Grace Aguilar’s historical romances
My dissertation looks critically at Grace Aguilar’s historical romance novels and short stories, and investigates English writers’ uses of history in early- to mid-nineteenth century fiction. Shifting the current critical emphasis on Aguilar’s Jewish texts, I have analyzed the ways in which Aguilar revises the genres of the national tale, the gothic romance, and the medieval romance in order to demonstrate her participation in the construction of nineteenth-century domestic values. In Chapter One, I introduce to critical debate Aguilar’s juvenilia, relying on unpublished manuscripts and novels published only in the twentieth century to establish the origins of Aguilar’s interest in history and historical writing. Locating Aguilar’s narrative style in the early nineteenth-century national tale, I show that as a child Aguilar envisioned the English and Scottish nations as a family, making domesticity both a private and a public—a female and a male—value. Chapter Two focuses on Aguilar’s use of history to express nineteenth-century domestic ideals in her version of the gothic romance. Deploying the setting of the Catholic Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, Aguilar writes gothic tales that unite Jewish and Protestant gender values. She makes heroic the Jewish female martyr to suggest not only that nineteenth-century Protestants and Jews share similar domestic principles, but also that Jewish women could be seen as ideal models for Protestant women. Finally, in Chapter Three I explore Aguilar’s participation in the nineteenth-century medievalist tradition by reflecting on her revision of nineteenth-century literary idealizations of the Middle Ages. In these short stories, Aguilar fictionalizes the sixteenth-century European chivalric ethos, looking critically at the role of women in court society at the end of the Middle Ages. Deploying the tropes prevalent in popular nineteenth-century anti-medievalist fiction, Aguilar debunks celebrations of the Middle Ages by showing how chivalry is antagonistic to nineteenth-century domesticity.
AuthorsKlein, Kathrine Mercedes
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