Speaking of dread : the law, sensibility and the sublime in eighteenth-century fiction
This thesis examines the relationship between the discourses of law, aesthetics and sensibility during the eighteenth century and argues in favour of a strong conceptual link between them. This nexus will be shown to be central to an understanding of constructions of femininity in eighteenth-century English fiction and within the wider social and cultural domain. Central to the work theoretically is a theory of the sublime which draws upon Lyotard's 'The Sublime and the Avant-Garde', but which reworks its insights in the light of Luce Irigaray's analysis of the role of the feminine within Western culture. From this will emerge the central theoretical tenet of this work: that within Western culture woman is an object of dread, or a 'sublime object'. From this theoretical perspective, the historical situation of the eighteenth-century woman and her representation in fiction will be considered. It will be argued that a certain form of 'improper' feminine subjectivity developed during this period due in no small measure to the operation of aspects of English law and the discourse of sensibility. The term 'improper' as it is meant to be understood in this work will be rigorously defined in the early chapters and the position of woman as an improper subject, it will be shown, is never far removed from her status as sublime object.