"No refuge": The woman within/beyond the borders of Henry Adams, Henry James, and others
van Oostrum, Duco C.
Minter, David L.
Doctor of Philosophy
The dissertation investigates whether there is a place of refuge for women characters within and/or beyond American literary texts written by men around the turn of the twentieth century. Besides major and minor texts of leading American men of letters, Henry Adams and Henry James, the texts also include two Dutch novels, Multatuli's Max Havelaar and Frederik van Eeden's Van de koele meren des doods. In examining these texts, the dissertation seeks for a male feminist practice that does not immediately turn into a male practice of appropriation and violence, I adopt a feminist practice of exposing gender representations in canonical male-authored texts, giving particular attention to the results of their representations for women. The question I ask of them is also a question I ask of my critical practice: is a genuine representation of female characters by male authors possible? The metaphors of feminism as a "no man's land" and American literature as a "territorial battle" connect issues central in Adams, James, Multatuli, and Van Eeden. The inclusion of the Dutch texts "within" American literature takes place not only on the basis of intertextual links with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, but also because their preoccupation with gender resembles gender systems in texts of Henry Adams and Henry James. All these male authors share an interest in the representation of women in their literary works. Henry Adams argues in The Education that there is "no refuge" for modern American women except "such as the male created for himself." After analyzing the Dutch novels, James's The Wings of the Dove, and Adams's Esther, his South Seas letters, and The Education of Henry Adams, I locate these dubious moments of refuge for women within male representation in strategies of idealizations of female alterity, self-reflexivity, exposure of the cultural construction of gender, and silence. Whether these places of refuge for women within the borders of the male texts go beyond already staked out territories into "no man's land" is a question at the heart of the dissertation.
American literature; Comparative literature; Germanic literature; Women's studies