Biopolitics, Female Choice, and First Wave Feminism: English and American Fiction, 1871-1916
AuthorKasper, Daniel Thomas
AdvisorHogle, Jerrold E.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
EmbargoRelease after 04/23/2021
Abstract“Biopolitics, Female Choice, and First Wave Feminism” argues that the shift allowing women to enter the public sphere hinged on integrating Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection into political discourse. Authors writing in genres as diverse as science fiction, psychological realism, the Gothic, and the imaginary journey deployed the logic of female choice in arguing for the emancipation of women, demonstrating that the circumscribed roles for women in Britain and the US were non-natural, cultural constructions. Moreover, basing their suffrage arguments on female sexuality and procreation meant embracing and explicating a line of political thought which reified nineteenth century notions of race hierarchy, which were themselves bolstered elsewhere by Darwin. Appropriating the power within sexual dynamics afforded to non-human species by scientific theory, white women characters adopted the assumptions of racial superiority that undergirded the popular understanding of evolutionary progress, using techniques of government revealed by Michel Foucault’s late work in order to persuade the men around them to support women’s suffrage. Plotting the arc of this persuasion—in novels from Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman—demonstrates the increasing freedom afforded to white women at the expense of reinforcing nonscientific Victorian notions of race and eugenics, justifying the adoption of biopolitics by twentieth century governments through a seemingly feminist political shift.
Degree ProgramGraduate College