- 紀要. 言語・文学編 (ISSN:02868083)
- vol.36, pp.1-15, 2004-03-30
A Lady of Quality is said to be a sensation novel unique amongst Burnett's work, though written in 1896 when the boom for the genre was almost over. Moreover, unlike typical sensation fiction, the story is set against a 17th century background, and appears as a pseudo historical romance. But the central motif and theme of the novel, a protest against patriarchal oppression fuelled by the power of the unconventional heroine Clorinda, share the same concern as those novels by Mary Braddon and Mrs Henry Wood. However it is not enough to read this novel as focusing only on the beautiful crossdressing wild heroine. She has a shadowy double, her sister Anne, who represents the weak, feminine, submissive angel. Repressed and subjugated, Anne always looks at her strong willful sister, admiring her power and observing her love affair from afar. On the surface of the story, she looks like a saintly innocent, but a close reading reveals that she is not at all "the proper feminine" as Lyn Pyckett calls it, for she is carefully constructed as a bookworm, or a romance reader, and therefore knows "strange things", which makes her transgress the sphere of angelic existence. In this paper I will examine how the proper versus improper spheres of femininity are deconstructed, by focusing on Anne as a romance reader. It will be clear that the true sensationalism of the story exists not in the secret murder by Clorinda, but in the imperative of the dying Anne to keep the crime secret. Reading the subtext centering Anne will exemplify how she has developed as a subjective reader, and achieved her heart's desire in her own way. Sister Anne's reading is then interpreted as a strategy to make this story a meta-romance: a romance about the meaning of reading romance.