Performance Anxiety: Hysteria and the Actress in French Literature 1880-1910

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Performance Anxiety: Hysteria and the Actress in French Literature 1880-1910

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Title: Performance Anxiety: Hysteria and the Actress in French Literature 1880-1910
Author: Wooler, Stephanie
Citation: Wooler, Stephanie. 2012. Performance Anxiety: Hysteria and the Actress in French Literature 1880-1910. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: My dissertation uses close readings of four texts dealing with the actress, spanning the naturalist novel (Zola’s Nana, 1880, and Edmond de Goncourt’s La Faustin, 1882), autobiography (Sarah Bernhardt’s Ma double vie, 1907) and autobiographical fiction (Colette’s La Vagabonde, 1910), in order to examine late nineteenth-century representations (and self-representations) of the actress in relation to the discourse of hysteria. I argue that in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century France, pathology and performance came together in the stereotype of the hysterical actress. In the wake of the French Revolution, and the subsequent political upheavals of the nineteenth century along with the emergence of a consumer capitalist society, \(fin-de-si\grave{e}cle\) society was living a moment of particular anxiety. This anxiety found a focal point in the hystericised figure of \(la com\acute{e}dienne\), who came to embody a threatening blurring of gender and class distinctions. Actresses were pathologised in a discursive gesture which sought to identify and contain the threat which they were seen to pose, and which seemed to offer an objective narrative which re-established boundaries and identities. The discourse of hysteria, however, was by no means as secure or monolithic as it might seem. I argue that the discourse of hysteria is underpinned by a fundamental performativity which has the potential to be profoundly subversive. By examining different modalities of response to the phenomenon of the hystericisation of the actress, I show how in both male and female-authored texts the discourse of pathology is undermined and reappropriated in a way which foreshadows twentieth-century feminist theories.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10086001
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