Clifford 2014 Subjects

Title Information

Author: Katrina A. Clifford

Title: Sisterly Subjects

Subtitle: Brother-sister relationships in female-authored domestic novels, 1750-1820

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, University of Sydney

Year: 2014

Pages: iv + 255pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 18th Century | English History | Representations: Literature

Full Text

Link: Sydney eScholarship Repository [Free Access]

Additional Information


»‘Sisterly Subjects’ argues that female novelists from Eliza Haywood to Jane Austen established a tradition within the female-authored domestic novel that was based on the possibilities presented by the brother-sister relationship, the only cross-gender relationship in the eighteenth century that carried with it expectations of equality. In various ways these novelists use the unusual familial space of the brother-sister relationship to critique the emergent ideology of domesticity, to challenge authority structures, and to experiment with form in a key period of the development of the novel.
This thesis examines two main functions of this relationship in eighteenth-century female-authored novels through two arguments about sisterly subjects. First, it deals with the position of women – their subjecthood – in the family and in society. In many novels written by women, a brother’s usurping of authority in this supposedly equal relationship is used to demonstrate women’s right to autonomy and the negative effects of their continued subjection within the family and, particularly after the French Revolution, within society. Second, it traces the establishment of the sister as the subject of the domestic novel. Female-authored novels involving brother-sister relationships not only make obvious the privileging of the sister’s story over the brother’s, they also demonstrate the connection between the subjection of women within the family and the form of the novel.
This thesis challenges critical orthodoxies regarding the conservative nature of the domestic novel and the tendency of women novelists to promote a domestic ideal. Instead of promoting women’s subjection, these novelists use the brother-sister relationship to assert women’s autonomy, to question gender inequalities in the family and in society, and to affirm the importance of the female subject and the sister’s story.« (Source: Thesis)


  Introduction (p. 1)
    Family and State in the Domestic Novel (p. 6)
    Explicitation and the French Revolution (p. 17)
    Subjectivity, family, and the form of the novel (p. 19)
    Overview (p. 33)
  Chapter 1. Fraternal Authority: Eliza Haywood and The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) (p. 38)
    The sister's story - Betsy, Thomas, Frank, and the question of independence (p. 40)
    Telling the sister's story - Betsy, Haywood, and the development of the novel (p. 57)
  Chapter 2. Fraternal Narrative: Telling the Sister's Story in Five Novels of the 1750s, 1760s and 1770s (p. 65)
    Female novelists in the 1750s, 1760s and 1770s (p. 68)
    Charlotte Lennox, Henrietta (1758) (p. 77)
    Anne Dawe, The Younger Sister; or, History of Miss Somerset (1770) and Frances Sheridan, The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph (1761) (p. 86)
    Sophia Briscoe, The History of Miss Melmoth (1772) and Frances Burney, Evelina; or, the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778) (p. 103)
    Conclusion (p. 114)
  Chapter 3. Fraternal Politics: Charlotte Smith and Celestina (1791) and Desmond (1792) (p. 118)
    Desmond, family and inheritance (p. 120)
    Charlotte Smith's family politics (p. 133)
    Celestina, Desmond, and the idea of chivalry (p. 150)
    Conclusion (p. 156)
  Chapter 4. Fraternal Difficulties: Frances Burney and Camilla (1796) (p. 159)
    Camilla and the epic: encouraging a political reading (p. 163)
    Camilla and the Vice: interrogating gender differences (p. 169)
    Camilla's claustrophobic confinement in domesticity (p. 185)
    Conclusion (p. 191)
  Chapter 5. Fraternal Equality? Jane Austen and Persuasion (1818) (p. 194)
    Literal brother-sister relationships in both societies (p. 196)
    The Navy as a fraternity (p. 203)
    Liberty and equality in fraternity: the impact of the navy on women's lives (p. 217)
    Conclusion (p. 224)
  Conclusion (p. 226)
  Bibliography (p. 237)
    Primary Sources (p. 237)
    Secondary Sources (p. 240)

Added: March 1, 2014 | Last updated: March 1, 2014