Shaping Identity in Literary Constructions of Space : Models of Feminine Subjectivity in Ann Radcliffe's The Italian, Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market, and Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber

Thumbnail Image
Shepherd, Bethany
Issue Date
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
Alternative Title
In three works of literature I have attempted to demonstrate how constructions of literary spaces provide women with opportunities of exorcising their identities which they would not have had in reality. The relationship between conventional marriage, domesticity, and pornography is fundamental to an understanding of how the bodies of women are objectified to a point which endangers their subjectivity. Sexuality forms a link between subjectivity/ interior space, and social constructions/ external space and so while the last thing I intend is to reduce the notion of sexuality or identity to biological determinacy, neither am I willing to leave the body out of the discussion. Granting that two individuals of the same sex may experience their bodies in radically different ways, I generalize that patriarchal convention has shaped the experience of most women's bodies: the marriage market, bearing, nursing, and raising children, and domestic labor are central to many women's lives as a culturally determined fact of existence. Because marriage and domesticity are "institutions" generated by the heterosexual matrix, the protagonists I analyze tend to reclaim sexuality and subjectivity by embedding their constructions so deeply "within" marriage or domesticity, that they become elsewhere-- a clandestine adjacent space. It is Irigaray who came up with the notion that women mimic their roles as brides and wives while still remaining "elsewhere." For the protagonists I analyze in this project, "elsewhere" describes a narrative space. Ellena shares one kind of discursive space with Vivaldi, using the proper masculine categories of the sublime. Her narrative practice changes however, whenever she speaks to Olivia or narrates to herself. Laura enjoys talking to the goblins but she has a very different relationship with her sister. Later she narrates her relationship to the goblins in terms of her sister's heroism. Carter's narrator-protagonist marries Bluebeard, but only while temporarily suppressing her relationship with her mother. Her act of narrating "The Bloody Chamber" is partly an attempt to move even farther from the control of the script she once followed willingly. Movement toward narrative, toward this space, is a consequence of occupying a non-space, or blank, in mainstream, masculine discourse. In The Italian, Goblin Market, and "The Bloody Chamber," the "elsewhere" spaces of feminine identity and subjectivity are located outside the unacceptable frameworks for the body-- conventional marriage, domesticity, or pornography. Some bodies will always be elsewhere in relation to most of society, but if society becomes a different kind of space, one that does not compel women to form their identities in matching sex/ gender categories, the majority of women may find ways to return from "elsewhere."
ii, 92 p.
U.S. copyright laws protect this material. Commercial use or distribution of this material is not permitted without prior written permission of the copyright holder. All rights reserved.
PubMed ID