Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the Victorian Woman Writer

Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the Victorian Woman Writer

Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the Victorian Woman Writer

Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the Victorian Woman Writer

Synopsis

Elsie B. Michie here provides insightful readings of novels by Mary Shelley, Emily and Charlotte Bront , Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot, writers who confronted definitions of femininity which denied them full participation in literary culture. Exploring a series of abhorrent images, Michie traces the links between the Victorian definition of femininity and other forms of cultural exclusion such as race and class distinctions.

Excerpt

Class and race ideologies are... steeped in and spoken through the language of sexual differentiation. Class and race meanings are not metaphors for the sexual, or vice versa. It is better, though not exact, to see them as reciprocally constituting each other through a kind of narrative invocation, a set of associative terms in a chain of meaning. To understand how gender and class--to take two categories only--are articulated together transforms our analysis of each of them.

--Cora Kaplan, Sea Changes

Feminist theorists from Simone de Beauvoir onward have taught us to see femininity as a quality of the second sex. From this point of view, the feminine is that which is repressed, denied, or excluded by the dominant culture, which appears to be universal but in fact implicitly defines itself as masculine. The difficulty with such a position is that the feminine territory that is excluded by the dominant culture can come to seem monolithic and unchanging, the space of the "other." To counter this difficulty, the cultural exclusion of femininity has come increasingly to be read in terms of history. That is: at any point in time the dominant culture defines itself by excluding or denying some of its elements, but the excluded elements vary as the culture changes shape under the pressure of economic, political, and social developments. As a result, while femininity continues to be positioned as the "other" of masculinity, the way femininity is constructed at different points in history varies because what is repressed or denied as the dominant culture changes. In this book, I read the works of five nineteenth- century authors--Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot--in light of the differing definitions of femininity which were foregrounded during the time that each . . .

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