Realism and the Unreal in the Female American

By McMurran, Mary Helen | Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Realism and the Unreal in the Female American

McMurran, Mary Helen, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Published anonymously in 1767, The Female American, or the Adventures of Unca Eliza Winkfield received only two brief notices in the press and was never published again in England. Although it was republished in America circa 1800 and again in 1814, these editions also went mostly unnoticed. Thanks largely to Michelle Bumham's edition of the novel with its ample introduction, notes, and selection of contexts and sources, the current generation of scholars and students has rescued this unpopular work in a popular genre (the novel) and popular subgenre (the Robinsoniad).1 It has since become that rare literary rediscovery which seems to speak more to its twenty-first century readers than to its eighteenth-century audience not least because its unusual heroine bears a formal resemblance to, but also stark departure from, canonical protagonists and their fictions. Unca Eliza Winkfield is a half-English, half-indigenous woman who, finding herself orphaned and without situation in life, ends up abandoned on a quasi-deserted island. She survives, and after a series of adventures on the island, settles into life as a missionary to the indigenous people who inhabit the nearby mainland, and ends her tale by marrying her English cousin and bringing him in their new native Christian community. Most critics have noted that the heroine's racial and cultural hybridity, her female independence, and her role as a native-Christian missionary provide a counterpoint to hegemonic Anglo-masculinity in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world exemplified by Robinson Crusoe (1719). 2 Betty Joseph has argued that The Female American is a "surrogation" of Daniel Defoe's novel, and although it may be selective, inexact, and potentially unsuccessful in fully displacing Crusoe, Unca Eliza nonetheless produces a deficit or surplus challenging the canonical model. Joseph writes: "the founding father has been displaced by the not-quitewhite mother, and . . . Christianity becomes a female fantasy of total being that rescues the native population from the history of Anglo founding and Anglo (male) missionary projects."3 If Unca Eliza's atypical female role as a "powerful and influential religious leader" as Burnham describes it, defies the Crusoean paradigm of commercial self-interest and physical dominion over the land and peoples in the new world - for this female adventurer's primary interest is communitarian rather than individual - Unca Eliza's female autonomy also challenges the canonical eighteenth-century heroine's twin destinies of marriage and the home as the new ideology of middle class femininity.4 The Female American has provided us with a critical vantage point from which to view the evolving English novel to the extent that its model of female agency in light of its intersections with race and empire present an irresistible antidote to the two pillars of the eighteenth-century development of the realist novel: masculine individualism and female domesticity.

Although the eighteenth-century novel cannot be reduced to concerns with individualism and domesticity alone, the influence of Ian Watt's readings of Robinson Crusoe and Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) has made these categories crucial to studies of the^eighteenth-century novel. In large part, this is not because of the power of Watt's interpretation so much as because the revisionist criticism of the novel that followed Watt, including that of Nancy Armstrong, John Bender, Terry Castle, Lennard Davis, Catherine Gallagher, J. Paul Hunter, Michael McKeon, William Warner, and others, pursued the rigorous application of social theory to the novel form in ways that deepened the purchase of individualism and domesticity among other categories.5 Most of this revisionist impulse effectively downplayed Watt's formal realism in order to take up his sociological emphasis, and with the help of Marxism, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, and other theorists, critics articulated the cultural work of the novel, lifting the skin of eighteenth-century narrative to dissect its ideologies of class, gender, race, nation, and empire. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Realism and the Unreal in the Female American


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.