Eighteenth-century masculinity and the construction of an ideal.
The thesis covers the period roughly between 1688 and the 1780s and is concerned
with the construction and perfonnance of heterosexual male identity and the emergence,
during that period, of what would become a culturally dominant model of an ideal
masculinity. It is a model which is adapted to the requirements of a capitalising
economy and is therefore inextricably linked to the rise of the middle classes and the
Puritan tradition which informs their ethical perspective.
The introductory chapter gives reasons why I regard the novel as particularly relevant in
looking at the dissemination of culturally determined notions of gender.
Chapter One is concerned with contemporary anxieties about identity and the attempts to
forge a middle-class male identity, which is 'authentic' and differentiated from that of
the upper classes Changes in the way gender identity was percei ved are also traced and
the novels of Tobias Smollett are discussed to illustrate the struggle towards the
definition of an ideal masculinity.
Chapter Two examines the genesis of 'sensibility' and how it was modified and adapted
by the novelists of sensibility to create a benevolent man of virtue who was dissociated
from any notion of 'softness' and femininity.
Chapter Three looks at the models of masculinity presented by Samuel Richardson in
Clarissa (1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753/4) and the author's concern to
discover and present the ideal model of a bourgeois patriarch.
Chapter Four discusses the perceptions and representations of masculinity by women
writers, how they portrayed gender relationships and what kind of critique they offered
of a construction of gender which rendered women as passive and men as active.