Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Born around 1729, Charlotte Lennox spent her formative years in Gibraltar and America until her father died in 1743; her family then returned to England. There, Lennox enjoyed the patronage of Lady Cecilia Isabella Finch and the countess of Rockingham, thus enabling her to dedicate her time to writing poetry. She published Poems on Several Occasions in 1747 and married Alexander Lennox the same year. Charlotte Lennox enjoyed the friendships of such notables as writers Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Johnson. Although she continued to write for the rest of her life, nothing equaled the success of The Female Quixote. Lennox died a pauper in 1804.

By the time Lennox wrote and published The Female Quixote in 1752, the heyday of reading romances was over, but the genre was still in fashion. At that time, romances included tales of chivalry, knighthood, history, and courtly love. The Female Quixote bridges a time in literary history when the primacy of poetry as the serious literary genre was soon to be rivaled by prose, particularly with the popularity of such novels as Richardson’s Pamela, Or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady (1747-1748). Richardson actually advised Lennox in her writing of The Female Quixote and is believed to have written the dedication to the earl of Middlesex. The Female Quixote is instrumental in the history of the novel for its discussion of the unequal position of women in society and the problems they face because of their powerlessness. Equally important is the treatment of women by other women. Arabella, however, is the model of sentimentality at its finest. So influential was this novel that many authors noted its significance, the most famous writer being perhaps Jane Austen, who cited The Female Quixote as inspiration for her novel Northanger Abbey (1817).

Central to The Female Quixote is the tenet of quixotism, a foolish, impractical, and idealized notion of the world; the idea was first demonstrated in Miguel de Cervantes’ novel...

(The entire section is 869 words.)