Despite the proliferation of conduct manuals highlighting the domestic woman`s manifold virtues and the abundant caricatures of the vulgar learned woman`s masculine antics, there remained, perhaps surprisingly, positive representations of the intellectual woman in courtship novels during the late-eighteenth century through the mid-nineteenth century. My dissertation argues that, in spite of the historical stereotype of intellectual women as masculine perversions of the gentler sex, there are still counter-representations of this figure as a potentially desirable wife and a progressive figure that crosses the public and private realms to promote social change. This project explores how the courtship novels by Mary Wollstonecraft, Sydney Owenson, Jane Austen, and Elizabeth Gaskell promote the figure of the female intellectual as an attractive companion; specifically, these novels examine how the versions of this figure--a female philosopher, a woman of natural learning, a rational woman, and an educated lady--work to undermine assumptions inherent in late-eighteenth century conduct manuals and novels that women belonged solely in the domestic realm and that intellectual women would be unfit for domesticity.
From the Philosophical Wanton to the Respectable Lady: Rewriting the Female Intellectual's Moral, Sexual, and Political Identities in the Courtship Novel, 1790-1850
DeBlassie, Maria. From the Philosophical Wanton to the Respectable Lady: Rewriting the Female Intellectual's Moral, Sexual, and Political Identities in the Courtship Novel, 1790-1850. 2012. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.