Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Evelyne Ender

Committee Members

Evelyne Ender

Giancarlo Lombardi

Monica Calabritto

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Italian Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America | Modern Literature | Women's Studies


Don Quixote; Madame Bovary; Virginia Woolf; Elsa Morante; twentieth-century women's literature; feminist metafiction


This project demonstrates the influence of two foundational novels in the Western canon, Don Quixote and Madame Bovary, on twentieth-century British, Italian, and Anglo-American women’s fiction. Both novels illustrate the dangers and pleasures of literary influence. Stylistically innovative, they anticipated concerns that were of import to feminist literary critics in the seventies and beyond: the transformative power of the reading encounter, its normative and subversive effects on gendered identities, and the need of individual writers to liberate themselves from the shackles of literary convention. Drawing upon textual and paratextual evidence such as interviews, journal entries, and essays, I argue that novels as groundbreaking as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Elsa Morante’s Menzogna e sortilegio, and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying appropriate key motifs from Don Quixote and Madame Bovary to represent a woman writer’s impossible quest for self-representation in a male literary tradition. Emphasizing the formative effect that Don Quixote and Madame Bovary had on the literary imagination of twentieth-century women writers, my study offers a new perspective on the emergence and development of feminist metafiction, a genre which scholars have located within or as an agonistic response to the traditional British canon.