During the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries novel reading was persistently associated with women, and trope of female reading was generated that asserted that women's reading is an act of the body, not the mind. Maria Edgeworth frequently draws on this trope, but in her best-known domestic novel, Belinda (1801), she constructs two tropes: a disruptive trope of fashionable reading that the associates with Lady Delacour and a corrective trope of domestic reading that the associates with Belinda Portman. Both fashionable reading and female reading present women's reading as a breach of domestic femininity. While the typical female reader is marked by her excessive emotional and sexual but essentially private responses to texts, the fashionable reader is marked by her excessive public display of textual knowledge. As a fashionable reader, Lady Delacour indulges in highly public demonstrations of her literary skill in order to ensure the publicity upon which her status within a system of fashionability rests. Her ability to quote and to allude to a wide variety of texts provides her with a series of literary costumes that enable the adoption of nondomestic identities. The transformation of Lady Delacour from a fashionable women into a domestic woman, metonymically expressed in the cure of her apparent breast cancer, is effected by a change in her reading practices. Instrumental in Lady Delacour's cure is Belinda Portman, who gradually draws her away from the literary self-display toward the domestic literary practices.
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