Award Date

5-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Committee Member

Joseph McCullough, Chair

Second Committee Member

Darlene Unrue

Third Committee Member

Evelyn Gajowski

Graduate Faculty Representative

Joanne Goodwin

Number of Pages

140

Abstract

In the Nineteenth Century, needlework, and embroidery in particular, became a signifier of feminine identity. Needlework was such a significant part of women’s lives and so integral to the construction of femininity in nineteenth-century America that both pictoral and narrative art demonstrate numerous representations of women embroidering. The sheer volume of these representations in the Nineteenth Century suggests that the practice of embroidery provides a way of speaking for women—a representation of the voice of subjectivity silenced by patriarchal ideology. Because needlework serves as a signifier of ideal femininity, it provides uniquely fruitful and previously unexplored opportunities for investigating how women negotiated with the constraints of ideal femininity, especially as represented in fiction. Indeed, needlework in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Mary Wilkins Freeman’s “A New England Nun,” and Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence reveals a character at odds with patriarchal ideology. In each of these three texts, the representation of the embroidering woman— Hester Prynne, Louisa Ellis, and May Welland—not only reveals the “falseness” of the gender ideology constructed around her but also suggests that the practice of embroidery in fiction serves to critique that ideology, opening a space of possibility in which women can negotiate their participation in or refusal of the ideological constraints of gender.

Keywords

Age of Innocence; American literature; Embroidery in literature; Femininity; Freeman; Mary Eleanor Wilkins; 1852-1930; Gender; Hawthorne; Nathaniel; 1804-1864; Ideology; Needlework in literature; New England Nun; Nineteenth century; Scarlet letter; Sex; Subjectivity; Wharton; Edith; 1862-1937; Women in literature

Disciplines

American Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, North America

Language

English


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