"Scenarios of Female Mate Choice in Five Novels of Female Development"

Joseph Carroll

A relatively naive form of sociobiological literary criticism consists in examining fictional texts and pointing out that the characters follow certain basic patterns of behavior in areas such as survival, status seeking, mate selection, reproduction, parent-child interaction, and nepotism. Psychologically more sophisticated interpretive efforts have extended this list to include other topics in mainstream psychology such as the theory of emotions, development, and individual differences in personality. The most advanced form of sociobiological criticism integrates the analysis of represented behavior with the analysis of specifically literary structures such as verse forms, the organization of narrative, tonal organization, the use of symbolic motifs, and the manipulation of point of view. I shall argue that this latter category–point of view--has a special status. Literary representations are communicative acts, and meaning is always meaning for some specific person, from some specific point of view. Drawing on Antonio Damasio and E. O. Wilson, I shall designate literary representations as "scenarios" or interpretive models of reality, and I shall argue that literary meaning emerges out of the interaction from among three sets of scenarios: the author's own (generally privileged) version of truth and reality; the versions formulated by the characters depicted, and the version implicitly attributed to the putative audience. The author negotiates with the divergent and often conflicting meaning systems of his characters, and he or she negotiates simultaneously with the expectations, values, sympathies, and antipathies of his or her putative readers. To illustrate these claims, I shall be comparing five novels that depict the personal development of young women: Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Bronte's Villette, Cather's O Pioneers!, Bennet's Anna of the Five Towns, and Hardy's Tess of the d'Urvbervilles. These novels have been chosen to illustrate specific differences in the authors' relations to their subject.

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