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Autori: Šesnić, Jelena
Naslov: Mračne žene. Prikazi ženstva u američkoj književnosti (1820.-1860.)
( Dark Ladies: Figures of Femininity in American Literature (1820-1860) )
Vrsta knjige: monografija
Izdavač: Leykam International
Grad: Zagreb
Godina: 2010
Stranica: 370
ISBN: 978-953-7534-50-9
Ključne riječi: motiv mračne žene; povijest američke književnosti; kanon; Edgar Allan Poe; Nathaniel Hawthorne; Herman Melville; Lydia Maria Child; Margaret Fuller; Emily Dickinson; Fanny Fern; Harriet Jacobs; feministička teorija; psihoanalitička teorija; novi historicizam
( Dark Lady; American literary history; canon; Edgar Allan Poe; Nathaniel Hawthorne; Herman Melville; Lydia Maria Child; Margaret Fuller; Emily Dickinson; Fanny Fern; Harriet Jacobs; feminist theory; psychoanalytic theory; New Historicism )
SUMMARY Mothers, Medusae, Sisters and Slaves: Figures of the Dark Lady in American Literature, 1820-1860 Part One: The Dark Lady and Its Classic American Variants Adopted from a tradition dating back to at least medieval—if not even earlier—roots, and extensively used in Renaissance literature, the complex motif of the dark lady, the femme fatale, found its way into some aspects of nineteenth-century American culture. In Part One, my aim was to register its potential cultural and ideological import as it was used in the works of authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. In Part Two, the study is concerned with supplementary and contrastive uses of heroines and female stereotypes by women writers, notably Lydia Maria Child, Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, Fanny Fern, and Harriet Jacobs. The book thus engages a sustained tension between the works designated as "classics" of American literature and a newly emerging alternative, the "soft" canon of works by women writers. It then strives to bring these two groups together by suggesting an overarching linking theme—the figurations of femininity as a potent, complex, and contradiction-ridden sign, suggesting a number of cultural concerns relevant for the period encompassed in the study. The prevailing context of interpretation so far has assumed the dark aspect to be the emanation of an archetypal feminine role, as ascribed to women in the course of Western civilization ; closer reading informed also by the reading protocols of feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and new historicism suggests, however, that the cultural role assigned to women—and articulated through this motif—hinges on several interwoven preconditions: male authors and their representational strategies ; the ideological pressures of the available social roles for women ; the flexibility of the sign "woman" to step in for other contiguous or conflated signs very often standing in for the figures of radical (ethnic, "racial, " cultural) otherness. The suggested frameworks include a new historical insertion of ideological and cultural moments into the tissue of a literary text ; feminist sensitivity to the dictates of discursive and representational regimes also seconded by the activities of women ; a psychoanalytic intervention which retroactively may help to account for some recurrent structures in the texts discussed here ; and last but not least, historical and anthropological models which situate the functioning of the gender divide in society. Thus Poe's obsessive-compulsive tendency to idealize and objectify the female both in his poetry and in his short stories might signify, on one level, the clever manipulation of popular and already hackneyed representational conventions, but can also be read along the lines of a peculiar ideological/cultural potential that the signifier dark lady commands in the context of nineteenth-century Victorian America, beset by a voracious history especially in Poe's South. Therefore, it becomes necessary to engage in revisionary psychoanalysis, refracted through the lens of gender, feminist, and ethnic criticism, as suggested by an array of critics (Dayan, Erkkila, Goddu, and Nelson, for instance). The attendant reading practice continues to be imbued with and directed by new historicist concerns furnishing an image of Poe's work that strays from either the purely aesthetic, "Europeanized" figure or from its gothicized American variant. The next writer, Hawthorne, has been labeled in American literary history as a writer especially responsive to the plight of women, but even his novels testify to an uneasy, anxious, and equivocal relation with his dark and strong heroines. It is mostly through a set of indirect, mediated narrative strategies but also in his use of highly ambiguous signs in conjunction with his female characters that Hawthorne gives the impression of short-changing his women, either through their death, exile, or pacification. Upon closer examination of his four novels, The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852) and The Marble Faun (1860), what transpires is a fairly fixed motivational scaffold mounted on the shoulders of the strong women – Hester, Zenobia, Phoebe, and Miriam – facing as their counterparts a set of weaker women characters and an array of male antagonists. As the author's work has been a lodestar for American literary criticism and history, throughout the text attention has been given to various schools of criticism applied to Hawthorne's texts, while an emphasis has been placed on broadly speaking post-structuralist developments. These repeatedly evoke varied layers of texts, while suggesting that the dilemma facing Hawthorne's women continues to be enframed by various psychic, social, economic, and historical factors, complicating the heroines' bid for independence and self-development. Tangentially, the idea is posited in this section that a historical impulse, subtending Hawthorne's novel-writing, remains centrally preoccupied with the cipher of dark femininity, which thus operates as an expression of and a solution to the mystery of origin of the family, collectivity, and finally, the nation. Melville's Pierre (1852) recasts a powerful male fantasy of dark femininity which, in its various guises, first as a domineering mother, then as a sisterly fiancée, and finally as an irresistible destructive seductress, in effect plots to unman and destroy a young male. Feminine forces, which have all along been cast as supervising the socialization of subjects, here are also presented as anti-social, as they persist in their foreclosure of man's legitimate social(izing) ambitions. The author further brings their disruptive potential to the fore by insinuating incestuous elements in the family plot and by assimilating different and so-far disparate female roles into a single, overwhelming force against the social order. In conclusion, Part One proposes to critically re-examine the role striking female figures (Poe's dark and elusive heroines ; Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, Zenobia, and Miriam ; and Melville's Isabel) were made to play in canonical texts produced by men. Part Two: Dark Ladies in the Female Looking Glass In the second part of the study, attention is shifted to the classical male writers' female contemporaries, which until recently were fairly underrepresented in histories of national literature or were approached through a set of purportedly second-rate categories, such as sentimentalism and domesticity. Further, from a feminist and new historicist point of view, it tries to assess the divergence from the symbolic repertoire employed by male writers, as well as consider possible stereotypes and roles that female authors are wont to use. Concomitantly, it transpires that female authors work in somewhat different genres, that they are more committed to domestic and quotidian realism, and that their portrayals of women shift more towards verisimilitude and shy away from larger symbolism and allegory. Thus, even when women writers seem to accept the model of dark and fateful femininity, they often undercut its transhistorical and allegorical aura by endowing it with a greater sense of irony and of the historical and social constraints that applied to women, placing them in less flamboyant surroundings, which (as some feminist critics have suggested) may even push back the emergence of realism by at least a decade or two. These tendencies are demonstrated on examples taken from Lydia Maria Child's historical novel Hobomok (1824), featuring women and Indians as its protagonists ; then, on Margaret Fuller's semi-fictional feminist manifesto with autobiographical touches accompanied by similar strategies of self-representation observable in Emily Dickinson's poetry and letters, to be compounded by reading side-by-side Fanny Fern's domestic-feminist novel Ruth Hall and the inversion of the form in Harriet Jacobs's female slave autobiography. As an interesting departure from august literary precursors such as James Fenimore Cooper and Walter Scott, Hobomok presents a skewed gender scheme. The "dark" aspects of female agency have been transposed into and dispersed among varied agents in this historical drama, leading mostly to a clash between the ethnic/"racial" antagonists, where woman still finds her place prescribed but also enjoys greater freedom and capacity for action. Moreover, this enhancement of women's agency takes place within the framework of the frontier novel and represents a significant early contribution to the fledgling national literature. Margaret Fuller's strong and prophetic feminist statement encapsulated in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), is shown to proceed from her other public occupations and activities (as a translator, scholar, editor, journalist, and educator), as well as from an extremely private and even arcane inner symbolism that Fuller develped through the years of her life in a gesture of extremely confident but also poignant self-fashioning. In this text, proceeding by fits and starts but ultimately arriving at an optimistic if utopian vision of harmony between the sexes, Fuller uses a peculiar, principally non-sequential, dialogic method that a number of feminist and post-structualist critics are wont to associate with her incipient feminism. Contradictory tendencies, encompassing history and mythology, religion and the economy, socialism and spiritualism, and the way Fuller manages to yoke them together in her text are examined in this section. Since Fuller's autobiographical writings are the only, if compromised, source testifying to her emotional, personal, and intellectual development, they are also examined to some extent. In the last section of the chapter on Fuller, another case of powerful poetic and personal transformation is offered in the example of Emily Dickinson, whose biography, and some of whose poetry, are used as complementary to similar developments marking the work and life of her contemporary, Fuller. A brief reference to another of Dickinson's contemporaries, Poe, will serve to illustrate telling divergences due to the workings of gender. In Poe's work we find a classic instance of fetishism, as outlined in the appropriate section, here seen strictly as subservient to the artist's view of his creative process and as a structure underlying some of his works, rather than primarily a psychic complex. The discussion of fetishism in Poe is offered its mirror version, uncanny doubling in the case of Emily Dickinson's poetry. Female fetishism arises initially as an aberration, only to be more securely outlined and documented in psychoanalytic and imaginative literature in more recent times as a result of the revision of Freudianism. It is argued, in line with feminist criticism (Kristeva, Adams, Schor, Paglia, Mitchell, McClintock) that Dickinson's poetry shoud be understood as an instance of the viability of female fetishism, which is here seen as a precondition and as fertile ground for the emancipation of the woman artist and a basis for the creation of her art. Fuller in the public sphere and Dickinson in the private sphere plot a new feminine subject and try hard to devise a new vocabulary to articulate their gender and artistic concerns. The final section is dedicated to the consideration of the sentimental and domestic novel, as epitomized by Fanny Fern's best-selling Ruth Hall (1855), and in the last section, to the genre's masterful inversion in Harriet Jacobs's autobiography/slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). Feminist phenomenology suggests the idea of the gendering of work, the division of labour, space, and place, and the analyses attempt to show how the genre accommodates the expectations heaped on middle-class free, white, non-productive women, only to see them challenged, twisted, evaded, and qualified as demanded by the heroines' changing circumstances. The overall framework for examining the genre and its variants is the framework of industrial, liberal capitalism that spawns the rise of a new class of subjects, among them the "new woman, " as seen in Ruth Hall. In a telling case of departure from sentimental and domestic novels, and as an aberration of the typical course of the female Bildung climaxing in marriage, here the plot properly begins only after marriage and with the woman's dire necessity to school herself in the intricacies of the capitalist and labour markets. In addition, Fanny Fern (Sarah Willis Parton) tips over a presumed balance between the spheres as she launches her heroine into an emerging celebrity culture (Gilmore). In her economic reinvention, Ruth also learns to harness the emotions that held her and other women back by their strict cultural and psychic exigencies, notably, self-directed anger, hysteria, self-deprecation and the adopted code of ideal womanhood, while she reinvents herself as a bread-winner, a hugely popular writer, and a businesswoman. In Jacobs's work the workings of capitalism are seriously foiled by its co-existence with the mode of slavery economics, here closely entangled with capitalism. Still, Jacobs is bent on showing, by relying on the tradition of autobiography, Afro-American writing and the contemporary women's genres, how even those constrictions cannot entirely erase the voice of a black woman slave. In her work, it is shown that the concepts of "privacy, " "womanhood, " "motherhood, " and subjectivity are seen as contingent and always in the making, since they are not at all available to her class of excluded persons, the abjects, or the "population" denied membership in the nation, as suggested by Armstrong and Tennenhouse. Not only does her text, and the genre of slave narrative, act therefore as a case of forceful cultural critique, but her deft and strategic mixing of genres and styles (ranging from gothic and sentimental to documentary and confessional), install her as obverse of both the ideal and new woman, as well as a far cry from the sentimental, seduced, fallen, or captive heroines who populate the texts of her contemporaries. Jacobs also ironically undercuts the implications of domestic/sentimenal fiction (her protagonist is a runaway slave posing as a domestic for a northern middle-class family), and of the notion of productive and non-productive (female) labour, and qualifies the notion of writing as a recognized vehicle for social and cultural emancipation, as suggested in Ruth Hall. Her case of dark lady suggests simultaneously the limits of the symbolism and provides us with additional signals of the way the figure was amplified in the culture of antebellum America. Simultaneously, both texts testify, each in its own sphere, to what contemporary feminist epistemology (for instance, Ebert, Kristeva, Massey, Young) and feminist historiography (Cott, Kelley, Smith-Rosenberg) term the entanglement of capitalism, domesticity, and the liberal social sphere, as already outlined in several important models of the liberal society (Habermas), the invention of middle-class emotional life (Giddens) and the history of family (Engels). Ultimately, these readings show that there cannot be a single, fixed representational framework in nineteenth-century literary discourse which may effectively capture the gist of the elusive, highly complex, historically variable, and socially constructed signifier of the dark lady. The discussion on hand demonstrates that a sort of desublimation should take place in order to release this overburdened sign from the constraints of one-sided ahistorical interpretations. On the other hand, the incessant and fixated attention accorded to this figure and its manifold reincarnations testify to the ultimate impossibility of dissecting all its component parts, and reducing them—or, rather, tracing them back—to separate socio-historical, ideological, or psychological sources. The study, thus, comes full circle in trying to posit the female figure as an exemplary cipher of a charged and layered period of nineteenth-century American culture, and sees this conjunction not as an aberration, but rather as one of the central features of American society in the period in question. It has transpired that critical reading procedures usually applied only to men's texts might in some cases stand the test of time, but that they also warrant new critical engagements, just as numerous texts by women inevitably find their way into and demand to be placed in the canon of American literature. In addition, this wide-ranging restructuring has been demonstrated and reinforced by a number of critical procedures and paradigms made use of in the readings offered here, to create a unified approach to authors and texts and thus contribute to a more comprehensive view of antebellum American literary culture. Finally, a far larger argument underlies the structure of the book as it tries to advance and in turn illustrate at least two of the major premises derived from recent interventions into American literary history. The first of these is the revision of the romance hypothesis since the consideration of a more complete list of works suggest an earlier emergence of realism, at least as a stylistic procedure if not yet as a full-blown poetics in the years before the Civil War (entailed in the calls to revise some premises of the American Renaissance). The second claim includes an even broader assertion affecting the status and positioning of national literature as regards its international, especially trans-Atlantic counterparts (the anglophone sphere)—it is here that some forms of traditionally feminine and feminine-centred writing in terms of genre, theme, and conventions (Puritan and secular captivity narratives) inflex the rise of the domestic and sentimental novels, as early and hugely imporant models, which engage with female subjects epitomizing the national types. In addition, as recently pointed out by Armstrong, Tennenhouse, and Burget, the so-called Barbary captivity narrative contributes from a position outside the national cultural context to the rise of the novel form and the ways of constituting the characters as bourgeois individuals and, vicariously, members of the nation. These complex cultural negotiations create and engage with the array of female characaters, figures, and archetypes, rendering all the more important the need to catalogue and examine their uses in nation-building of the period to which literary culture crucially testifies and contributes.
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