When the Clothes Do Not Make the Man: Female Masculinity and Nationalism in Eighteenth-Century British Literature

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Recently, masculinity has garnered much attention from scholars of eighteenth-century literature and history. However, these studies focus almost exclusively on the masculinity performed by men. Likewise, studies of female masculinity tend to examine masculine women only within the context of women.

My dissertation lies at the convergence of these two areas of inquiry by examining the implications of female masculinity on normative masculinity and the link between these masculinities and nationalism from the early to late eighteenth century, with particular emphasis at the mid-point of the century. I argue that female masculinity was integral to the development and construction of an idealized masculinity and that both positive and negative responses to female masculinity fostered nationalist propaganda and aided in the development of the British Empire.

In the first chapter, I trace the shifting grounds of normative masculinity and argue that what constitutes masculinity narrows as the century progresses and is defined by its resistance to any connection with French culture, particularly within the rising middle class. Chapter two examines three female soldier narratives, some of the only positive representations of female masculinity. I argue that the authors praise female masculinity as a means of creating a heroic masculinity to serve the nation.

The third chapter examines the function of female husbands. I argue that these texts employ female husbands as a means of inciting xenophobia and promoting nationalism, through narrative strategies of silence and disclosure. In the final chapter, I discuss the masculine women who populate four domestic novels. I posit that female masculinity functions as a means of authorizing sentimental masculinity, a mode of masculinity popular in mid-to late eighteenth-century novels.

Through the examination of texts such as novels, pamphlets, and biographies, my dissertation insists that female masculinity was an integral force in the construction of normative masculinity and was intimately linked to a nationalist agenda in the eighteenth century.