Fiction and the feminine: a gendered critical discourse
From its beginnings in the eighteenth century, fiction had increasingly been regarded as a feminised form, and this association became even more important in shaping its production and dissemination in the nineteenth century. Paradoxically it both fostered the growth of women's writing, and
constituted a major problem for fiction in general and women writers in particular, since it generated a series of permissions and constraints which delimited the scope both of the novel and of women's writing. Notably, as Jane Spencer (1986) has argued (in relation to the rise of the novel in the eighteenth century), 'this feminization of literature defined [it] as a special category supposedly outside the political arena, with an influence on the world as indirect as women's was supposed to be' (xi). More contentiously, Nancy Armstrong (1987) has represented the rise of the female and/or feminised novel as the 'agent and product' of a feminisation of culture, by means of which women (and the domain of the feminine in general) produced and reproduced bourgeois patriarchy. The novel, which 'early on assumed the distinctive features of a specialized language for women', was responsible, in Armstrong's view, for a gendering of discourse which 'concealed the politics of writing' by transforming political differences into differences 'rooted in gender' (28, 30).