Subject Area: English literature
Supervisor: Prof. Julian Preece and Dr Mel Kohkle
Research Degree: PhD
Thesis Title: Improper Subjects: Confession, Shame, and Femininity in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century English- and German-Language Literature
My research considers ‘confession’ as a narrative trope in semi-autobiographical fictions by twentieth- and twenty-first-century women writers. The authors included in my study are: Virginia Woolf, Emmy Hennings, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Plath, Ingeborg Bachmann, Elfriede Jelinek, Chris Kraus, and Charlotte Roche. Adopting a pluralistic approach, and combining genre, trauma, psychoanalytic, feminist, and post-structural theory, I argue that scenes of confession symbolise women’s entry into the Symbolic structure, rendering the objectification of the feminine and her subordination to language explicit through father confessor figures.
In the more recent works considered, confession also mimics and exposes the gendered interpretative framework applied to women’s art. As a generic hybrid, semi-autobiographical fiction serves as a means to explore the fictional or constructed nature of selfhood, while also resisting the implied fixity of the subject of autobiography ‘proper’. Focusing on works by women writers raises feminist debates around speech and silence, visibility, and shame, and one of the questions this research asks is whether the semi-autobiographical mode constitutes an aesthetic of shame or resistance to the patriarchal gaze.