Disobedient Women: Sexual Transgression and the Search for Female Autonomy in the Writings of Renée Vivien, Judith Teixeira and Sibilla Aleramo
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CitationChokova, Mariya. 2020. Disobedient Women: Sexual Transgression and the Search for Female Autonomy in the Writings of Renée Vivien, Judith Teixeira and Sibilla Aleramo. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractAt the beginning of the 20th-century, women writers, for the first time in literary history, wrote and published works that openly addressed the illicit dimensions of female sexuality. 19th-century male authors had already begun to experiment with the theme of lesbianism, particularly from the 1850s onwards. Yet, the male writer’s pen depicted eroticism between women overwhelmingly in just two ways: either as a socially threatening monstrosity that would inevitably culminate in the perdition of a revolting lesbian, or as an amusing and trivial oddity that would be the pretext for titillating and steamy scenes meant for the voyeuristic pleasures of the male reader. It was at this literary background – bleak, at best, for the female protagonist who dared pursue her lesbian passions – that, between 1900 and 1930, women writers from across Europe began to challenge the predominant monolithic representations of female same-sex desire as aberrant or inconsequential.
This project examines the ways in which Renée Vivien, Judith Teixeira and Sibilla Aleramo – writing in the early 1900s in France, Portugal and Italy respectively – broke new ground in the national literary traditions of their countries, as well as in Western European literature at large, by openly addressing the theme of female same-sex desire in a self-accepting and non-condemnatory manner. Vivien, Teixeira and Aleramo had been influenced, to varying degrees, by some of the 19th-century male-authored voyeuristic and misogynistic representations of intimacy between women, which is detectable in the underlying decadent tone of their writings. Nevertheless, they broke away from the male-authored trans-European literary tradition that viewed lesbian desire as something to be spied on, exposed and punished. Vivien, Teixeira and Aleramo were thus among the first writers who wrote about female same-sex desire from a woman’s first-person subjectively invested perspective. They challenged both contemporary notions of morality and the literary establishment by going against the grain, and by disobeying their 19th-century literary fore-fathers who, until then, had had monopoly over the depiction of female homoerotic desire in European fiction.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365542
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