Gender, gentry, petticoats, and propriety: Addison and Steele’s construction of the implied female reader in The Spectator
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 10:54 by Daniel Carrigy
This thesis examines the construction of the implied female reader in Joseph Addison and Richard Steele’s eighteenth-century periodical The Spectator. It is informed by Wolfgang Iser’s theory of the implied reader as well as Jurgen Habermas’s examination of the development of a bourgeois public sphere in eighteenth-century England. Breaking the distinction between educating their readers and entertaining them, Addison and Steele sought to promote the idea of the polite society, in which the English public was defined by civility and propriety. The Spectator is recognised as one of the most prominent pieces of English periodical literature due to its profound transformative effect on its readership and emerging English middle class, especially women. An examination of Addison and Steele’s paradigm of the implied female reader has not only been unaddressed, but is an important addition to academic knowledge concerning both the periodical itself, and the nature of female readership in early eighteenth-century England. This thesis argues that Addison and Steele’s construction of the implied female reader is achieved through creating and subsequently manipulating taxonomies of femininity. In so doing, their modelling of ideal behaviour and critique of feminine vices subsequently allows Addison and Steele to influence their female readers’ readership practices, fashion choices, and position in the public sphere.