Notorious bodies of faith: holy women in Victorian art and literatureShow full item record
|Notorious bodies of faith: holy women in Victorian art and literature
|Smith, Julianne Nelson
|Doctor of Philosophy
|Through feminist criticism and cultural analysis, this dissertation identifies and examines a Victorian discourse of holy women as it appears in the fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art of the period. Victorian images of holy women make both reverence and skepticism about women's devotion congruent (for example, a nun may be at once honored and scorned for her dedication). In Victorian discourses, a woman's real ¿womanliness¿ is often the cultural litmus test of sainthood, while her ¿unwomanly¿ behavior is often the impetus for saintliness itself. These slippages between deification and debasement reveal the unease caused by critical shifts in Victorian cultural consciousness. Within the context of these discourses, my chapters examine women whose holiness is figured in terms of both nation- and culture-securing domestic ideals. Chapters one and two examine notions of the nun in the works of Harriet Martineau, Christina Rossetti, Dinah Mulock Craik, Augusta Webster, and Tennyson. Chapter three investigates responses to historical saints, specifically St. Catherine, St. Elizabeth, and St. Eulalia. Chapter four traces Victorian veneration for Joan of Arc and shows how biographical discourses (by authors such as Margaret Oliphant, Andrew Lang, and Vita Sackville West) were often contested affairs. Chapters five and six examine two secular women ¿saints¿¿Florence Nightingale and Tennyson's Mariana¿in order to show how a discourse of holy women surfaces even when women's lives are not specifically devoted to a religious cause. Each chapter includes visual images and analysis of these holy women as envisioned by Victorian artists (such as the Pre-Raphaelites) as well as book and magazine illustrators. This study finds that previous paradigms of blessedness were inhabitable only by the ¿exceptional¿ woman-whose existence and accomplishments were fictionalized more often than not. However, as my final chapters show, a Victorian holy woman could appear to fulfill a cultural agenda while simultaneously revealing her alienation from it. Though many Victorian holy women followed their predecessors into an early grave (their very absence and silence perpetuating the fiction of their sanctification), living figures forced rhetorical concessions to the complexities of women's lives, even while that rhetoric officially ignored the contradictions.
|Hughes, Linda K.
This item appears in the following Collection(s)
- Doctoral Dissertations