Gendering the Quixote in Eighteenth-Century England

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English interpretations, appropriations, and transpositions of the figure of Don Quixote play a pivotal role in eighteenth-century constructions of so-called English national character. A corpus of quixotic narratives worked to reinforce the centrality of Don Quixote and the practice of quixotism in the national literary landscape. They stressed the man from La Mancha’s eccentricity and melancholy in ways inextricable from English self-constructions of these traits.2 This is why Stuart Tave is able to write that eighteenth-century Britons could “recast” Don Quixote in a fashion that followed “national pride” in the “freedom” of their humors.1 However, Don Quixote’s integral place in patriotic self-constructions was troubled by gender. While national character was construed as masculine by default, quixotism’s association with masculinity was complicated by the potential passive penetrability of quixotism and the proliferation of narratives about female quixotic readers. This essay will analyze these tensions. Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742) and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759–67) are key examples of quixotic texts that respond to the figure of the female quixote by interrogating the relationship between Englishness, masculinity, and quixotism.
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Archival date: 2019-03-30
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