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Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Elisabeth Gruner


The novel form is inextricable from the influence of the Enlightenment. A sweeping change in philosophy to refocus on the importance of each person, rather than traditional structures such as government or religious institutions, was influential on a genre that is intensely dependent on the “individual.” Older, more traditional genres were not as well suited to the new topic of “the human personality” (Taylor 267) and the “emerging realities of a fluid and multifaceted commercial society and a broader, more socially mixed audience” (Hudson). The novel presented an opportunity wherein “authors began to represent an individual’s value in terms of his, but more often in terms of her, essential qualities of mind” (Armstrong 4). Furthermore, the linkages to the novel and Enlightenment thinking go beyond the chosen form; many novels served as experimental proving grounds to express and explore the philosophical. In turn, the explosion of the popular novel then disseminated both the original ideas of the movement and the nuances and questions raised by the authors. Female novelists struggled with a movement that both sought their sanction and enabled their craft, while excluding women from key roles and debates. The four selected novels, Emma by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Mary Barton by Elisabeth Gaskell, reflect a fragile balance between engaging with Enlightenment ideas within acceptable formats, and challenging the hypocrisy inherent within the same ideas. Understanding linkages between the Scottish Enlightenment and these 19th-century female British novelists is essential for understanding the reception, debate, and impact of these ideas.

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