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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn my dissertation, “Pathology and Performance: The Female Body in the Romantic Era,” I examine the cultural practice of medical authorities pathologizing the female body in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I specifically focus on depictions of madness, depression, and hyper-femininity in representative texts that demonstrate the influence of medical discourse on authors of the Romantic Era. Borrowing Mary Poovey’s concept of the “proper lady,” I argue that women during this time were categorized as pathological if they deviated in any way from a proscriptive definition of “natural” womanhood, which itself was normalized through social conditioning rather than biological fact. Despite this larger practice of pathologizing female bodies as inherently sick, I have found moments of resistance and critique. The personal correspondence and biographical depictions of Mary Lamb demonstrate Lamb’s ability to manipulate characterizations of madness in her own favor, effecting her mastery of language despite her pathology. The tragic consequences of rigid gender roles in Joanna Baillie’s Count Basil illuminate the absurdity of hyperfeminine “romantic” behavior and the contagious threat of the “weak” female body. Matthew Lewis’s description of “sane” physical gesture in The Captive’s dramaturgy reveals the failure of feminine performance in a pathologized setting and the apathetic complicity of his audience. The gothic hauntings and thematic fragmentation in John Keats’s Isabella signal the violence of patriarchal authority on the female body and mind. Together, these works indicate the literary, theatrical, and cultural tensions established by the pattern of Romantic female pathology.
Degree ProgramGraduate College