabella’s self-immersion into a romantic world. Finally, the conclusion to which Mack arrives says that the struggle that Arabella faces at the end of the novel is that of reconciling her consciousness to the modern world; she must live in the reality to which the other characters conform.


Malina, Debra. “Rereading the Patriarchal Text: The Female Quixote, Northanger Abbey, and the

Trace of the Absent Mother.” Eighteenth Century Fiction 8 (1996): 271-92.

            In this article, Malina attempts to understand Arabella’s position within The Female Quixote from a feminist perspective.  For Malina, Arabella’s reformation at the end of the novel signals her punishment by patriarchal society for acting according to the laws of romance, laws that seduce women into threatening the male-dominated familial and societal power structures.  Malina agrees with other feminist critics who see the romance as empowering, as offering the heroine both a degree of “‘importance’” and a “’history’” (277[3]).  She argues that Arabella, through her very literal reading of romances, captures and exercises this importance and power, as evidenced by her ability to elicit, even command, traditionally romantic responses from both Sir George (e.g., his use of romantic language and dramatics to woo Arabella) and Mr. Glanville (e.g., his attack on Sir George to avenge George’s seeming seduction of Arabella) (279-80). Yet, she also concedes that this power is limited and ultimately quelled by patriarchal reality in the penultimate chapter of the novel where the doctor convinces her to understand the value of romance as a rational man would, and, therefore, affirm, as “‘normal and legitimate,’” [4] the misogynistic structure of the patriarchal society (291). According to Malina, Arabella is coerced into an understanding of the world that gives no space to romance or romance values or female sexuality, desire and power in large part because she has no “maternal influence” to rescue her (290).  For Malina, this institution of a patriarchal schematic for understanding romance might very well be a result of Lennox’s desire to “ensure the success of her writing…[by] acquiesce[ing] to the portrait… which [male contemporaries, such as Johnson, Richardson, and Fielding,] painted” of “her and her novel” (281).


Martin, Mary Patricia. “‘High and Noble Adventures’: Reading the Novel in The Female


Quixote.” Novel 31(1997): 45-62.


According to Mary Patricia Martin, Charlotte Lennox wrote The Female Quixote as a challenge to the definition of the “novel” (or “fiction”) as offered by Samuel Richardson and Samuel Johnson, whom she says specifically attempted to exclude women writers from the genre. One of the central features of this article is an emphasis on the role of eighteenth century women writers, especially with the condescension and scorn with which they were treated by prominent critics and authors of the time. The romances that Arabella reads as well as the use of romance in the plot of The Female Quixote itself are both tools Lennox uses to critique the definition of the new genre, the novel (“fiction”). Martin, citing female-exclusive definitions of the novel proposed by Johnson and Richardson, argues that The Female Quixote effectively is both a romance and a novel; though Arabella is satirized and ridiculed, her beauty, compassion, and intelligence (ironically learned from her romances) are also admired as heroic traits within the bounds of the work.  In essence, Martin says, Lennox’s skillful combination of novel and romance helped to blur the gender and sex distinction that prevented women from becoming a force in the development of the novel. This argument is carried so far as to say that women can also be effective readers, a conclusion which is supported by pointing out the positive effects of Arabella’s romance-reading: she has been provided with “the most shining Examples of Generosity, Courage, Virtue, and Love” (58).[5]


Palo, Sharon Smith. “The Good Effects of a Whimsical Study: Romance and Women’s Learning


in Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote.”  Eighteenth Century Fiction 18 (2005): 203-28.


Sharon Smith Palo’s article is a break from the discussion of genre and gender boundaries. One of Palo’s central points is that, according to John Locke's theory of human understanding[6], Arabella’s own intellect is much to blame for her romantic view of reality: though Arabella received impressions of the world from the romances she read, her own mind created the complex world of romance that she began to live by. Palo goes even further to say that reality alone would not have offered a wide enough stage for Arabella, or even for any woman, to develop intellectually; additionally, Palo believes that there is no indication that Lennox seriously believes that reading romances can skew a woman’s view of reality to the point of becoming like Arabella. A substantive argument of this article deals with how “Lennox uses her characterization of Arabella to redefine traditional gender distinctions... particularly those that govern women's proper activities within the public sphere” (220). Finally, one of the effects of The Female Quixote and its portrayal of romance reading, Palo says, is that women may become more aware of social participation and the ability or need for social change.

Roulston, Christine. “Histories of Nothing: Romance and Femininity in Charlotte Lennox’s The

Female Quixote.” Women’s Writing 2 (1995): 25-42.

            In this article, Roulston connects the romantic genre with the expression and development of the female history. Roulston argues that Lennox’s use of romance exposes the difficulty women in the eighteenth-century faced with respect to understanding, expressing, even developing, their own histories. For Roulston, this difficulty is best displayed when one compares the Countess’s “homogenous and ordered” realistic history with Arabella’s deviant and disordered fictional history (37). Roulston contends that the Countess’s acceptance of a non-sexualized, disempowered, “uneventful and ultimately unnarratable” public history (37) is a direct result of her rejection of romance as a “valid discourse” for the eighteenth-century (36).  In contrast, she argues that Arabella’s unquestioning acceptance of romance allows her to develop a public history that is shaped by adventure, desire and power. Roulston further argues that, once Arabella shifts her perspective on romance (once she is “reformed”), her history is erased and “[t]he shift in [her] gaze from controlling to controlled marks her return to an ‘authentic’ or natural feminine position,” a position which causes her to “disappear…from the text,” both literally (the story ends) and figuratively (39).  In this manner, Roulston indicates that romance is a form of discovery for the eighteenth-century female subject who, once immersed within it, is able to experience the female history that has been relegated by contemporary society to the past and to the private sphere.


Schmid, Thomas H. “‘My Authority’: Hyper-Mimesis and the Discourse of Hysteria in The

Female Quixote.” Rocky Mountain Review 51 (1997): 21-35.

Thomas Schmid, though a male critic, reopens the feminist view of Arabella’s madness. He uses the term “mimesis” to represent two ideas: the medical idea of the appearance of disease (often caused by hysteria) which is not actually present, and then the imitation of aspects of the realistic world in literature and art. First, Schmid explains that Arabella, due to her isolation, she has no one to help her form a realistic view of sexuality and her role as a woman. He then begins a discussing the theory that the hyper-mimesis that appears in The Female Quixote stems from both Arabella’s male-imposed self-delusion (an idea that Schmid quotes as supported by many contemporary critics) and from the romances that, while appearing to be the cause of Arabella’s delusions, still mimic an unfortunate reality. Schmid says, “Arabella’s romance discourse merely mimes, hyperbolically, the gender relationships society already sponsors” (28). Schmid points out that the tragically ironic situation for Arabella is that both of her worlds, the “real” and the “romantic”, have a societal system in which the authority of women originates from men. As with many feminist arguments, Arabella’s oppressors (and masters) are male. Schmid concludes rather tritely by saying that the final blow to Arabella’s authority and independence is her capitulation to the “reason” of the clergyman.


[1] This is in reference to Bernard Mandeville, an eighteenth-century philosopher and author who, according to Gordon, argued that “individuals never act in the public interest” and that, under the “’Law of Romance,’” individuals only remain devoted to their lovers in order to fulfill their own selfish desires (503)

[2] Here, Gordon is citing Lennox, page 383 of the 1989 Oxford edition of The Female Quixote.

[3] Note that, in particular, Malina cites Jane Spencer for this notion of “’power, importance and…history’” (277).

[4] Note that Malina relies on the language of Judith Fetterley to make this point (291).

[5] Martin is quoting The Female Quixote here.

[6] Palo explains that John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding states that “through experience, our minds come to be populated with both simple and complex ideas. We receive simple ideas passively through sense impressions that come from the outside world” (206).