Mind the Gap: The Visual Arts, the Reader-as-Viewer, and Identity Critique in Early Twentieth-Century American Women's Writing.
Abstract: This dissertation examines the aestheticization of female
protagonists in early twentieth-century American women's writing and demonstrates how
tropes from art and literature come together to produce a transformative and revolutionary
aesthetics of the female body. Adopting a feminist framework, my work offers a political
intervention into the ways in which women are both viewed and ... read moreview themselves in
literature. "Mind the Gap" argues that in evoking tropes from the visual arts, the writers
I analyze emphasize the gap between the visual perception of a female body and the
consequent cognitive awareness of femininity. This gap enables the reader to pause and
evaluate not only the protagonists' relationship to the world, but also the reader's
participation in codes of cultural recognition. My first chapter investigates the artists
Claude Cahun and Adrian Piper to establish the theoretical and visual practices available
to American women artists and writers. Chapters 2 and 3 employ Edith Wharton's The House of
Mirth (1905) and Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928), respectively, to demonstrate the ways in
which art is used to aestheticize Lily Bart and Helga Crane's bodies in oppressively raced
and gendered ways. Ending the dissertation with Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899), I
consider the revolutionary subjectivity proposed by Edna Pontellier's rejection of passive
aestheticization and her assertion of active artistry. In each of the chapters, I unpack
how the aestheticization of female protagonists in early twentieth-century American women's
writing functions as a mechanism for raced and gendered oppression, but also as a way to
critique, interrupt, and open up transformative models of female identity.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2015.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisors: Christina Sharpe, and Elizabeth Ammons.
Committee: Modhumita Roy, and Kimberly Brown.
Keywords: American literature, Art criticism, and Gender studies.read less