Catherine Gore and the fashionable novel
Kendra, April Nixon
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This dissertation is both a genre study and an attempt to recover a marginalized British woman writer. Despite her success as a commercial playwright, historical novelist, and essayist, Catherine Gore (1799-1861) is best known for her "silver fork" novels, which describe in lavish detail the lifestyles of the London fashionable world. Although Gore was the most prolific author in this genre, scholars have diminished her contribution in two important ways: first, by basing the definition of the fashionable novel on works by male authors, primarily Edward Bulwer and Benjamin Disraeli, and second, by continuing to use the designation "silver fork," which necessarily confers a negative critical judgment. This dissertation uses the example of Catherine Gore to challenge existing definitions and assumptions about the fashionable novel, to propose a more accurate and helpful definition of the genre, and to re-examine the relationship between the fashionable novelist and more canonical authors like Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and William Thackeray. Contrary to the popular assumption that all fashionable novels, as mass-produced commodities, are virtually identical, this dissertation identifies two important subcategories: the dandy novel (most closely associated with Bulwer and Disraeli) and the society novel (popularized by Gore). The dandy novel grows out of the German Bildungsroman and the English picaresque tradition; the influences of Goethe, Godwin, and Byron are particularly evident. Because of its literary ancestry and the values it affirms-independence, ambition, physical strength, competition-the dandy novel may be considered a masculine form of the fashionable novel. In contrast to the hero-centered dandy novel, the society novel includes a large cast of characters whose lives are clearly interdependent, and the plot of the society novel tends to be complex rather than episodic. The feminine fashionable novel places greatest value on community, family, and gradual social reform. Gore’s society novels are much influenced by the familienromans of Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth, whom Gore claimed as literary models, and they anticipate the great Victorian multiplot novels: Bleak House, Vanity Fair, Middlemarch. This dissertation discovers that the fashionable novel has persisted into the 21 st century and identifies several of Gore’s literary descendents.