Is there a "female Bildungsroman"? Can the story of Elizabeth Bennet's development be yoked to a genre conceived in terms of Wilhelm Meister and David Copperfield? Unbecoming Women unpacks the ideological baggage of the Bildungsroman, and turns to novels of development and conduct books by women for a new poetics of growing up.
In a subtle reading of works by Frances Burney, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot, Susan Fraiman argues that a heroine's progress toward masterful selfhood is by no means assured. Focusing on "counternarratives" in which girls do not enter the world so much as flounder on its doorstep, Fraiman suggests that becoming a woman involves de-formation, disorientation, and the loss of authority.
By stressing the rival stories in a single text, Unbecoming Women provides a fresh assessment of the Bildungsroman. Instead of the usual question"How does the hero of this novel come of age?"Fraiman asks, "What are the divergent developmental narratives at work, and what can they tell us about competing ideologies concerning the feminine?"
Written with grace and theoretical mastery, Unbecoming Women emphasizes the subversive as well as dialectical aspects of a genre long considered homogeneous. The result is a compelling work of literary criticism that, charting female destiny in Georgian and Victorian texts, also postmodernizes the novel of development.
About the Author
Susan Fraiman is professor of English at the University of Virginia. Her Columbia University Press publications include Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins (2017) and Cool Men and the Second Sex (2003).