Pub Date2019
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Novel Cleopatras: Romance Historiography and the Dido Tradition in English Fiction, 1688–1785

Nicole Horejsi
University of Toronto Press

Advocating a revised history of the eighteenth-century novel, Novel Cleopatras showcases the novel’s origins in ancient mythology, its relation to epic narrative, and its connection to neoclassical print culture. Novel Cleopatras also rewrites the essential role of women writers in history who were typically underestimated as active participants of neoclassical culture, often excluded from the same schools that taught their brothers Greek and Latin. However, as author Nicole Horejsi reveals, a number of exceptional middle-class women were actually serious students of the classics.

In order to dismiss the idea that women were completely marginalized as neoclassical writers, Horejsi takes up the character of Dido from ancient Greek mythology and her real-life counterpart Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt. Together, the legendary Dido and historical Cleopatra serve as figures for the conflation of myth and history. Horejsi contends that turning to the doomed queens who haunted the Roman imagination enabled eighteenth-century novelists to seize the productive overlap among the categories of history, romance, the novel, and even the epic.