Setting the Stage: 18th Century Theater & Gender Performance Across Haywood and Austen College

Nearly two centuries later, Judith Butler would describe gender identity as “a stylized repetition of acts…which are internally discontinuous…[so that] the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief” (520). Female novelists such as Eliza Haywood and Jane Austen would incorporate elements of the 18th century English theater into their books. For English women at that time, identity formation within the literary structures of the novel was not just rooted in personal introspection, but the incorporation and subsequent performance of gender norms characteristic through both behavior and appearance befitting to each woman’s socioeconomic class. As Karl Heinz Goller writes: “The subject of the novel was the immediate experience of average human beings in private life. It offered an ideal opportunity for women…to express their social needs and deeds” (96-97). In Eliza Haywood's 1725 novel Fantomina and Jane Austen's 1817 novel Persuasion, each of these authors confront the nature of gender performance as a theatrical construction of female identity, framing the...

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