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Abstract

This dissertation tracks evolving metaphors about women as objects in the eighteenth-century novel. Objectification of women is an oft-cited concept for feminist theorists, but remains a fluid term among scholars. In “She Objects: On the (Im)Mobility of Women in the Eighteenth-Century Novel,” I argue that the eighteenth-century novel is a starting point for understanding and categorizing structures of objectification. The Enlightenment and the corresponding rise of the novel is a period associated with the emergence of the liberal subject, the interiority of characters, and contractualism. However, this project considers a parallel narrative about the circulation of commodities, the fluid lines between “stuff” and “characters” in the eighteenth-century novel, and the potential for agency without subjectivity. Fundamentally, this dissertation seeks to question the binaries between subjects and objects in the eighteenth-century and uncover the histories and experiences of women caught up in a mechanism of objectification during this period. Chapter One, “Cost Benefit Analysis: Circulating Women and the Virtues of Objectification,” introduces the circulating woman and draws connections between women and commodities through Daniel Defoe’s economic metaphors in Moll Flanders and Roxana. Defoe’s protagonists demonstrate how women are connected to markets and commodities through metaphors about money, trade routes, and the figure of Lady Credit. Alongside Defoe, I turn to Eliza Haywood to read into patterns of circulation a system of desire that demonstrates female agency. Fungibility, anonymity, and circulation emerge as a type of objectification in which it is possible to claim agency without subjectivity. Chapter Two, “The Other Side of the Coin: It-narratives and The Metaphorics of Feminine Objects,” offers a reading of it-narratives and a parallel process of personification of objects during the eighteenth-century. The personified it-narrators of the genre often show a kinship with women and employ similar kinds of metaphorical language. Chapter Three, “Pamela Petrified: Transitioning from Circulation to Stasis,” continues the story of transition between circulation and sentimentality with Richardson’s ground-breaking novel Pamela. I consider Pamela’s fraught relationship with money and disguise, as well as the claustrophobic lack of movement in the novel. In my account, Richardson tames the circulating woman of earlier amatory fiction, offering a new vision of womanhood and objectification suited to domestic fiction. His novel self-consciously rewrites the parameters of objectification and foreshadows the key features of sentimental objectification. My final chapter, “Playing for Keeps: Sentimental Women and the Vices of Objectification,” concludes with an explanation of sentimental objectification: its metaphors, plots, and pitfalls. I argue that sentimental objectification is a process of fixing women into place under the sentimental gaze. Women that are sentimentalized are often objectified in a way that feeds off their suffering and drinks in the image of their aestheticized corpse. The vampiric impulses of the sentimental gaze is pernicious because it eliminates the fungibility of women, thereby eradicating the potentials for agency within objectification. Sentimental objectification is not agential, but, paradoxically, it is rarely registered as objectification at all.

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