Just as there were contradictions embedded in masquerades, and a variety of opinions about them held by society, there were many interpretations of masquerades by authors in eighteenth-century fiction . Some novelists used the masquerades as a comic device to add plot twists and as an opportunity to reveal something new about a character, while others used it as a ploy on character to teach a moral lesson. One example of a comic scene is seen in Babcock's "Liberty's a Whore" when "a male painter dressed as a woman is forced to urinate among gentleman masqueraders" . But masquerades were more typically used as a device to pit a character against social rebellion, or to test a character's virtue and chastity. Despite the different perspectives authors took on masquerades, they were always associated with social change. This was a common thread appearing in many eighteenth century novels, and masquerades fit in quite easily. Tony Tanner explains in his book, Adultery in the Novel, that the novel "dramatize[s] a larger cultural conflict between moralistic and transgressive imperatives, equanimity and adventure, the desire for bourgeois stability and the subversive human fascination with change and novelty" . Just as the masquerade instigated social change and challenged the stability of social structure, the novel did so as well. Thus it was natural that the novel would incorporate the masquerade into itself. Masquerades brought the novel to a new level of explicating social disruption. Characters could be faced with situations and circumstances in a way that hadn't been done before. Therefore, masquerades played a vital role in the transformation of the novel over the eighteenth century.
Masquerades also provided an interesting plot device to add mystery or new perspective to the story. It was a place of intimacy where anything could take place. The masquerade was a useful vessel mimicking the notion of what makes a plot turn in a novel. Masquerades allowed for the "destabilization of the ordinary, a disequilibrium at the heart of things" . They also opened up a way of celebrating ideas from the past that were regurgitated at the party scene. Terry Castle writes, "Just as the actual masquerade gave people in the increasingly secularized eighteenth century a way of acting out memories of the traditional world of magic and folk belief- as witches, conjurers, devils, and the like- so the masquerade set piece gave vestigial fantastic and marvelous literary element a paradoxical second life in realistic eighteenth century English fiction" .
Masquerades held many interesting functions in eighteenth century literature and paved the way for new methods of illustrating social change in this period. They were pivotal in the shaping and transformation of the novel and the purpose it came to serve in eighteenth-century culture.
1. Castle, Terry. Masquerade and Civilization:
the Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century
English Culture and Fiction. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1986, 115.
2. Babcock, Barbara A. "Liberty's a Whore': Inversions, Marginalia, and Picaresque Narrative."
In The Reversible World. Ed. Barbara A. Babacock. Ithaca, NY, 1978, 96.
3. Tanner, Tony. Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression. Baltimore, 1979, 115.
4. Castle, 120.
5. Castle, 122.