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Theodorou, Agapi
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation examines the positioning of the girl writer in the works of three important nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors of female and feminist Knstlerromane: Louisa May Alcott, Jean Webster, and Louise Fitzhugh. The Knstlerroman is a narrative of artistic becoming, but its application to female characters has been historically problematic, following a declension model in which the writer character must sacrifice her art in the interests of integration with the surrounding culture. Although all three authors often concede to the constraints of this form, they also work to upset and revise it. In doing so, they map alternatives not only to narrative, but also to the female subject. Ultimately, Alcott, Webster, and Fitzhugh critique the developmental approach to subjectivity in which one proceeds through a succession of provisional selves, eventually arriving at a mature and definitive identity. Unfortunately, much of the criticism focused on the authors takes this developmental arc for granted, privileging the girl writer's position at the end of the Knstlerroman and then interpreting the narrative in light of that position.
My dissertation takes a different approach. Drawing on structuralist, poststructuralist, postmodern, feminist, new historicist, rhetorical composition, and postcolonial theories, I argue that one may read these Knstlerromane non-developmentally. Read this way, each iteration of the girl writer's subjectivity is seen as a unique performance, responding to the needs of a particular rhetorical situation. What emerges from this reading is an understanding of the girl writer as constantly in play, forever revising herself in negotiation with the socio-political and economic tensions of her moment.
My introduction, Chapter One, lays out the core tenets of this reading; Chapter Two applies it to Alcott's March trilogy (1868-86) and Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag (1872-82); Chapter Three to Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs (1912); and Chapter Four to Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy (1964). The conclusion, Chapter Five, discusses the implications of these writers' work for an understanding of the girl subject as articulated throughout the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Additionally, it gestures toward the future development of the Knstlerroman. Finally, I examine how this interpretation of subjectivity can be used in writing and literature classrooms.
Daddy-Long-Legs, Girl Writer, Harriet the Spy, Little Women, Subjectivity