The return to the body in the work of Sylvia Plath, Angela Carter, Leonora Carrington, and Flannery O'Connor
This thesis examines the role of the body in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963), Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus (1985), Leonora Carrington's fiction of 1937-41, and Flannery O'Connor's fiction of 1949-65. Critical emphasis is placed upon ambivalent and paradoxical representations of the body and on the significance of the body as a site of crises in identity and memory. The implications of the problematic status of the body are addressed through a theoretical framework, informed by French feminist thought, which attempts to articulate an exchange between subjectivity and politics, psychoanalysis and history. Part I introduces the 'return to the body' as a critical inquiry which investigates the conjunction of femininity and materiality and the role of the body in the construction of sexual difference. It is proposed that in Plath's The Bell Jar the body is the site of an impasse of identity and memory; this impasse is contested by Carter's novel and interrogated in the narratives of Carrington and O'Connor. Part II demonstrates the subversive and utopian effect to which Carter employs the paradoxical body in Nights at the Circus. As a site of unresolved contradictions, the ambivalent body invokes transformations in identity and anticipates revolutions in history. Part III explores the 'savage' state of symbolic dereliction suggested by the place of feral women in Carrington's Surrealist myths of origin. It also proposes that a founding violence is discovered by Carrington in the construction of woman' as spectacle and femininity as masquerade. Part IV proposes that the irrational forces of history are registered in traumatic form in the grotesque bodies of O'Connor's narratives. It also addresses a politics of origin which implicates women, as agents and victims, in the violence of an oppressive social order.