Incest and the English Novel, 1684-1814
From the inadvertent marriage of a brother and sister in Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders to the sexually charged intrafamilial relationships in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, a remarkable number of English novels written between 1684 and 1814 predicate their plots on the tabooed possibility of incest. In the first full-length study to examine the striking prevalence of such plots in early English novels, Ellen Pollak focuses on literary representations of actual, averted, or imagined incest in works by Aphra Behn, Henry Fielding, and others. Pollak situates her readings in the context of changes in class and kinship organization that were taking place in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and in the context of the accompanying emergence of modern cultural ideologies and representational forms. She argues that the historical realignment of the categories of class, kinship, and representation that took place with the shift from patriarchal to egalitarian models of familial order marked a transformative moment in the cultural construction of incest. Considering incest narratives in the light of social and discursive transformations and of contemporary debates surrounding incest and its definition in the domains of religion, moral philosophy, and the law, Incest and the English Novel shows how stories about incest served as sites for both the production and the critique of modern notions of gender and sexuality.
Pollak's illuminating readings will engage all serious students of the novel, especially those interested in how questions of gender and sexuality relate to narrative. Firmly establishing the importance of the topic for understanding eighteenth-century English literature and culture, her work is bound to spur further discussion of the significance of incest discourses in the early modern period and beyond.
About the Author
Ellen Pollak teaches feminist theory and eighteenth-century literature and culture in the English department at Michigan State University.
In this imaginative and provocative study, the relationship between gender, incest and fiction is explored through a series of cultural, materialist and psychoanalytic readings of texts.
Pollak's remarkable book has qualities typical of the best scholarly criticism: a thorough and assured grasp of the history and current discussions of the topic; the capacity to forcefully assert its own place in those discussions; and elegant movement between close readings and broader implications.
Pollak writes with clarity, conviction, and precision; she has authored a brilliant book, and literary studies will be richer for it.
Pollak's book is well worth reading for its illuminating analyses of individual novels; but it also does modern women a real service by using these close readings to denaturalize our false, present-day assumptions about incest.
Pollak succeeds in reading dialectically the discourse of sex, race, and class in the eighteenth-century novel, skillfully avoiding the traps of reifying categories.
The reading is illuminating, perhaps paradigm-altering... This book should change the way we think about fiction in the future.
Incest and the English Novel makes a strong claim that incest is a nexus of patriarchal power that victimizes women, while its representation in the eighteenth-century novel paradoxically offers liberatory opportunities for them. This is a fine piece of scholarship that has no equal, an intricately argued and theoretically sophisticated book that will make a significant impact on the study of the novel.
Ellen Pollak has written an elegant and savvy book demonstrating that incest lies at the discursive center of modern normative conceptions of gender, sexuality, desire, and social power. No one writing about incest, the eighteenth-century family, or the rise of the novel can do without this book.
The first (and long overdue) full-length study of the topic... Combines a sophisticated theoretical understanding... with a set of rich textual analyses.
|Johns Hopkins University Press|
Other Titles in LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Other Titles in Literature: history & criticism