SALLY C HOOPLE, Fordham University


Female Quixotism (Boston 1801), by Tabitha Tenney, appeared on the cusp of an era containing the seeds of Romanticism. As a reaction against the cloying sentimental romances, primarily English imports, which had gained great popularity in the new Republic, Tenney's satirical novel moved, along with Hugh Henry Brackenridge's Modern Chivalry, in a fresh, new direction in American literature. Paradoxically, however, Tenney's assault upon emotionalism and imagination represents not an advance into the Romantic period, but in many ways regression to the eighteenth-century age of the Enlightenment. Characteristic of the ambiguity inherent in this uncertain, transitional time, Tenney's fictional satire, in spite of its democratic thrust, focuses almost indiscriminately upon her diverse characters, minority groups, and alien ideologies. Occasionally these contradictions confuse the reader about the real target of her satiric jabs. It is the purpose of this dissertation to explore the objects of her satire and to clarify her intentions.^ The study examines Female Quixotism n an attempt to discover Tenney's purpose, investigates the setting in which she wrote it, and surveys the literature which influenced her either as stylistic and thematic models, such as Cervantes' Don Quixote, Lennox's The Female Quixote, and Smollett's Roderick Random, or works such as Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison which served dually as objects of emulation and attack. A historical consideration of the atmosphere of patriotism and xenophobia in late eighteenth-century New England offers an explanation for Tenney's obvious prejudice against aliens, particularly Irish Catholics. Displaying tolerance on the one hand, but satirizing active abolitionism on the other, Tenney reflects the blend of contradictory attitudes toward Blacks. Clearly conservative, though democratic, she also echoes prevailing panicky reactions against threats, such as Jacobinism, Illuminationism, and atheism, to established political institutions and New England Protestantism.^ Using her novel as a weapon against the vitiating effects of novels, paradoxically Tenney at times ridicules the very fear itself of corruption. Primarily, however, she joins the ranks of declaimers against imported and domestic sentimental fiction who feared that young women, supposedly weaker and more vulnerable to moral corruption than men, would jeopardize their sanity and marital prospects in flights of fictional fancy. Acknowledging the persistence of original sin, she employs usually genial, but occasionally acrid, humor to expose human imperfection. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

SALLY C HOOPLE, "TABITHA TENNEY: FEMALE QUIXOTISM (ENLIGHTENMENT, NEW HAMPSHIRE)" (January 1, 1984). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8506333.