Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Mary K. McAlpin

Committee Members

Rudyard J. Alcocer, Gerard G. Cohen-Vrignaud, Anne-Helene Miller


Women’s sentimental novels, viewed as designed for “sensitive hearts,” have long been studied solely for their representations of virtue, if not for their “pathological” lack of reason. In challenging this vision, I focus on the use of the “gaze” in early modern and Romantic era novels by women as symptomatic of a protest against masculine libertine philosophy. In part one, I examine inexperienced female characters introduced into vicious aristocratic social circles, where they are the objects of scopophilia and voyeurism. In part two, I show how male libertinage is powerfully redefined by this clear-eyed, non-sentimental examination of the objectification of women characters. Such realistic representations, I argue, strip the male libertine of his radical antisocial status, placing him firmly in the status quo lineage of male institutional power, where he joins the doctors, scientists and other figures in essentializing femininity in a simplistic, even criminal manner.I examine six novels, beginning with Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves (1678), and moving through the eighteenth and up to the beginning of the nineteenth century with Graffigny, Riccoboni, Duras and de Staël. I focus on the function of the gaze in the many “tableaux dramatiques” found in these works, a literary practice to which theorists such as Roland Barthes and Sergei Eisenstein have attributed the origins of cinema. These “tableaux vivants,” the ancestors of sequence-shots and freeze frames, permit me to trace a direct lineage between these novels and Laura Mulvey’s theories of the cinematographic gaze, based on post-Freudian concepts of scopophilia and fetishism. I also rely on Nancy Miller’s poststructuralist vision of women’s writing as textual evidence of the gendered cultural practices of the early modern era. Using these theoretical tools, I decipher the codes in these novels to foreground the singular links made by their authors between sentiment, politics and social practice.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."