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The politics of gender and the visual in Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter

Sivyer, Caleb 2015. The politics of gender and the visual in Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis investigates the relationship between gender and the visual in texts by Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter. Drawing on visual studies, gender studies and film theory, I argue that my selected texts present the gendered visual field as dynamic and layered, foregrounding both a masculine economy of vision and the possibility of alternative forms of gendered subjectivity and ways of looking. The Introduction discusses the key methodological frameworks used in this thesis, including Jonathan Crary’s account of the historical construction of vision, the debates around gender, mobility and visuality centred on the figure of the flâneur, and Laura Mulvey’s account of the cinematic male gaze. I argue for the importance of recognising that the field of vision is a site of contestation composed of an interplay of connected gendered looks. Chapter One focuses on the unresolved tensions between different gendered looks in Mrs Dalloway (1925) which take place across a number of spaces and are mediated by a variety of visual frames. Chapter Two turns to Orlando (1928) to explore Woolf’s playful subversion of a masculine visual economy through a protagonist who changes sex and dress. In addition to this vacillation of appearance, I argue that the text’s representations of London in the 1920s, in particular the department store and motor-car, contribute to a proliferation of gendered looks. In turning to The Passion of New Eve (1979), Chapter Three shows how Carter foregrounds the violence involved in the performance of gender, particularly as mediated through the cinema, and further subverts masculine vision by representing gender as a masquerade. The fourth chapter focuses on The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and argues that, despite its intended revolutionary purpose, Hoffman’s optical invention fails to transform the gendered visual field and instead reinscribes the patriarchal conventions of gender and looking that it has the potential to subvert. Ultimately, this thesis suggests that the works examined foreground the gendered visual field as a site of contested forms of gendered subjectivity and ways of looking. The texts map out an unresolvable tension between the masculine, hegemonic conventions which exert a powerful influence in everyday life and the possibility of going beyond them.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Publication
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Funders: AHRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 13 April 2016
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2022 14:24

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