Gardiner, Ellen. Regulating Readers: Gender and Literary Criticism in the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2000.
Reviewed by William Warner | July 12, 2000
In Regulating Readers: Gender and Literary Criticism in the Eighteenth-Century Novel, Ellen Gardiner explores another dimension of this act: the way literary criticism, often embedded in eighteenth-century novels, sought to regulate the reading of women. Beginning with The Spectator and Eliza Haywood’s The Female Spectator, Gardiner describes the new “trope” of the “spectator-as-reader”, and then shows how the idea of the reader as a critical spectator is conceptualized, promoted, appropriated and transformed by an arc of both male and female writers over an 80-year period: Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Charlotte Lennox, Sarah Fielding, and Jane Austen. Regulating Readers demonstrates the pervasiveness within the novels of the period of efforts to shape reading, especially women’s reading, as coextensive with the development of the discourse of criticism. While the earlier novels almost always placed that authority in the men (for example, the doctor who closes down Arabella’s errant reading at the end of The Female Quixote), later novelists like Sarah Fielding (in The Cry) and Jane Austen (in Mansfield Park) placed that authority in the female characters in the novels.