Lauren O’Mahony is a Lecturer in Global Media and Communication in the School of Arts at Murdoch University. Her PhD examined the narrative conventions of romance and feminism in Australian chick lit. Her current research focuses on Australian romance novels and chick lit, especially those with rural and remote settings. In 2013, Lauren won a Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award.
Olivia Murphy is a postdoctoral research fellow in English at the University of Sydney, having previously taught at Murdoch University. She is the author of Jane Austen the Reader: The Artist as Critic (2013). She is currently working on a manuscript exploring the gendered impact of the political repression of the 1790s on the poet Anna Letitia Barbauld and her friend, the scientist Joseph Priestley. She is also collaborating with Mary Spongberg (UTS) on a 2017-19 ARC Discovery Project, ‘Jane Austen and Maternal Disinheritance: The Leigh family archive’.
Volume 38, May 2018
The romance novel—persistently at once one of the most popularly successful genres from the eighteenth century to today, and one of the least critically respected—demonstrates surprising consistencies, and a habitual attention to gender politics that reflects the gendered assumptions and aspirations of the societies out of which it emerges. This paper explores the commonalities between two novels that, despite being produced in different times and places, nevertheless, when read together, share distinct concerns and tropes, often to a surprising extent. By reading Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) and Loretta Hill’s The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots (2012), and paying close attention to their similarities and differences, this paper demonstrates continuities of convention over more than two centuries. Both novels take young, inexperienced women for their heroines, and through them introduce their readers to daily life in specific, closed communities: respectively, fashionable London of the late-eighteenth-century “Season”, and the fly-in, fly-out mining society of the West Australian Pilbara region. In this study of two novels, one published in Georgian England, and the other in early twenty-first-century Australia, it is possible to recognise the ways in which such fictions are capable of idealising, reproducing and reinforcing gendered stereotypes, and at the same time of revealing the oppressive effects of such stereotypes on the imagined lives of men and women.