Korobkin, Laura H. “’Can Your Volatile Daughter Ever Acquire Wisdom?’” Early American Literature 41.1 (2006): 79-107.
Korobkin argues that while championing Eliza as a modern woman who chooses not to follow the constraints that her society places upon her, critics have pushed aside the real reasons for her actions – her need for luxury and her materialism. If one historicizes the novel, one sees that Eliza’s wants are connected to British consumerism and class distinctions that early America was striving to tear down.
She furthers her argument by studying the difference between the modern and 18th Century meaning of the word volatile, showing that they lead the reader (depending on the when of the reading) to have different ideas of Eliza’s character.
The argument is quite sound and the history convinces me, as history often does, that the modern reading of Eliza that many critics have conveyed is meant to fit their agendas more than to truly show the ideas being conveyed by the novel. Seeing Eliza as a 18th Century Sex in the City character is fun; however, in a true historic feminist reading of the work, she is working against the freedoms that women for striving for in her time.
Bib of Note:
Cott, Nancy F. "Divorce and the Changing Status of Women in 18th Century Mass." William and Mary Quarterly 3.33 (1976) 587-92.
Evans, Gareth. "Rakes, Coquettes, and Republican Patriarchs Class, Gender, and Nation in Early American Sentimental Fiction." Canadian Review of American Studies 25 (1995) 41-62.