Is there a "female bildungsroman"? Can the story of Elizabeth Bennet's development be yoked to a genre conceived in terms of Wilhelm Meister and David Copperfield? In "Unbecoming Women", Susan Fraiman unpacks the ideological baggage of the category "bildungsroman", and turns to novels of development and conduct books by women for a new poetics of growing up. Fraiman's careful readings of major novels by Frances Burney, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot, suggest that a heroine's progress toward such a goal is by no means assured: mapping the way to womanhood is not a single, well-marked path but a continual crossroads. "Unbecoming Women" challenges received views about fictions of becoming. "Unbecoming Women" is also about the novel of development as a genre and how women's writing may be posed against the traditional theorists. Instead of the usual question - "How does the hero of this novel come of age?" - Fraiman asks, "What are the divergent developmental narratives at work in this novel, and what can they tell us about competing ideologies concerning the feminine?"
Her perceptive treatment of works by women reformulates the genre not as the story of a character but as the story of a cultural moment.