Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney

Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney

By Jessica A. Volz

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

‘Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney’ examines the forms and functions of visuality in the novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. It offers new insights into vision, fiction and depiction by exploring how the visual details in women’s novels published between 1778 and 1815 are more telling about gender politics than scholars have previously acknowledged.

Hardback, 252 Pages


March 2017

£70.00, $115.00

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About This Book

There are many factors that contributed to the proliferation of visual codes, metaphors and references to the gaze in women’s fiction of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. 'Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney' argues that the visual details in women’s novels published between 1778 and 1815 are more significant than scholars have previously acknowledged. Its innovative study of the oeuvres of Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth and Frances Burney shows that visuality – the continuum linking visual and verbal communication – provided women writers with a methodology capable of circumventing the cultural strictures on female expression in a way that allowed for concealed resistance. Visuality empowered them to convey the actual ways in which women ‘should’ see and appear in a society in which the reputation was image-based.

The discussion moves from self-referential coordinates exterior to the self in the novels of Austen and Radcliffe to the drama of reflections, fashion and the minutiae of coded self-display in the novels of Edgeworth and Burney. The analysis engages with scholarly critiques drawn from literature, art history, optics, psychology, philosophy and anthropology to assert visuality’s multidisciplinary influences and diplomatic potential. The non-chronological structure embraces overlapping themes rather than the illusion of a conclusive departure from the reciprocity between the appearance and the essence.

'Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney' explores how in fiction and in actuality, women negotiated four scopic forces that determined their ‘looks’ and manners of looking: the impartial spectator, the male gaze, the public eye and the disenfranchised female gaze. In a society dominated by ‘frustrated utterance’, penetrating gazes and the perpetual threat of misinterpretation, women novelists used references to the visible and the invisible to comment on emotions, socioeconomic conditions and patriarchal abuses. Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney provide ideal case studies in this regard because they were culturally representative figures who also experimented with and contributed to different approaches to the novel. This book thus offers new insights into verbal economy and the gender politics of the era spanning the Anglo-French War and the Battle of Waterloo by reassessing expression and perception from a uniquely telling yet largely overlooked point of view. 


"This examination of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Burney in terms of the methods of visuality contained in their novels from a vision-centric (or vision-obsessed) period is a welcome contribution to the field of feminist novel studies in general and eighteenth-century novel studies in particular. Visuality focuses clearly on a diverse body of scholarship and offers sharp, thought-provoking close readings to create an appropriate depth and breadth of coverage." — Plante, Kelly. Review of Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, vol. 32 no. 3, 2020, p. 515-517. Project MUSE"

'Jessica Volz makes an important contribution to the field of eighteenth-century gender studies. Finally, the "female gaze" is getting her due.'
—Dr Amanda Foreman, historian and bestselling author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

‘Volz’s perceptive, careful analysis makes her book a valuable resource for readers of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Burney.’
—Claire Denelle Cowart, ‘Jane Austen Society of North America’, JASNA (Summer 2019).

'Volz looks at how these women novelists dealt with questions of gender politics, the Gothic imagination and other "optical allusions" – a compelling read.' 
Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine

‘This wonderful and scholarly book shows us with lively examples how women in the age of Jane Austen were allowed to perceive themselves and how four great women writers responded creatively and spiritually, through their use of the visual imagination in their writing. I read it with huge pleasure.’ —Edward Rutherfurd, bestselling author of Sarum, London, New York and Paris

‘We’ve long understood that late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British culture was structured around seeing and being seen, but it’s taken Jessica Volz’s fine book to reveal how four famed women novelists of the era used visual patterns and cues to promote social change […] Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney is a compelling study of a surprisingly under-examined set of narrative patterns that have been hiding in plain sight.’—Devoney Looser, Foundation Professor of English, Arizona State University

Author Information

Dr Jessica A. Volz is an independent British literature scholar and international communications strategist whose research focuses on the forms and functions of visuality in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women’s novels.


Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

Foreword by Caroline Jane Knight; Preface; Introduction: Visuality in Profile; 1. Jane Austen’s Aesthetic Vocabulary of Character; 2. Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic Reconstructions of Female Identity and Experience; 3. The Gendered Gaze and ‘Made-up’ Women in Maria Edgeworth’s 'Castle Rackrent', 'Ennui' and 'Belinda'; 4. Optical Allusions in Frances Burney’s 'Evelina' and 'The Wanderer'; Conclusion; Selected Bibliography; Index.


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