Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Maids, Mistresses, and "Monstrous Doubles": Gender-Class Kyriarchy in the Female Quixote and Female Quixotism

Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Maids, Mistresses, and "Monstrous Doubles": Gender-Class Kyriarchy in the Female Quixote and Female Quixotism

Article excerpt

"According to your grace, misfortunes afflict knights errant more than their squires."

"You are wrong, Sancho," said Don Quixote. "As the saying goes, Quando caput dolet-"

"I don't understand any language but my own," responded Sancho.

"I mean," said Don Quixote, "that when the head aches, all the other members ache, too; since I am your lord and master, I am your head, and you are my part, for you are my servant; for this reason, the evil that touches or may touch me will cause you pain, and yours will do the same to me."1

Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote (1752) and Tabitha Gilman Tenney's Female Quixotism (1801) are not typically read as "servant literatures," owing more, at least ostensibly, to Don Quixote (1605-15) than to Moll Flanders (1721) or Pamela (1740). Nevertheless, due to the prominent roles of ladies' maids in perpetuating their mistresses' amorous fantasies in the European romances that Lennox and Tenney parody in their "female quixote" novels, female quix- otes' maids tend also to play very important roles as managers of and partici- pants in quixotic fantasy. For this reason, the female quixote novels of Lennox and Tenney, typically discussed in terms of the empowerment of their quixotic heroines, also invite consideration of how representations of female domestic servitude intersect with the wider (and justified) critical tendency to read the quixotic imagination as a means of feminine empowerment in these texts.2 In other words, the similarly conflicted roles of ladies' maids in The Female Quixote and Female Quixotism-roles that involve sustaining verbal and physical abuse by and for their mistresses in order to accommodate a "liberating" quixotic fantasy-bring each servant character to the forefront of her narrative as a sub- jugated counter-heroine who upholds traditional socioeconomic distinctions, then fades into the background while her mistress challenges gender conven- tions. This scenario is perhaps best described by what Elisabeth Schüssler Fio- renza terms "kyriarchy," an interconnected social system in which one who might be oppressed or subjugated in one context (a woman within a patriarchy) could also be privileged within another (a woman of wealth).3 This essay ex- amines the complex intersection of gender and class concerns though the strik- ingly comparable relationships between quixotic mistress and female domestic servant in The Female Quixote and Female Quixotism.

Perhaps to an even greater degree than itinerant male quixotes like Henry Fielding's Parson Adams or Hugh Henry Brackenridge's Captain Farrago, and certainly more out of the necessity imposed by the conventions of domestic- ity, Lennox and Tenney's female quixotes rely on their socioeconomic privilege (and thus their servants) to interact with and affect the worlds around them. Their servants receive and deliver romantic correspondences, guardedly sup- ply compliments and carefully constructed comments to sustain and legitimate their mistresses' fantasies, and become wholly enmeshed in quixotic escapades. This occurs, all more often than not, by the quixote's mandate and against the servant's better judgment. As I will demonstrate, the quixote and her servant develop a degree of codependency and participate in a cyclical power transac- tion, the quixote wielding social privilege to get her servant to do her romantic "dirty work," and the servant mimicking the quixote as a stand-in or a double within the quixotic fantasy in order to remain within her mistress's good graces, or to prevent the higher-class quixote from falling into greater trouble. Drawing on Rey Chow's theorization of surrogate victimhood as a guiding framework, I will argue that in both The Female Quixote and Female Quixotism, the female do- mestic servant is "sacrificed" as an unfortunate double of her mistress, forestall- ing any transgression of class protocol in these novels.4 In this way, this essay departs from the many influential readings of female quixotes that focus on the quixote and her relation to male characters, focusing instead on elements of these texts that address the margins of social class or rank (and servant women of the non-wealthy majority) within a telling transatlantic context. …

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