The Trauma of Gender: A Feminist Theory of the English Novel

The Trauma of Gender: A Feminist Theory of the English Novel

The Trauma of Gender: A Feminist Theory of the English Novel

The Trauma of Gender: A Feminist Theory of the English Novel


""The Trauma of Gender is a wonderfully crafted text, provocative, insightful, and imaginative. Moglen not only shows us how to read the intrapsychic processes at work in fiction, but offers a careful consideration of the social form that loss, mourning, and desire take in the fictions she considers. Along the way, she develops a nuanced account of the origin of the novel, showing her readers in subtle ways how the beginnings of fiction and the beginnings of fantasy are interwoven. Her text exemplifies psychoanalytic literary criticism at its best, offering a fine and probing study of the social and psychic dimensions of literary works."--Judith Butler, author of "Gender Trouble

"These extremely powerful and authoritative new readings of important canonical texts will set a new standard for discussions of the novel as a genre. Moglen's work as an interpreter of literary texts and of psychoanalytic theories is superior, and her muscular writing style is well-suited to the pleasurably pessimistic bent of her critical mind."--Lisa L. Moore, author of "Dangerous Intimacies: Toward a Sapphic History of the British Novel

"In this lucid and perceptive study, Helene Moglen looks steadily at the shadow side of canonical eighteenth-century fiction and sees the psychic costs of waxing individualism. The book is an excellent corrective to the view that the novel is a triumphant expression of bourgeois values."--Catherine Gallagher, author of "Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820


I want to challenge two linked assumptions that most historians and critics of the English novel share. The first is that the burgeoning of capitalism and the ascension of the middle classes were mainly responsible for the development of the novel. The second is that realism represents the novel's dominant tradition. I want to propose instead that, as surely as it marked a response to developing class relations, the novel came into being as a response to the sex-gender system that emerged in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. My thesis is that from its inception, the novel has been structured not by one but by two mutually defining traditions: the fantastic and the realistic. The constitutive coexistence of these two impulses within a single, evolving form is in no sense accidental: their dynamic interaction was precisely the means by which the novel, from the eighteenth century on, sought to manage the strains and contradictions that the sex-gender system imposed on individual subjectivities. For this reason, to recover the centrality of sex and gender as the novel's defining concern is also to recover the dynamism of its bimodal complexity. Conversely, to explore the interplay of realist and fantastic narratives within the novelistic tradition is to explore the indeterminacy of subjectivities engaged in the task of imposing and rebelling against the constraining order of gender difference.

The historical foundation of the project is the recognition that the alteration of class structure in this period was inseparable from the reconceptualization of gender differences and the reconfiguration of gender relations. Synthesizing a simple story from complex accounts, one can say that by the middle of the seventeenth century, there was a shift away from a feudal and Puritan patriarchalist order that saw cosmos, state, and family as analogically related and social position as established through inherited status. As the authority of the father and husband were distinguished from the authority of the . . .

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