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
Scott Paul. “The Space of Romance 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 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’” (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
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). 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,’” 
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
Martin, Mary Patricia. “‘High and Noble Adventures’: Reading the Novel in The Female
Quixote.” Novel 31(1997): 45-62.
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
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
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
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
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.
 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)
Gordon is citing
 Note that, in particular, Malina cites Jane Spencer for this notion of “’power, importance and…history’” (277).
 Note that Malina relies on the language of Judith Fetterley to make this point (291).
 Martin is quoting The Female Quixote here.
 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).