Date

2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Gordon, Scott P.

Abstract

Anglophone culture is steeped in an overwhelming ideological imperative to marry, resulting in an intense stigma against women who remain single. To understand the persistence of this stigma, we must investigate its origins: eighteenth-century literature. This dissertation project studies the cultural formation of the spinster figure through the writing of single women themselves. Eighteenth-century authors are largely responsible for the formation of the spinster stereotype and stigma by painting unmarried women as so unattractive, old, or unpleasant that they failed to attract even a single suitor, which is framed as either contempt or pity. However, the authors in the following chapters work to challenge this prevailing social construction of the spinster figure in order to suggest the value of female singleness and to dispute the idealization of marriage that flooded the eighteenth-century literary market. Authors such as Jane Barker, Mary Astell, Sarah Scott, and Jane Austen write counter-narratives to the developing spinster image, challenging the dominant representation of singleness to explore the powers and freedoms that spinsterhood could afford.

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