Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Sex in 19th century British and French literature and the impact of novels on (young female) readers

Starting with Winslow Homer's painting The New Novel, in chapter 16 Michael Gorra talks about Victorians' views on the influence of novels on people, especially young ladies*, and the debates at the time, with Podsnap in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Charles Edward Mudie (the owner of Mudie's, the largest commercial lending library in London), Margaret Oliphant.... on 1 side, James Fitzjames Stephen (brother of Leslie Stephen, uncle of Virginia Woolf), Henry James... on the other. Then he goes on to contrast British writers' reticence with the frankness of the French:
"... Flaubert gives us the endlessly rocking carriage in which Emma and Léon bounce around Rouen and winkingly invites us to imagine what's going on inside. George Eliot, in contrast, doesn't show us what happens when the girl [Hetty Sorrel] meets the boy [Arthur Donnithorne], not merely because of English silence but because she's more interested in the consequences of that meeting than she is in the moment itself. There is no event in English novel but that leads to something, and in Victorian fiction it seems that no unmarried heroine can lose her virginity without getting pregnant. Usually the very 1st time- a biological law that doesn't operate in France."

*: Coincidentally, o at Behold The Stars has just written about this subject:

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