Descriptions Sisters in Time
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Asking why the 19th-century British novel features heroines, and how and why it features “feminine heroism,” Susan Morgan traces the relationship between fictional depictions of gender and Victorian ideas of history and progress. Morgan approaches gender in selected 19th-century British novels as an imaginative category, accessible to authors and characters of either sex. Arguing that conventional definitions of heroism offer a fixed and history-denying perspective on life, the book traces a literary tradition that represents social progress as a process of feminization. The capacities for flexibility, mercy, and self-doubt, conventionally devalued as feminine, can make it possible for characters to enter history. She shows that Austen and Scott offer revolutionary definitions of feminine heroism, and the tradition is elaborated and transformed by Gaskell, Eliot, Meredith, and James (partly through one of his last “heroines,” the aging hero of The Ambassadors.) Throughout the study, Morgan considers how gender functions both in individual novels and more extensively as a means of tracing larger patterns and interests, especially those concerned with the redemptive possibilities of a temporal and historical perspective.