This essay reveals how Maria Edgeworth integrated dramatic practices into her novel Belinda (1801) as a means to generate realistic effect. In doing so, it not only challenges the notion that the theater was at odds with the novel in this period but also shows that, in a novel such as Belinda, the theater fundamentally undergirds rather than detracts from its verisimilitude. As I demonstrate through careful readings of key “dramatic” scenes in the novel, Lady Delacour's adoption of the mask of the Comic Muse acts as a metonym for the mask of the novel—namely, those narrative techniques that provide the illusion of character depth and authenticity. The essay thus documents a foundational moment in the development of the nineteenth-century novel insofar as it discloses Edgeworth's contention that any novelistic move to establish subjective interiority is as much of a performance as a theatrical one; in other words, realism is theater.
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