The intimacy which is knowledge : female friendship in the novels of women writers
The thesis offers a historical account of the representation of friendship in the novels of English women writers from the nineteenth century to the present. Questioning the prevalent understanding of the history of women's friendship in terms of a single major rupture, from nineteenth-century 'innocence' to twentieth-century 'guilt', the thesis identifies narrative configurations which recur throughout this, period, and which define friendship as a formative learning experience integrally related to the acquisition of gendered identity. It concludes that there can be no final and 'perfect' representation of friendship, since the nature of the "knowledge' shared has continually shifted in relation to changing understandings of femininity. Chapter 1 identifies the origins and nature of the Victorian concept of the "second self", in which the friend acts as the mirror of, and means of access to, an idealised female subjectivity. Chapter 2 analyses the ways in which this concept informs the narrative patterns and rituals in Victorian fictions of friendship. Chapter 3 offers a new reading of novels by Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte, in which the conventions identified in Chapter 2 are adapted to question the existing boundaries of feminine identity. Chapter 4 examines the impact of changes in women's education upon the representation of friendship in turn-of-the-century feminist and anti-feminist novels, and in a new genre, the school story for girls. Chapter 5 shows that the scientific construct of lesbianism produced a new distinction between the 'healthy' and the 'unhealthy' relationship, but that the terms of this distinction were contested; in twentieth-century novels of the 'gyriaeceum', the tradition continues, but is newly eroticised. Chapter 6 looks at friendship as 'revision' in recent English and American novels, in which earlier configurations are redeployed in the light of contemporary feminist concern to recuperate and re-imagine the past.