Grace, Daphne. “Cognition, Consciousness, and Literary Texts.” Beyond Bodies: Gender, Literature, and the Enigma of Consciousness. New York; Rodopi, 2014, pp 9-32. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.
Within feminist theory, and by extension feminist literary theory, the question of gender and gender identity is a conundrum that theorists attempt to reconcile, and Grace approaches feminist critical theory from the inside out. Rather than use the theory to prove the text, she uses the text to prove the theory. Within a heady discussion of consciousness and awareness, gender performance as normative and subversive, she points to women writers, particularly Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, who have subverted normative gender roles by writing strong women in Austen’s case and male/female role reversal in Brontë’s Jane Eyre (12). Grace even dips back as far as Geoffrey Chaucer to examine the subverted gender roles in Troilus and Criseyde and characterizing Criseyde as “[f]eisty and independent” (15). She asserts that authors seek to question or to challenge social, cultural and political hegemonies that restrict a women’s freedom of speech or behavior, and to establish empowerment of women as individuals, as agents of action, and as writers” (11).
In my creative writing program, I wrote and watched others write as a way to tease out their own sense of themselves, grappling out our struggles on pages of story and poem. So, I can see why looking at literature is a valid way to explore the nature of human sexuality and understand how Grace would see that as a valid exploration as well.
In answering the question of gender, feminist scholars have looked to Michel Foucault and Judith Butler to suss out “[w]hether gender and sex are biologically or culturally constructed” (12-13). Grace asserts that “[a]n approach to knowledge from within the arts or humanities begins from the inner most core of creative inspiration” will lead to “manifest expression,” which all ties into identity (19). Grace outlines how literary theory, using trauma theory, has shown real promise in determining the nature of trauma and extrapolates in the hope that gender theory applied in literature theory will add new insight to gender identity (20-21).
Furthermore, these English women writers are a testament to how different the culture was for American women writers. Yes, they did write anonymously, and their work was often regarded as inferior to the high art of male writers, but their writing was not timid or modest, particularly considering the work of Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft. Anne Bradstreet was writing at a much earlier time, but the rest of these women were writing in the 1800s and 1900s.
This may seem far afield of my focus; however, identity is the key to my current vision for my dissertation, to see how women define themselves and other women in their own writing, so exploring feminist theories of identity, particularly that which related to literature and poetry moves me significantly closer to understanding how my project fits in the ongoing conversation.
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