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Title: Beyond mourning and melancholia : depression in the work of five contemporary North American women writers
Author: Hodgson-Blackburn, Jacqueline
ISNI:       0000 0004 2751 6795
Awarding Body: Sheffield Hallam University
Current Institution: Sheffield Hallam University
Date of Award: 1999
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This dissertation is an investigation into the representation of mourning and melancholia in the work of Elizabeth Smart, Evelyn Lau, Siri Hustvedt, Sarah Sheard and Kathryn Harrison. The thesis addresses women's historic exclusion from the discourse of melancholia from a feminist perspective. It will consider the political and theoretical implications of women's absence from this discursive field by focusing on the cultural legacy of their devalorised status. Freud's essay, 'Mourning and Melancholia', first published in 1917, is cited as an important conceptual model exercising considerable influence over subsequent theoreticians working within this area. My thesis builds on Freud's attempt to establish a clear-cut binary division between the twinned states of mourning and melancholia. The thesis reveals how Freud's construction of melancholia as a pathological condition, shadowing the normative state of mourning, has been linked with psychoanalytic constructions of femininity by leading feminist theorists such as Irigaray, Silverman and Kristeva. The first chapter provides an overview of melancholia as a gendered discourse privileging male practitioners; the subsequent chapters provide symptomatic readings of five novels written by five contemporary North American women. The psychoanalytic interpretation of these readings, ranging from blocked or postponed mourning to the ideological loss of a father through incest, illustrate the close epistemological relationship between the construction of femininity and melancholia within Western historical and philosophical traditions. This thesis is not concerned with merely re-interpreting Western cultural prejudices related to the discourse of melancholia from a late twentieth century postfeminist perspective. Instead, the thesis demonstrates how contemporary women writers are engaged in a revisionary approach to the representation of loss within their work, by insistently inscribing their active, desiring bodies on the discourses of heterosexual femininity and melancholia. By refusing to disappear from the margins of the melancholic text, I show how the resisting melancholic daughter produces a counter-discourse that destroys the conventional dynamics of the family romance within Western literary traditions. The 'writing cure' replaces the 'talking cure' in this context. By removing the patriarchal figurehead from the text, and the psychoanalytic confessional discourse surrounding it, women writers challenge misogynist constructions of femininity within contemporary literature.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Feminism