Women, Revolution, and the Novels of the 1790s

By Linda Lang-Peralta | Go to book overview

Masculinity and Morality in Elizabeth Inchbald's Nature and Art

Shawn Lisa Maurer

T he fiction of the Jacobin novelist Elizabeth Inchbald, like that of many of her contemporaries, is notably concerned with family plots. A Simple Story ( 1791) takes its structural framework and ideological valence from the sequential narrative of a mother and daughter, while her final novel, Nature and Art ( 1796), tells the story of two contrasting brothers and their equally disparate sons. However, whereas A Simple Story is readily available and widely discussed, Nature and Art has, until quite recently, remained out of print and comparably unknown.1 There are a number of reasons why Inchbald's second novel may have confounded critical expectations, including its marked differences from the rapidly acclaimed A Simple Story and its failure to fit solidly within any single generic category. Yet I would speculate that Nature and Art, despite its legitimate claim to a significant place both in literary history and in Inchbald's oeuvre, has remained relatively obscure in large part because it tells the story of generations of men.2

Inchbald's view of masculinity as a familial as well as social construction goes against the grain of a critical tendency that, whether deliberately or unwittingly, claims to analyze the female sex as detached from the male half of the species except in the latter's exclusive role as women's oppressors. Attention to the work of two of the few critics who have recently dealt at some length with Nature and Art provides insight into the ways in which the constructed and

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