All News

Staff Publication: Digital Scholarship Specialist Alice McGrath

July 6, 2020

Unaccountable Form: Queer Failure and Jane Barker’s Patchwork Method

Author: Alice McGrath

Source: The Eighteenth Century, vol. 60 no. 4, 2019, p. 353-373. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ecy.2019.0028.

Publication type: Article

Abstract: This essay traces Jane Barker’s “patchwork” aesthetic of imperfection as a methodology of queer failure that allows her to resignify disappointment and inaction as creative vitality. A Patch-work Screen for the Ladies (1723) incorporates stories, poetry, recipes, songs, and more, as its frame attempts to account for the author-figure Galesia’s singlehood—a circumstance portrayed as a series of accidents and errors. By tracing failure through these infelicitous courtship plots, the aleatory composition of the “patchwork screen,” and the insistently humble form of narrative uncertainty, this essay shows that the story of the Unaccountable Wife—a striking depiction of female same-sex desire—is not a hermetic episode of the text but a crucial articulation of a formal and thematic queerness that resonates precisely through its opacity. This essay proposes that queer failure and passivity offer a useful rubric for reading other eighteenth-century fictions that stall the reproductive momentum of the marriage plot.

Library and Information Technology Services