The Caustic Pen Is Mightiest: A Tradition of Female Satire in the Novels of Jane Austen, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Muriel Spark

Citation data:

Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Publication Year:
Usage 530
Downloads 504
Abstract Views 26
Repository URL:;
Reed, Jaclyn Andrea
Digital Commons @ DU
Domestic Fiction; Domesticity; Femininity; Feminism; Satire; Women Writers; Literature in English, British Isles; Women's Studies
thesis / dissertation description
Female satirists have long been treated by critics as anomalies within an androcentric genre because of the reticence to acknowledge women's right to express aggression through their writing. In Pride and Prejudice (1813), A House and Its Head (1935), and The Girls of Slender Means (1963), Jane Austen (1775-1817), Ivy Compton-Burnett (1884-1969), and Muriel Spark (1918-2006) all combine elements of realism and satire within the vehicle of the domestic novel to target institutions of their patriarchal societies, including marriage and family dynamics, as well as the evolving conceptions of domesticity and femininity, with a subtle feminism. These female satirists illuminate the problems they have with society more through presentation than judgment in their satire, which places them on the fringes of a society they wish to educate, distinguishing their satire from that written by male satirists who are judging from a privileged height above the society they are attempting to correct. All three women create heroines and secondary female characters who find ways to survive, and occasionally thrive, within the confines of a polite society that has a streak of savagery running just beneath its polished surface.