Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Misrecognizing Women: Eighteenth-Century Female Bildungsromans and the Logic of Torture and Confession
by Kurtz, Rita J., Ph.D., Lehigh University, 2011, 213; 3478547
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation argues that certain eighteenth-century female bildungsromans reproduce the logic of the rituals of torture and confession that underwrote the seventeenth-century witch-hunts and witchcraft trials in the western world. However, these eighteenth-century novels and often the critics who have written about them misrecognize the torture and confession that their narratives reproduce. This misrecognition takes three forms: (1) female empowerment is misrecognized as female transgression (2) the heroine’s “torture” is misrecognized as the obstacles she encounters during her maturation process, and (3) the heroine’s “confession” is misrecognized as her achievement of enlightened self-awareness. The direction of these novels is that of regression. Each novel’s logic, which I refer to as “the logic of torture and confession,” tortures its initially empowered heroine through a repetition of violence, which escalates in intensity as the novel progresses until she “confesses” her defect. Moreover, the logic of torture and confession produces its heroine’s female flaw as “inherent” even as it insists that this flaw has always been latently present. Consequently, the heroines in these novels do not become fully-realized and empowered women as the bildungsroman genre promises; instead they unwittingly follow a regressive course to collude in their own subjugation.

This dissertation draws on Michel Foucault’s theory of disciplinary power to demonstrate how the seventeenth-century patriarchal discourse that produced the diabolical witch's inherently flawed hypersexual body transformed itself into an immaterial, diffused, less visible form of patriarchal power that I argue made use of the eighteenth-century female bildungsroman to continue its subjugation of women. The asymmetry of power that organizes these female bildungsromans is consistently one of masculine disembodied power that functions imperceptibly to embody women as inherently flawed. This dissertation aims to expose the several forms of misrecognition that occur in these novels so it will enable readers to more readily grasp how patriarchy must endlessly reaffirm and reinscribe its domination of women through insidious strategies that, I argue, are still evident in contemporary narratives.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gordon, Scott Paul
Commitee: Keetley, Dawn, Krasas, Jacqueline, Lotto, Edward
School: Lehigh University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 73/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, American literature, British and Irish literature, Gender studies
Keywords: Austen, Jane, Bildungsroman, Brown, Charles Brockden, Confession, Davys, Mary, Embodiment, Madness, Misrecognition, Torture, Vanity, Women characters
Publication Number: 3478547
ISBN: 978-1-124-96225-2
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