Self (reliance) and feminine desire: Strategies for engagement in literature(s) written by women
Massengale, Kate J. S.
Minter, David L.
Doctor of Philosophy
Fictional and nonfictional texts by Elizabeth Stoddard, Edith Wharton, Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Ellen Glasgow, and Zora Neale Hurston are read against the background of Emersonian ideals of self reliance and friendship. The close readings have discovered a number of strategies for creating an individual feminine consciousness and for creating space for both the play of self-reliance issues and feminine desire. By thinking in terms of strategies, readers more fully engage with these elements and open the readings of each of the texts. No "ideal" reading may be determined; rather there are many and complex moments in which self reliance and desire get to be played out to different levels of success. Stoddard employs complex mother-daughter relationships, witch markers, the theology of the Puritan past, and first-person narration as strategies to represent two strong female characters (two sisters) as they move into the realm of independence and face their own desires (The Morgesons ). Wharton finds that letter writing and self-created definitions of friendship allow both herself and her character, Charity Royall in the novel Summer, to act upon desires not morally sanctioned by their societies. The use of typology and direct address to multiply the possibilities of feminine selves and feminine desires, both profound and profane, is Sedgwick's technique in Hope Leslie. The reversals of masculine and feminine qualifies as well as reversals of behavior in Glasgow's novel Barren Ground, make the best readers uncomfortable enough to look at their own narrow definitions of what it means to be self reliant and female and which desires are worth pursuing. Finally, Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God moves like waves, contracting and expanding, as she explores the power of the storyteller and the incredibly important role of the listener (reader). She, more than most, will not allow solid ground under our reading feet, but shifts the Florida mud so that every reading is aware of its immediacy and its contingency. The examination of how different female authors engage issues of desire and the development of a creative, independent self greatly opens our understandings and readings of these texts.
American studies; Women's studies; American literature